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Title: The Barren Ground of Northern Canada
Author: Pike, Warburton Mayer, 1861-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover]


[Illustration: Ready for Tracking]





New York
E. P. Dutton & Company
681 Fifth Avenue

Published, 1917,
By E. P. Dutton & Co.


In many of the outlying districts of Canada an idea is prevalent,
fostered by former travellers, that somewhere in London there exists a
benevolent society whose object is to send men incapable of making any
useful scientific observations to the uttermost parts of the earth, in
order to indulge their taste for sport or travel. Several times before I
had fairly started for the North, and again on my return, I was asked if
I had been sent out under the auspices of this society, and, I am
afraid, rather fell in the estimation of the interviewers when I was
obliged to confess that my journey was only an ordinary shooting
expedition, such as one might make to the Rocky Mountains or the
interior of Africa, and that no great political reformation depended
upon my report as to what I had seen.

In talking with officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, many of whom had
been stationed for long periods in the Athabasca and Mackenzie River
districts, I had often heard of a strange animal, a relic of an earlier
age, that was still to be found roaming the Barren Ground, the vast
desert that lies between Hudson's Bay, the eastern ends of the three
great lakes of the North, and the Arctic Sea. This animal was the
Musk-ox, but my informants could tell me nothing from personal
experience, and all that was known on the subject had been gathered from
Indian report. Once or twice some enthusiastic sportsman had made the
attempt to reach the land of the Musk-ox, but had never succeeded in
carrying out his object; specimens had been secured by the officers of
the various Arctic expeditions, but no one had ever seen much of these
animals or of the methods of hunting them employed by the Northern

This, then, was the sole object of my journey; to try and penetrate this
unknown land, to see the Musk-ox, and find out as much as I could about
their habits, and the habits of the Indians who go in pursuit of them
every year. But the only white men who had succeeded in getting far out
into the Barren Ground were the early explorers,--Hearne, Sir John
Franklin, Sir George Back, and Dr. Richardson, while long afterwards Dr.
Rae and Stewart and Anderson went in search of the missing Franklin
expedition. With the exception of Hearne, who threw in his lot with the
Indians, these leaders were all accompanied by the most capable men that
could be procured, and no expense was spared in order to make success as
certain as possible; yet in spite of every precaution the story of Sir
John Franklin's first overland journey and the death of Hood are among
the saddest episodes in the history of the Arctic exploration.

My best chance seemed to be to follow Hearne's example, and trust to
the local knowledge of Indians to help me; and I think, as the sequel
showed, that I was right in not taking a crew from Winnipeg. The Indians
and half-breeds of the Great Slave Lake, although very hard to manage,
are certainly well up in Barren Ground travel; they are possessed of a
thorough knowledge of the movements of the various animals at different
seasons, and thus run less danger of starvation than strangers, however
proficient the latter may be in driving dogs and handling canoes.

In following out this plan I naturally passed through a great deal of
new country, and discovered, as we white men say when we are pointed out
some geographical feature by an Indian who has been familiar with it
since childhood, many lakes and small streams never before visited
except by the red man. I have attempted in a rough map to mark the
chains of lakes by which we reached the Barren Ground, but their
position is only approximate, and perhaps not even that, as I had no
instruments with which to make correct observations, and in any case
should have had little time to use them. Let no eminent geographer waste
his time in pointing out the inaccuracies in this map; I admit all the
errors before he discovers them. All that I wish to show is that these
chains of lakes do exist and can be used as convenient routes, doing
away with the often-tried method of forcing canoes up the swift and
dangerous streams that fall into the Great Slave Lake from the northern

The success of my expedition is to be attributed entirely to the
assistance which was given me by the Hudson's Bay Company, and I take
this opportunity of thanking them for all the hospitality that was shown
to me throughout my journey; I was never refused a single request that I
made, and, although a total stranger, was treated with the greatest
kindness by everybody, from the Commissioner at Winnipeg to the engaged
servant in the Far North. My thanks are especially due to Lord Anson,
one of the directors in London, to Messrs. Wrigley and William Clark at
Winnipeg, Mr. Roderick MacFarlane, lately of Stuart's Lake, British
Columbia, a well-known northern explorer who put me in the way of making
a fair start, Dr. Mackay of Athabasca, Mr. Camsell of Mackenzie River,
Mr. Ewen Macdonald of Peace River, and most of all to Mr. Mackinlay of
Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake, who was my companion during a
long summer journey in the Barren Ground.

My only excuse for publishing this account of my travels is that the
subject is a reasonably new one, and deals with a branch of sport that
has never been described. I have spared the reader statistics, and I
have kept my story as short as possible. I hope that in return anyone
who may be interested in these pages will spare his comments on faulty
style, and the various errors into which a man who has spent much time
among the big game is sure to fall when he is rash enough to lay down
his rifle and take up the pen.

I have also cut out the chapter with which these books usually begin,--a
description of the monotonous voyage by Atlantic steamer and Canadian
Pacific Railway, and start at once from Calgary, a thriving cattle-town
close under the eastern foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains.

LONDON, 1891.


  Ready for Tracking                               _Frontispiece_
  The Old Hudson Bay Post at Edmonton                           2
  The Hudson Bay Fort at Edmonton                               6
  The "Grahame" Towing Freight-scows on Lake
    Athabasca                                                  16
  Patching a Birch-bark on the Slave River                     26
  King Beaulieu                                                32
  A Dead White Wolf                                            57
  The Indians Driving Caribou                                  89
  Making Camp                                                 102
  Taking the Post Dogs for Exercise                           142
  Skins in the Post Store-room                                142
  Dog-rib Powwow at Fort Resolution                           167
  A Group of Dog-ribs                                         167
  Starting up the Peace River                                 233
  Junction of the Peace and Smoky Rivers                      248
  The Arrival of the Dog Train                                295
  Edmonton                                                    298


  A SKETCH MAP to illustrate Mr. Warburton
  Pike's journeys to the Barren Ground of
  Northern Canada                                _To face p._ 302




In the middle of June, 1889, I left Calgary for a drive of two hundred
miles to Edmonton, the real starting-point for the great northern
country controlled by the Hudson's Bay Company, and, with the exception
of their scattered trading-posts, and an occasional Protestant or Roman
Catholic Mission, entirely given up to what it was evidently intended
for, a hunting-ground for the Indian.

My conveyance was a light buckboard, containing my whole outfit, which
was as small as possible, consisting almost entirely of ammunition for a
12-bore Paradox and a 50-95 Winchester Express, besides a pair of large
blankets and a little necessary clothing.

Forest fires were raging in the Rocky Mountains close at hand, and the
thick smoke obscuring the sun, the heat was not nearly so fierce as
usual at this time of the year; the road was good for a prairie road,
and comfortable stopping-places each night made the journey quite easy.
About sixty miles out the country loses the appearance of what is known
among cattlemen as the bald-headed prairie, and is dotted with clumps of
poplar, and occasionally pines; half way to Edmonton the road crosses
the broad stream of the Red Deer, and passes through the most attractive
country that I have seen in the north-west territories. It is being
rapidly settled, and, with the convenience of a railway now building
between Calgary and Edmonton, cannot fail to be an important farming and
stock-raising district within a few years.

On the morning of the fifth day I reached Edmonton, a pleasant little
town scattered along the far bank of the North Saskatchewan, and
historical in the annals of the Hudson's Bay Company, by whom it was
established as a fur trading-post many years ago; it is fated shortly to
lose its individuality in the stream of advancing civilization, and will
probably develop into an ordinary prairie-town of some importance.

[Illustration: Old Hudson Bay Post at Edmonton]

Finding that I had no time to spare if I wished to catch the steamer
down the Athabasca river, I left again the same evening, after buying a
small supply of flour and bacon. I changed the buckboard for a wagon,
having for driver a French half-breed who had spent his early life on
the prairie in buffalo-hunting, but, on the extinction of the game, had
been earning a living by freighting for the Hudson's Bay Company, and
farming on a small scale. He was a much pleasanter companion than the
smartly dressed young man, "come of good folks in the East," who had
been my driver from Calgary, and many an interesting tale he told me on
our three-days' journey to the banks of the Athabasca; tales of the good
old times when the buffalo were thick, and the Crees waged perpetual war
against the Blackfeet, and whisky formed the staple article of trade for
the Indian's fur. At the present day the Prohibition Act orders that
even the white men of the north-west territories must be temperate,
thereby causing whisky to be dear and bad, but plentiful withal, and it
is surprising how such a law exists in a country where nine men out of
ten not only want to drink, but do drink in open defiance of the
commands of a motherly Government.

A fair road some hundred miles in length has been made by the Hudson's
Bay Company through a rolling sandy country, crossing several large
streams and passing through a good deal of thick pine timber where some
heavy chopping must have been necessary. The flies bothered us greatly;
the large bulldogs, looking like a cross between a bee and a
blue-bottle, drove the horses almost to madness, and after our mid-day
halt it was no easy matter to put the harness on; fortunately we had
netting, or the poor beasts would have fared much worse: as it was the
blood was streaming from their flanks during the heat of the day. The
mosquitos appeared towards evening, but as the nights were usually
chilly they only annoyed us for a few hours. There were no houses along
the road, but plenty of firewood and feed for the horses; we had a good
camp every night, sleeping in the open air, starting very early and
resting long in the middle of the day.

Two days took us over the divide between the Saskatchewan and Athabasca
rivers, and now the water in the little streams that we crossed
eventually reached the sea far away in the frozen Arctic Ocean at the
mouth of the great Mackenzie. Early on the fourth day we came in sight
of the Athabasca running between high pine-clad banks, and, dropping
down a steep hill, found the Company's steamer loading up with freight
for the far north. This spot is known as the Athabasca landing, and
consists of a large depot for goods, trading-store, and several
workmen's houses, while the house of the officer in charge stands on the
hillside a little way back from the river. From the landing there is
water communication down stream, broken of course by portages, to the
Arctic sea, while the Lesser Slave Lake lies within a few days' travel
up stream, from the north end of which a road seventy-five miles in
length has been cut to the bank of Peace River. I spent a pleasant
enough day loafing about, Mr. Wood, who was in charge, showing me great
kindness and giving me much useful information about my route, and at
twelve o'clock the following day we started down stream. The only other
passengers were a Mr. Flett and his wife and daughter, who were on their
way to take charge of Fort Smith during the coming winter. Mr. Flett was
just returning from a visit to his native country, the Orkney Islands,
after an absence of forty-four years in the service of the Company, all
of which time was spent in the wildest part of the North. He was full of
the wonderful changes that had taken place since he was a boy, but
finding himself completely lost in civilization, had hurried back to the
land of snow. Unfortunately Mrs. Flett had been unable to stand the
climate of the old country, and was quite broken down in her health. I
was sorry to hear during the winter that she died a few days after we
left her at Fort Chipeweyan.

Owing to the very light snowfall in the mountains in the winter of
1888-89, the water in the river was unusually low, and, as we expected,
on the third day the steamer, a large light-draught stern-wheeler, after
striking several times on shallow bars, had to abandon the attempt to
reach the Grand Rapids. We accordingly tied up to the bank, and, sending
a skiff down to take the news, awaited the arrival of boats from below
to take our cargo. For ten days we lay at the junction of Pelican River,
a small stream coming in on the north side of the Athabasca. There was
absolutely nothing to do; the low gravelly banks on each side were
fringed with thick willows backed by a narrow belt of poplars, and
behind these the gloomy pine woods, with here and there a solitary
birch, stretched away in an unbroken mass as far as the eye could see.
The forest was alive with mosquitos, although owing to the low water in
the river they were said to be much less numerous than usual; they were
sufficiently thick however to make any exploration in the woods a
misery. Fishing we tried without much result, and everybody was pleased
when at last Mr. Scott Simpson, who was in charge of the river transport
that summer, arrived with two boats. The steamer's cargo was unloaded,
partly into the boats and partly on to the bank, and early in the
morning she started back for the landing while we proceeded on our
journey down stream.

These inland boats, as they are termed, are extraordinary specimens of
marine architecture, long open craft, classified according to shape as
York boats, sturgeon-heads, and scows, capable of carrying a load of ten
tons, manned by a crew of eight oars and a steersman, rowed down stream
and tracked up, running rapids and bumping on rocks. Planks, nails, and
pitch are always kept ready to effect repairs, and are in frequent
demand. The crews are generally half-breeds from the Lesser Slave Lake
and Lake La Biche, both of which pour their waters into the Athabasca;
but there are also volunteers from all parts of the North, as the wages
are good and the work is suited to the half-breed's character, besides
the certainty of receiving rations every day, which is a great
attraction in a land of scarcity. Sometimes crews of Locheaux Indians
are sent up from the Mackenzie, and have the reputation of being the
best workers; they certainly seemed to me to be less given to rebellion
and more easily managed than the half-breeds. The boats are steered with
a huge sweep passed through a ring in the stern post, and great
responsibility rests on the steersman, who at times requires all his
skill and strength to throw the heavily-laden boat clear of a rock in a
boiling rapid.

[Illustration: The Hudson Bay Fort at Edmonton]

In three days, without accident, we reached the island at the head of
the Grand Rapids, just in time to rescue a Company's clerk named Mackay
from a very unenviable position. He had come up with the boat-brigade
from Fort MacMurray, and, provisions running short, had travelled
overland accompanied by a half-breed to meet the steamer from which they
expected to get supplies to take down to the crews. On reaching the
island they were unable to attract the attention of the man left in
charge of the freight lying there, so they walked a couple of miles up
the north bank and built a raft on which to cross the river. They
thought they would be able to pole the raft, but the water proved too
deep, and being unable to get steerage way on her, they soon broke
their unmanageable vessel to pieces against a rock. It was now a case of
swimming in a strong current that was forcing them over the big rapid
where certain death awaited them; the half-breed succeeded in fetching
the island, but Mackay, seeing he was being swept over the fall, swam to
a rock and managed to climb on to it. The half-breed found the sole
inhabitant of the island in his cabin, but there was no boat in which to
go to the rescue, and if there had been it was no easy matter for two
men to lower it down, without all going over the rapid. They were
engaged in building a raft to make the attempt when they saw our brigade
coming down the river. By the aid of a long line and plenty of hands the
smallest boat was lowered down to the rocks, and what might have been a
very serious accident was luckily averted. Mackay was much chilled by
sitting on the rocks for several hours in wet clothes after two days
without eating; but, when he had had a good meal he was none the worse
for his rough experience, and, as is always the case when the danger is
past, had plenty of chaff to put up with.

The channel on the south side of the island can be used for dropping a
light boat down with a line, but all cargo has to be portaged; the north
channel is quite impracticable for navigation, having a heavy overfall
with an immense body of broken water. The whole river-bed above the
island is covered with round boulders of soft sandstone, many above
water, which make the approach to the landing difficult. The north bank
is a sand-bluff with many similar boulders protruding from the steep
cliff, the south bank lower and timbered close to the water's edge. Many
perfect specimens of petrifaction are to be seen on the island and along
the river-banks.

The portage is the whole length of the island, about one thousand yards,
and a rough tramway has been built to save the labour of carrying
cargoes such a distance on men's backs; this tramway is a splendid
plaything for the crews, and they spend hours in running the trolley
down the hill and poling it up on the principle of a canoe ascending a
rapid. Here we passed two weeks in waiting for the boats from below to
take the whole of the steamer's load, which during this time was brought
down by the same boats that we had used. The time slipped away quickly,
though we did nothing but smoke and yarn, and towards the end of July
the brigade turned up, bringing the first consignment of furs and the
news from the North. We were soon off on our hundred-and-fifty-miles'
run to Fort MacMurray, and the travelling was now exciting enough, a
succession of rapids making hard work for the men, as several had to be
run with half loads and the boats tracked up for the other half, and at
a small cascade everything had to be portaged while the boats were
dropped over with a line.

The worst rapid goes by the name of the Boiler Rapid, from the fact of
the boiler for the steamer _Wrigley_ which plies on Mackenzie River
having been lost here through the breaking of a boat. Here the channel
has a bad turn in the strong water, and neat steering is required to
clear two reefs of rocks which lie in an awkward position in the middle
of the stream. Sometimes there were long stretches of quiet water
between the rapids, and the boats drifted with the current while the men
smoked or slept; occasionally some one would strike up a snatch from one
of the old French-Canadian _chansons_, which seem to be dropping out of
fashion entirely since the steamers have to such a large extent done
away with the old style of boating. Four, five, and on long days
sometimes six times we put ashore to eat; a wonderful amount of flour,
bacon, and tea being consumed by the fifty men composing the brigade.
Considering the distance from which the provisions are brought, the
inability of this part of the country to supply any of the necessaries
of life, and the importance of forwarding trading-goods to the northern
districts before the short summer closes, it is not surprising that
there should be at times a scarcity. On the present occasion, however,
there was no stint, and fine weather made the trip delightful. At night
the boats were run ashore, and each crew lighting their own fire, the
encampment presented a most picturesque appearance, the gaudy belts and
head-gear of the swarthy crews as they moved in the firelight showing
in strong contrast to the dark background of tall pine trees. We
generally chose as exposed a place as possible for the camp, to get the
benefit of any wind there might be to blow away the mosquitos, which
were bad in this part of the river. I had the post of honour in the
leading boat steered by the guide of the brigade, a Swampy Indian from
the Red-River country who had spent many years in voyaging for the
Hudson's Bay Company. In former days the guide was absolute dictator and
had full control over all the boats, but nowadays discipline is slack
and he seems to have little authority.

It was a pretty sight to see the long string of boats leaping the rapids
behind us, the bowsman standing up and pointing the course to the
steersman, while the rowers plied their utmost and broke out into the
wild shouts that can never be suppressed in moments of excitement. The
Cree language forms the medium of conversation, although many of the
half-breeds talk fluently in Red-River French; English is little spoken
in any part of the North that I visited.

On the afternoon of the fourth day we arrived at Fort MacMurray, a small
post of little importance, standing at the junction of the Athabasca and
the Clearwater River, a large stream coming in from the southward, and
until the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Calgary the main
route to the North. The outfits sent from Winnipeg used to reach the
waters falling into the Arctic Sea far up the Clearwater at the
northern end of what was known as the Long Portage, but the present
route is much simpler, as there is no up-stream work with loaded boats.
After leaving Fort MacMurray the old course is maintained, following
down stream the main artery of the northern watershed.

The stern-wheel steamer _Grahame_ was waiting for us in the mouth of the
Clearwater, with Dr. Mackay, the Hudson's Bay Company's officer in
charge of the Athabasca district of which MacMurray is the most
southerly post. It extends to the north as far as Fort Resolution on the
Great Slave Lake, and also takes in Fort Chipeweyan, the head-post of
the district, situated at the west end of the Athabasca Lake, Fond du
Lac at the east end of the same sheet of water, Vermillion and Little
Red River on the Lower Peace River, and Fort Smith at the foot of the
rapids on the Slave River. It is no sinecure for the man that has to
keep this vast extent of country supplied with everything necessary for
the existence of the Indians, making the best bargain he can for the
products of their hunts, and endeavouring to please the Chipeweyans in
the woods and the shareholders of the Company in England at the same

The cargo was put on board the steamer in the evening, and in the early
morning we started once more for the North. The water was still
exceedingly low, but not so much so as to be an impediment to
navigation, as the stream increases in size after the junction of the
Clearwater, and beyond scraping once or twice on sand-bars, our progress
was uninterrupted. About twenty miles below MacMurray we stopped to take
on wood and pitch from the natural tar deposits which are just beginning
to attract a little attention in Eastern Canada, and the geologists,
about to be sent from Ottawa to examine into the resources of this part
of the country, will doubtless make a thorough investigation of the
amount and quality of the deposit.

The whole of that day we steamed through a wilderness of pine timber
presenting exactly the same appearance as in the upper reaches of the
river, but on the following morning the banks became low and swampy, the
stream sluggish and divided into various branches, and a few miles of
intricate navigation brought us out on to the Athabasca Lake. Across on
the north shore we could make out the white houses and church of Fort
Chipeweyan, and after a couple of hours' steaming, with smooth water, we
were alongside the rather rough apology for a landing-place.

Fort Chipeweyan was established in the early days of fur-trading, and a
hundred years ago was the starting-point of Sir Alexander Mackenzie's
voyage of discovery that resulted in the exploration and naming of the
immense stream discharging from the Great Slave Lake. It was the scene
of many stirring events during the rivalry of the North-West and the
Hudson's Bay Companies, and since their amalgamation has always been an
important trading-post. At the present day it consists of a long row of
white painted log-houses occupied chiefly by the Company's servants; at
the southern end are the officers' quarters in close proximity to the
large trading and provision stores; at the north end stand the
Protestant church and Mission buildings, and farther along the lake is
the Roman Catholic establishment. The numerous houses form quite an
imposing sight in contrast to the surrounding desolation. The settlement
is almost at the west end of the Athabasca Lake which stretches away
some two hundred and fifty miles to the eastward, with Fond du Lac, a
small outpost, at the far end.

Since the steamers have been running Chipeweyan has been partly supplied
with the provisions of civilization, but is still chiefly dependent on
its fisheries for food, and great pains are taken in the autumn to store
as many whitefish as possible. At the commencement of cold weather every
available net is working and the fish are hung on stages to freeze; a
large number are spoilt for eating if the weather turns warm during
hanging-time, but they are always available for the dogs. Trout-lines
are worked all the winter, and if the supply seems to be running short,
nets are also set under the ice, but usually without such good results
as at the Fall fishery. Caribou from the Barren Ground sometimes wander
near Fond du Lac, and whenever this occurs the fort is kept well
supplied by the Indians, but an occasional moose affords as a rule the
only chance of fresh meat. Many geese and ducks are killed and salted
during the spring and autumn migration of wild-fowl, which come to the
Athabasca Lake at these periods in vast numbers. Chipeweyan has a large
population for the part of the world in which it is situated, and as
there is a proportionate consumption of food no chance of laying in a
stock is missed. The lake still affords an excellent field for
exploration, as beyond the main route to the east end and some of the
nearer fisheries very little is known to the Whites, and the country in
every direction from Fond du Lac is mapped chiefly on information
derived from Indians. It is unlikely that there are any startling
discoveries to be made, as the general character of the country seems to
be the same as that of the district lying to the north and east of the
Great Slave Lake, developing gradually into the Barren Ground; but there
must be many geographical features in the form of streams and lakes to
be noticed, which might amply repay the trouble of a summer's
exploration. All supplies can easily be taken by water-carriage as far
as the east end of the lake, though of course the well-known difficulty
of transporting provisions into the Barren Ground would commence as soon
as the main lake was left.


After a stay of a few hours at the Fort, we started again in the
_Grahame_ on our voyage to the head of the rapids at Fort Smith, a
distance of perhaps a hundred miles, and almost immediately passed into
the main stream leaving the lake, and until the junction of the Peace
bearing the name of the Rocky River. During the high water in summer
part of the water of the Peace finds its way into the Athabasca Lake by
a passage known as the Quatres Fourches, but as the floods subside a
slight current sets in the opposite direction; the lake thus has another
outlet into the Peace, which eventually joins the Rocky River about
thirty miles below; the combined stream is then called the Slave River
till it debouches into the Great Slave Lake, on leaving which it becomes
the Mackenzie.

A distinct alteration in the appearance of the country is visible on
leaving Fort Chipeweyan. The red granite rock shows up and the pine
timber is smaller and more scattered, burnt in many places, and mixed
with a thick growth of willows and berry-producing bushes; the scenery
from the river is monotonous and without landmarks, although a wider
view can be obtained than in running down the Athabasca, where the big
pine-trees prevent all chance of seeing far in any direction. The
current is of no great velocity with the exception of two small rapids
formed by the contraction of the channel; both are navigable, although
at certain stages of water it is necessary to put out a rope to assist
the steamer in mounting the more formidable of the two. We had a very
merry passage down, Dr. Mackay and several of the officers of his
district accompanying us, and in good time on the second day we tied up
to the bank on the west side of the river, just at the head of the

[Illustration: The Grahame Towing Freight-scows on Lake Athabasca]

I must take this opportunity of congratulating the Hudson's Bay Company
on the efficient manner in which their steamers are managed. Considering
the utter incapacity of the Indian and half-breed crews when they first
come on board, great praise is due to the captains and engineers for
their success in overcoming obstacles in navigation and carrying on the
Company's business in a country so remote from civilization. Everything
is done in a quiet and orderly way, and a very noticeable feature is the
total absence of the swearing and profanity so essential to the
well-being of a river-steamer in other parts of the American continent.

The next day the work of portaging began, as the whole cargo had to be
transported sixteen miles to the lower end of the rapids. In former days
the goods were taken down by water, necessitating many portages and
great delay; but within the last few years a road has been cut through
the woods on the west side of the river, and the portage is made with
Red-River carts drawn by oxen. Twenty carts are in use, starting loaded
and returning light, on alternate days. The road is fair in a dry
summer, but full of mud-holes in bad weather, and celebrated as the
worst place for mosquitos in all the North.

While this was going on we amused ourselves with duck-shooting on some
lakes and muskegs a few miles back from the landing, and our bag was
always a welcome addition to the table, as no other kind of fresh meat
was to be had. Big game is very scarce along the main route, and though
there are still a few moose and bear it is rarely that an animal is seen
close to the banks of the river. As soon as the cargo was all over we
went across to Fort Smith, standing just below the rapids, to await the
arrival of the Mackenzie River steamboat which was expected at any time.
Dr. Mackay took me down the old boat-route in a canoe, and I had a good
opportunity of seeing what labour and risk there must have been with
heavily-laden boats; we made some fifteen portages in all, which
occupied a long afternoon, with only a light canoe. A large colony of
pelicans have taken possession of some islands among the rapids, and
rear their young without fear of molestation.

Fort Smith, in spite of its fine situation on an open flat high above
the river, is the most disreputable establishment I came across in the
North, and the contrast was more striking as most of the forts are kept
rather smartly. Several half-breeds have settled close round, and a
large band of Indians, known as the Caribou-Eaters, whose hunting-ground
lies between the two big lakes, get their supplies from here. Within a
short distance is Salt River, which produces all the salt consumed in
the country, and saves the expense of importing this necessary article.

On August 13th, after several days' waiting, the steamer _Wrigley_
arrived, bringing up the Mackenzie River furs and several of the
officers from that district. Among her passengers was a French
half-breed, King Beaulieu, who afterwards became my guide to the Barren
Ground. He agreed to go in this capacity at a consultation held in Dr.
Mackay's presence, swearing eternal fidelity and promising to do
everything in his power to ensure the success of the expedition. Nobody
could give him a very good character, but as he was known as a pushing
fellow and first-rate traveller, besides having made a successful
musk-ox hunt in the previous year, I concluded that my best chance lay
in going with him. Certainly, with all his faults, I must say that he
was thoroughly expert in all the arts of travel with canoes or
dog-sleighs, quick in emergencies, and far more courageous than most of
the half-breeds of the Great Slave Lake. When I was alone with him I
found him easy enough to manage; but his three sons, who accompanied us,
are the biggest scoundrels I ever had to travel with, and as they seem
to demoralize the old man when they are together, the united family is a
bad combination.

Two more days were passed in loading the _Wrigley_, and in discussion
among the officers from the two districts, who only meet on this
occasion, and have to make the most of the short stay to go over the
news of the last year and prospects for the next. Mr. Camsell, who is in
charge of Mackenzie River district, was on board, and, although I never
actually went within his dominions, was exceedingly kind in giving me
supplies from his own outfit, and in doing everything he could do to
help me during the year that I spent in the neighbourhood of the Great
Slave Lake.

The _Wrigley_, having the rough crossing of the lake to make, is a very
different style of boat to the stern-wheelers above, which do all their
work in smooth water. She is a screw-boat, drawing seven feet when
loaded; and it gives an idea of the great size of the Mackenzie when I
mention that a vessel with this draught of water has a clear run of
thirteen hundred miles from Fort Smith to Peel's River, a tributary
joining the main stream from the west a short distance above its mouth.
She has never, I believe, steamed into the Arctic Sea, partly on account
of the channel being unknown, and partly owing to the shortness of the
season, which necessitates her being constantly at work to supply the
forts before the closing of navigation.

After leaving Fort Smith and passing the mouth of Salt River the Slave
River widens considerably, and, with a slight current running between
low banks and numerous islands, follows a more circuitous course than in
its upper reaches. The steamer's course covers a distance of one hundred
and eighty miles to the Great Slave Lake, but, in travelling with canoes
or dogs, a number of portages are made to cut off bends of the river,
and about one-third of the distance is saved.

The granite formation is quickly lost sight of from the water. The sandy
banks are covered with a dense growth of willows backed by the pine
forest; a gloomy uninviting stretch of country, to which the tall dead
trees charred by former fires give a peculiar air of desolation. The
soft nature of the sand, and the fact that much of the bank has fallen
in through the action of the ice breaking up in the spring, render
tracking difficult on this part of the river; the fallen timber leaning
over it at all angles, and making it impossible to pass the line. The
sluggish nature of the current, however, compensates for this, as its
strength can always be overcome by oars or paddles in the bad places.
Early on the second day we steamed through the low delta lands at the
mouth of the river, and, passing cautiously among the sandy battures
lying far off shore, arrived in heavy rain and strong westerly wind at
Fort Resolution, situated about ten miles to the westward of the river's
mouth. Mr. Mackinlay, who is in charge of the fort, was away; but, as
the steamer was delayed for a couple of days by the storm that was
blowing, Mr. Camsell gave me very valuable assistance in making
preparation for my voyage.

The resources of the fort were at the lowest; no supplies had yet
arrived from outside, and the people were entirely dependent on their
nets for food: as is usually the case at this time of year, fish were
scarce and hard times prevalent. A boat had been fitted out to be sent
to the east end of the lake to trade for meat with the Indians hunting
there; but after waiting a long time for the steamer, to obtain the
ammunition necessary for trading, she was blown ashore and broken up on
the night of our arrival. I had intended to take a passage by this boat;
but as a party of men had to be sent to Fort Smith to bring down another
one, and I was anxious to get among the game with as little delay as
possible, I determined to make the journey as well as I could with

It was now that I made the acquaintance of King Beaulieu's sons,
François, José, and Paul, each of them married and father of such a big
family that it makes one tremble for the future of the Great Slave Lake
country when the next generation has grown up. The original Beaulieu
seems to have been a French half-breed brought in by the Hudson's Bay
Company among the early _voyageurs_ from Red River. He settled at Salt
River, where buffalo were numerous at the time, and by an indefinite
number of wives raised a large family which is threatening gradually to
inundate the North. King's father appears to have been a fighting man,
and great stories of his bravery and prowess are told by his sons and
grandsons; but his name only appears in the Company's records in
connection with various deeds of violence not much to his credit.

All King's family were hanging about the fort in a state of
semi-starvation, and I was glad when we eventually started well on in
the afternoon of August 19th, with the hope of reaching first some good
fishing-ground to supply them with food for immediate want, and
afterwards the country of the caribou in the woods to the north of the
lake, while beyond that again was the prospect of finding the musk-ox
far out in the Barren Ground.

In character a Beaulieu is a mixture of a very simple child and a German
Jew; all the lack of reason of the one combined with the greed of the
other, and a sort of low cunning more like that of an animal than a
human being. He is not a nice man to travel with, as he always keeps a
longing eye on his master's possessions, even though he is fully as
well-equipped himself, and is untrustworthy if you leave anything in his
charge. To your face he is fairspoken and humble enough, and to hear
him talk you would think he had a certain amount of regard for you; but
out of sight the promises are forgotten, and he is devising some scheme
to annoy you and get something out of you. The only way to treat him is
as you would treat a dog; if you are kind to him he takes it as a sign
that you are afraid of him, and acts accordingly. With the exception of
King there is no fear of violence; but his passion is at times so
uncontrollable that he is capable of anything. It is needless to relate
all the bother I had with these people, and I shall content myself with
saying that the whole time I was with them the camp was the scene of one
continuous wrangle; sometimes they would quarrel with me and sometimes
among themselves, but we never did anything without having a row.

As far as Fort Resolution the travelling had been almost as easy,
although there were many delays, as in civilization; but directly you
branch from the Company's main route you are thrown entirely on your own
resources, and, owing to the impossibility of carrying enough provision
for a prolonged journey in the Barren Ground, the rifle and net are the
only means of obtaining food. This is a point to be well considered
before undertaking a trip to the country of the musk-ox, as, however
well you may be supplied at starting, you are sure to experience some
hard times before your object is accomplished.

My only provisions consisted of a couple of sacks of flour and about
fifty pounds of bacon, and I might as well have started with none at
all. My companions had all the improvidence of the Indian nature, and
hated the idea of keeping anything for hard times. There was such a
constant begging, not without a certain excuse from hunger, to be
allowed to eat flour and bacon, that I was really rather glad when it
was all gone, which was actually the case before we left the Great Slave
Lake. We had a good supply of tea and tobacco, though it proved after
all insufficient, plenty of ammunition for the three Winchester rifles,
and powder, shot, and ball for the muzzle-loading weapons of the party;
we had also nets and a few hooks and lines, matches, needles, and awls
to be used in the manufacture of moccasins and the deer-skin clothes so
essential for winter travel; knives of various shapes and sizes,
scrapers for dressing skins, and a small stock of the duffel imported by
the Company for lining mittens and wrapping up the feet during the
intense cold that we were sure to experience during the trip.

Our fleet numbered three large birch-bark canoes, crowded with men,
women, and children, amounting in all to over twenty souls, or, to be
more practical, mouths. Besides these there were fifteen gaunt and
hungry dogs, which had been spending their short summer's rest in
starving as a preparation for the hard work and harder blows which were
in store for them in the coming winter.

I was of course the only white man in the party, and whatever
conversation I held with the three or four half-breeds that I could
understand was carried on in the French patois of the North. Among
themselves they used the Montaignais dialect of the Chipeweyan language,
which is spoken with variations to the northward of the Cree-speaking
belt, till its place is taken by the Slavi and Locheaux language of the
Mackenzie River; in a couple of months I had picked up enough
Montaignais to be able to mix it with French and make myself fairly well

Four deerskin lodges made our encampment. I lived with King, as his camp
was always the quietest; in the other lodges there was a continual
screaming of children, or yelping of hungry dogs as they felt the cruel
blow of axe or paddle, which was the sure result of approaching the
savoury-smelling kettle too close. We camped the first night in the
delta of the Slave, or, as it is more usually called, the Big River. I
distributed a little ammunition, and we killed enough ducks to provide
the whole party with a night's provision. The next day a gale of wind
was blowing from the lake, and, after following winding muddy channels
all the morning, we were obliged to camp again on a point of willows
beyond which we should have been exposed to the full violence of the
storm, and our overloaded canoes would have had no chance of living in
the heavy sea. Here we remained two days, still within twenty miles of
the fort. Wild-fowl were numerous, but the great autumn migration had
not yet set in, and all the birds that we found had been bred in the
muskegs that surrounded us on all sides; they were mostly mallard,
widgeon, teal, shoveller, and pintail, the latter being particularly
plentiful. Musk-rats swam in all the little creeks and lakes, and, as
they are esteemed as an article of food, and their skins are of a
trifling value, we killed a great many.

[Illustration: Patching a Birch-bark on the Slave River]

On the third day we paddled along the shore of the lake against a strong
head-wind, passing the Isle de Pierre, one of the best fisheries in the
neighbourhood, and camped at the Point of Rocks, the first spot on the
south side of the lake where the red granite again shows up, and the end
of the muskeg country that extends far on each side of the Big River.
Here we caught enough whitefish with the nets to enable even the dogs to
have a small feed, and, as we killed forty ducks while waiting for the
wind to moderate, everybody was satisfied. In the afternoon we put out
in a calm to paddle across the open traverse to the first of a group of
islands about fifteen miles to the north. This traverse is the terror of
the lake for canoes, both in summer on account of the heavy sea which
gets up suddenly, and in winter when the drifting snow in stormy weather
obscures everything and makes it a difficult matter to keep the course
over the ice. On this occasion we got over just in time, and, camping on
the nearest island of the group, were delayed for two days by strong
north-west winds accompanied by showers of driving rain.

These islands, marked on the map as Simpson's Group, extend for a
hundred miles in a north-easterly direction to Fond du Lac, and, if ever
explored, will be found to be in immense numbers, varying in size, but
all of the same red-granite formation, covered with a scanty growth of
pine, birch, and willows. Many of them rise to a considerable height,
with the ridges generally running south-west and north-east. A few moose
still inhabit the larger islands; but the big herds of caribou from the
Barren Ground that used formerly to come here in their wanderings seem
to have deserted them of late years. An occasional small pond gives
harbourage for a few wild-fowl, while wood-grouse, and in winter
ptarmigan, are plentiful. The bare outlying rocks between the islands
are the breeding-ground of gulls and terns: divers and a few cormorants
give additional life to the lake in summer; but at the first sign of
cold weather the water-birds all leave for a more temperate land, and a
deathlike silence settles over the frozen channels during the eight
months of winter.

The island on which we were encamped, being the most westerly of the
group, was exposed to the full force of the gale. The heavy fresh-water
seas broke with great violence on the weather shore and on the numerous
rocks, some above water and others submerged, that make the navigation
of this part of the lake dangerous for anything larger than a canoe. It
was no easy matter to get out our nets, even to leeward of the island,
and the supply of fish was very scanty; dissatisfaction was prevalent in
the camp, and heavy inroads were made on the flour and bacon that would
have proved so useful later on. When the weather moderated we started
against a strong head-wind, and a hard day's paddling brought us to a
spot known as the Inconnu Fishery, situated on an island halfway to Fond
du Lac. The Inconnu, or Unknown Fish, is, I believe, entirely restricted
to the Mackenzie River country, and its southernmost limits seem to be
the rapids at Fort Smith; it was thus named by the early _voyageurs_ of
the Company, who were unable to classify it, and even to this day there
is a great variety of opinion as to what family it is a member of: a
long thin fish, not unlike a misshapen salmon, running up to fifteen
pounds in weight, with flabby and unpalatable flesh, it is held in very
low estimation in comparison with whitefish or trout, and is only
appreciated in hard times. At this particular island it will take a bait
readily, but I never heard of its doing so in any other part of the
lake, although large numbers are caught in the nets. There is some
peculiarity in the water which may account for this, as, even in the
dead of winter, there is generally an open hole in the ice; and, in
passing the Inconnu Fishery, one must keep right ashore to avoid the
treacherous spot. Here we were wind-bound again, and indeed for several
days made very little head-way against the northerly gales that seem
almost incessant at this time of year. We had a pleasant spot to camp in
every night, but not always enough to eat, and it was the first of
September before we sighted the high land on the north side of the lake.
This was the first really fine day we had had since leaving the fort,
and, taking advantage of it, we left the shelter of the islands, made a
bold crossing of the wide stretch of open water, and camped among the
scattering pines on the northern mainland. Exactly opposite to us was
the narrow entrance to Christie's Bay of the maps, extending some
hundred miles to the east and south-east, offering another tempting
field for exploration. On the west side of the entrance is a remarkable
many-coloured bluff, composed of the soft rock used by the Indians for
the manufacture of their stone pipes, which are still in common use.

The range of hills along the north shore, which we now had to coast,
average perhaps five hundred feet in height, occasionally reaching a
much higher elevation, but without any conspicuous peaks; the land
begins to rise at once from the lake, in many places taking the form of
a steep cliff. The vegetation is the same as that on the south side of
the lake, but more stunted, the pine trees especially showing the
increased rigour of the climate; small birch trees are still numerous,
and the growth of the hardy willows is almost as strong as at Fort
Resolution. Fruit-bearing plants are common. The small muskegs between
the ridges of rock are full of a much-prized yellow berry, while
blueberry bushes flourish in the dry spots, and a few raspberries are
still to be seen; but strawberries, which used to be plentiful on the
south shore and among the islands, have disappeared. I noticed here the
low trailing plant bearing a woolly red berry, known as Cannicannick by
the Indians to the west of the Rocky Mountains, and used by them as
tobacco; the Slave Lake Indians sometimes smoke it, but prefer the inner
bark of the red willow; the Hudson's Bay negrohead tobacco is in my
opinion much improved, as well as economized, by a mixture with either
of these substances. Countless streams, the outlet of lakes on the
elevated tableland to the north, foam down the deep gulches in the
hillside, and confused masses of fallen timber and rocks give evidence
of the frequent land-slides that take place during the spring thaws.

Again the north wind howled dismally down the lake, and several more
days were occupied in reaching Fond du Lac. The enforced delay had a
depressing effect upon the whole party, as fish were scarce, and
paddling against continual head-winds is always hard work. At last, on
September 5th, passing through a narrow arm of the lake with a
perceptible current formed by the prevailing winds, we came in sight of
Fond du Lac. A single house at the head of a snug little bay is all that
is left standing, but the ruins of others, and a number of rough graves,
show that at one time it was a more populous place. It was formerly an
outpost of Fort Resolution, used as a depot for collecting meat, and
presided over in a haphazard manner by King Beaulieu, who is still
rather sore about the abandonment of the post and his own discharge from
the Company's service. The weather now became worse than ever, snow and
hail taking the place of rain and throwing the first white mantle on the
hill-tops. It was evident that such a large party, crippled as we were
with women and children, would never be able to reach the caribou, in
the event of these animals being far back from the Great Slave Lake. We
had met no Indians, and so had no means of hearing the news of the
caribou, which forms the one topic of interest among the Dog-Rib and
Yellow Knife tribes who hunt in this part of the country. Luckily trout
and whitefish were fairly abundant, some of the former reaching such an
enormous size that I am afraid to hazard a guess at their weight, though
I afterwards saw one at the fort that turned the scale at fifty-eight

[Illustration: King Beaulieu]


We held a big council as to ways and means, and, after much discussion,
finally came to the decision that our best chance was to leave the main
body of women and children with sufficient men to attend to the nets for
them, while the rest of us pushed on to the north with our two biggest
canoes, in the hope of falling in with the caribou, and afterwards the
musk-ox. We were to leave all the dogs at Fond du Lac, as we expected to
send back before the setting in of winter; only two women, King's wife
and daughter, were to come with us to dry meat, dress deerskins, and
make moccasins. Besides them our crew consisted of King Beaulieu, his
sons François, José, Paul, and Baptiste (a boy of twelve), Michel
(King's son-in-law), and a small Indian boy who had thrown in his lot
with us as the best visible means of getting anything to keep him alive
during the autumn. All the provisions that I had brought with me were
exhausted, and we had nothing but a dozen small dried whitefish when we
left Fond du Lac on September 7th to paddle another thirty miles along
the north shore before leaving the lake. Our loads were cut down to the
smallest weight possible in order to save time on the portages. I left
my Paradox behind as the ammunition was heavy, and trusted entirely to a
Winchester rifle; a pair of glasses and a blanket about completed my
share of the cargo. I had no instruments for taking observations, no
compass, and no watch; and, take it all round, it was a very
poorly-equipped expedition. We made a bad start, as, after an hour's
travel across a deep bay, we found ourselves storm-bound on a small
island, the canoes hauled up on the beach, and such a heavy sea on all
sides that we could not get out a net. We spent an uncomfortable night
on the island, but the wind moderated a little in the morning and we put
out again. After being once driven back to our refuge we managed to
reach the mainland, with the canoes half full of water and our blankets
and clothes soaked. However, a good fire soon mended matters, and, as we
caught enough whitefish to stave off present hunger, contentment reigned
in the camp.

The next evening, after another long struggle against the wind, we
camped in the small bay at which we intended to make our first portage,
and our long journey on the Great Slave Lake was finished. Three ducks,
our whole bag for the day, and a kettle of black tea gave us a scanty
supper, and, as there was still a little daylight, we each carried a
small load to the top of the hill, a distance of two miles, but were
disappointed in not seeing any caribou tracks. We thought we had a
chance of finding them close to the lake, but as a matter of fact we
had several days' journey yet before we fell in with them. It now seemed
pretty certain that we were in for a spell of what my companions alluded
to as _les misères_ till we reached the meat-country, the joys of which
formed the chief subject of talk round the camp-fires.

With the first streak of light we began the portage in a driving
snowstorm, and long before midday the rest of the cargo and the biggest
canoe were landed at the top of the steep climb; the other canoe we
abandoned, thinking one was ample for our work in the Barren Ground. We
sat down for a smoke at the top of the hill, and took our last view of
the Great Slave Lake. Looking southward we could see the far shore and
the unknown land beyond rising in terraces to a considerable height, and
very similar in appearance to the range we were on. Ahead of us, to the
north, lay a broken rocky country sparsely timbered and dotted with
lakes, the nearest of which, a couple of miles away, was the end of our
portage; a bleak and desolate country, already white with snow and with
a film of ice over the smaller ponds. Three hundred miles in the heart
of this wilderness, far beyond the line where timber ceases, lies the
land of the musk-ox, to which we were about to force our way, depending
entirely on our guns for food and for clothing to withstand the intense
cold that would soon be upon us. A pair of hawks hovering overhead
furnished the only signs of life, and the outlook was by no means
cheerful. As I was sitting on a rock meditating upon these things old
King came up and said: "Let us finish the portage quickly; it is
dinner-time." I quite agreed with him, but put his remark down as a
rather unseasonable joke, as I did not think there was a bite to eat
among us; but on reaching the lake I was pleasantly surprised to see
King fish out a lump of bacon, which he had stowed away some time ago
after one of my lectures on improvidence. It was really the last piece,
and, although there was no bread (and for the matter of that there was
none for the next three months) we all made a good enough meal. The lake
was of course named Lac du Lard to commemorate this event.

I think no white man had ever passed through this chain of lakes before,
as Sir John Franklin went up by a more westerly route, following the
course of the Yellow Knife River, while Hearne and Back both left from
the east end of the Great Slave Lake; Stewart and Anderson, when they
were searching for survivors of Franklin's last ill-fated expedition,
reached the head waters of the Great Fish River by a chain of lakes
about eighty miles to the eastward of my present route. If the lakes
were known among the Indians by any particular names I enquired their
meaning and preserved them; the others I named from incidents in the
voyage or from the Company's officers of Athabasca and Mackenzie River

During the afternoon we made four more short portages, passing through
the same number of lakes, some of them of a considerable size. We kept a
good look-out for the caribou but saw no signs of them, and at dark,
after a hard day's work, camped on the east shore of the Lac de Mort. It
acquired this name from a disaster that overwhelmed a large encampment
of Yellow Knives who were hunting here during one of those epidemics of
scarlet fever that have from time to time ravaged the North. Most of the
hunters were too ill to walk, and, as game was scarce, the horrors of
starvation, combined with disease, almost exterminated the band.

The next two days were occupied in the same manner of travelling towards
the north with numerous portages. We could not catch any fish, though we
set a net every night, but killed enough ducks to keep us alive without
satisfying our ravenous hunger. The weather was still cold, with strong
head-winds and frequent snowstorms.

On the third day we caught a big trout and killed a loon and a
wolverine, the latter after a most exciting chase on a long point. In
the next portage accordingly we made a big feast, although wolverines
are only eaten in starving times, as they are looked upon in the light
of scavengers and grave-robbers, and "_carcajou_-eater" is a favourite
term of contempt. On the present occasion nobody made any objection, and
in the circumstances the despised meat tasted remarkably well. Our joy
was soon cut short by finding the next lake, which was more sheltered
from the wind than the others we had passed through, covered with a
sheet of ice sufficiently thick to prevent the passage of a birch-bark
canoe, while a heavy snowstorm came on at the same time, making matters
look more gloomy than ever. King's sons at once expressed their
intention of returning to Fond du Lac while the lakes behind them were
still open. King, however, here showed great determination, and
declared, with an unnecessary amount of strong language, that he had the
heart of Beaulieu (the worst sort of heart, by the way), and, when once
he had started, would not turn back without seeing the musk-ox.
Eventually we persuaded them to come on, and, carrying the canoe,
reduced our load to the very smallest amount of necessaries. We then
started on foot for an expedition that would have most certainly ended
in disaster if we had gone on with it. I noticed that the two women had
the heaviest loads to carry, but having myself as much as I cared about
for a long distance I made no remarks on the subject. Luckily, after
spending a night without eating under the shelter of a bunch of dwarf
pines, we discovered the next lake to be almost clear of ice; and
carrying our canoe over the four-mile portage we continued our journey
as before, pushing on as quickly as possible to reach the Lac du Rocher,
where the half-breeds were confident of meeting the caribou, or, at the
worst, to camp at a spot well known to them where we might catch fish
enough for a temporary support. We had now been in a half-starving
condition for several days, and were beginning to lose the strength that
we required for portaging and paddling against the continual north wind.

On September 13th we reached the Lac du Rocher, a large irregular sheet
of water, so broken up with bays and promontories that it is hard to
estimate its size. Camp was made on the south side of the lake, and we
set our nets and lines, baited with carefully preserved pieces of
whitefish, while others explored the surrounding hills for caribou
tracks, but without success. The half-breeds were all much put out by
this failure, as they have always found the Lac du Rocher a certainty
for caribou at this time of year, and were unable to account for it,
except by the theory that the animals had altered the usual course of
their autumn migration and were passing to the east of us. There was not
a fish in the net when we turned in; but a good trout was caught in the
middle of the night, and we all got up and finished the last mouthful.
Again we had no breakfast, and the early morning found us discussing
various plans in rather a serious manner. The final decision was that
Paul and François should push ahead to try and find the caribou, while
the rest of us moved the camp to the north end of the lake and worked
the fishing till their return; six days were allowed them for their
trip, after which each party was to act independently, and we were all
to get out of the awkward situation in the best way we could.

Accordingly we took the canoes across the lake as soon as our hunters
had started, and put up our deerskin lodge in the shelter of a clump of
well-grown pine trees; we tried the hand-lines for hours without any
better result than completely numbing our fingers, and towards evening
set the net, also without any luck. I took my rifle and walked two or
three miles back from the lake, but beyond an Arctic fox, which I missed
at long range, saw nothing edible.

There is no better camp than a well-set-up lodge with a good fire
crackling in the middle, and in this respect we were comfortable enough,
but the shortness of food was telling rapidly. We had made no pretence
at eating all day, and since leaving Fond du Lac had subsisted almost
entirely on tea and tobacco, while even on the Great Slave Lake
provisions had been none too plentiful. We passed the evening smoking,
and, as I have found usual in these cases, talking of all the good
things we had ever eaten, while eyes shone in the firelight with the
brilliancy peculiar to the early stages of starvation. Outside the lodge
the wind was moderated; the northern lights, though it was still early
in the year, were flashing brightly across the sky, and far away in the
distance we could hear the ominous howling of wolves. Late in the night
I awoke, and, on lighting my pipe, was greeted by King with the remark:
"Ah! Monsieur, une fois j'ai goûté le pain avec le beurre; le bon Dieu a
fait ces deux choses là exprès pour manger ensemble."

Long before daylight we put off in the canoe to visit the net, and to
our great joy found five fair-sized trout, quite enough to relieve all
anxiety for the day; the weather also had improved, turning much warmer,
with the snow rapidly thawing. The half-breeds, who are all Catholics,
held a short service, as it was Sunday morning and they are very
particular in this respect. Afterwards we all went out hunting, but only
two or three ptarmigan, the first we had seen, were killed, and there
were still no signs of the caribou. The country here is much less rugged
than on first leaving the Great Slave Lake, and the rolling hills are
covered with a small plant, halfway between heather and moss, bearing a
small black berry, and growing in thick bunches wherever the soil is
capable of producing it. This plant, and a wiry black moss which grows
in patches on the flat rocks, are much used as fuel in dry weather, if
no wood is available; in wet weather they are of course useless. The
hollows between the ridges are generally muskegs, thawed out to the
depth of a foot, producing a long coarse grass, and in many places a
plentiful growth of a dwarf variety of the Labrador tea, an excellent
substitute for the product of China. Huge glacial boulders lie scattered
in every direction, many of them balanced in an extraordinary manner on
the points of smaller stones, which seem to have been of softer
substance and gradually worn away. In other spots are patches of broken
rocks, covering a large extent of ground and very difficult to travel
on, especially when a light coating of snow makes them slippery, and
conceals the deep holes in which a leg might easily be snapped; even the
caribou, sure-footed as they are, will often make a long detour in
preference to taking the risk of a fall among these rocks. Lakes of all
sizes and shapes abound on every side, connected by small streams that
find their way into the Slave Lake one hundred miles to the southward.
Pine timber is now very scarce and mostly small, growing in sheltered
spots with long stretches where not a tree is visible. A fairly thick
stem starts from the ground and immediately spreads out into a bush with
the branches growing downwards, and the top of the tree seldom reaching
a height of ten feet. Sometimes, however, even as far out as this, a
bunch of really well-grown trees is to be found, probably having the
advantages of better soil to spring from. A very few birch sticks,
invaluable to the Indian for making snow-shoes, still manage to exist,
and patches of scrub willow are frequent. The general appearance of the
country and the vegetation, with the exception of the timber, reminded
me strongly of the desert of Arnavatn in the interior of Iceland.

A great variety of mosses and lichens flourish here and in the true
Barren Ground outside the tree limit, the _tripe des roches_ which has
played such a conspicuous part in the story of Arctic exploration being
particularly abundant at this spot. The formation of the rocks is still
red granite, with a good deal of mica showing in the boulders.

Late in the evening we heard a gun, and, on our replying, four or five
shots were fired in rapid succession, the signal of good news; soon
afterwards Paul and François came in, each carrying a small load of
meat, which we finished promptly. They had fallen in with the caribou
about thirty miles on, and reported them to be moving south in great
numbers; we had now no hesitation in pushing on to meet them, and were
all jubilant at the thought of good times coming. The next day was warm
again with south-west wind, and, after passing through the Lac du
Corbeau (named from our little Indian, who had acquired the title of
_Chasseur du Corbeau_ from an unsuccessful hunt he had made after a
raven at one of our hungry camps), we portaged into Lake Camsell, a fine
sheet of water over twenty miles in length, running more to the east
than the other lakes we had passed, full of small islands, and with
rather more timber than usual on its shores.

For the first time we could put down our paddles, and, hoisting a large
red blanket for a sail, ran in front of the steady fair wind; the water
was blue, the sun pleasantly warm, and the snow had almost disappeared.
In the afternoon there was a cry of _Et-then, Et-then!_ (the caribou),
and we saw a solitary bull standing against the sky-line on the top of
an island close to the east shore of the lake. As soon as we were out of
sight we landed and quickly surrounded him; he made a break for the
water, but one of the half-breeds, in hiding behind a rock, dropped him
before he put to sea. It was a full-grown bull in prime condition, the
velvet not yet shed, but the horns quite hard underneath.

A scene of great activity now commenced. There was no more thought of
travelling that night, and, while two men were skinning and cutting up
the caribou, the others unloaded and carried ashore the canoe, lit a
fire, and got ready the kettles for a feast that was to make up for all
the hard times just gone through. There was plenty of meat for everybody
to gorge themselves, and we certainly made a night of it, boiling and
roasting till we had very nearly finished the whole animal. I could not
quite keep up with the others at this first trial of eating powers, but
after a couple of weeks among the caribou I was fully able to hold my
own. We seemed at length to have found the land of plenty, as ptarmigan
were very numerous, just losing the last of their pretty brown plumage
and putting on their white dresses to match the snow, which would soon
drive them for food and shelter into the thick pine woods round the
shores of the Great Slave Lake.

We had to sleep off the effects of over-eating, and it was late in the
day before we started down the lake. After two or three hours' sailing
at a slow pace we spied a band of caribou, again on an island. With
unnecessary haste we made for the land, and, through watching the deer
instead of the water, ran the canoe on a sharp submerged rock, tearing
an ugly hole in the birch-bark. We all stepped overboard up to the
waist, carried the cargo ashore, and, leaving the women to stitch up the
canoe with the bark and fibre that is always kept handy when away from
the birch woods, started in pursuit of the caribou. The result was that
after a great deal of bad shooting we killed sixteen on the island,
while the canoe, hastily patched up, with a kettle going steadily to
bale out and the women paddling and shouting lustily, succeeded in
picking up two more that tried to escape by swimming.

The evening was passed in skinning and cutting up the meat, which was
stowed away in rough _caches_ of rocks to keep it safe from the wolves
and wolverines. These animals are always very plentiful in attendance on
the big herds of caribou, and are often the cause of much annoyance to
the hunter through stealing meat that he is relying upon for
subsistence; in many places where the rocks are small it is impossible
to build a _cache_ strong enough to keep out the wolverines, which are
possessed of wonderful strength for their size.

The following day while Michel, Paul, and myself were walking overland
to join the canoe at the end of the lake, we fell in with another band
of caribou, and, as the rest of the party landed at an opportune moment,
we caught the animals on a long point and made another big slaughter of
seventeen, among them some old bulls with very fine heads. A young bull,
nearly pure-white in colour, came my way, and I secured him, but
unfortunately the skin was afterwards stolen by wolverines. We had now
plenty of meat to establish a permanent camp, and set up our lodge at
the end of Lake Camsell with the intention of leaving the women and boys
to collect and dry the meat and dress the skins, while the men were away
on a short hunt after musk-ox before the lakes set fast with ice.

We were now within a short distance of the last woods, if a few bunches
of dwarf pines, at intervals of several miles, can be called woods, and
were about to push out into the Barren Ground, where, with the exception
of an occasional patch of small scrub willow, all timber ceases.


In the various records of Arctic exploration, and especially in those
dealing with the Barren Ground, there is frequent mention of deer,
reindeer, and caribou, leaving the casual reader in doubt as to how many
species of deer inhabit the rocky wilderness between the woods and the
Arctic Sea. As a matter of fact, the Barren Ground caribou (which name I
prefer, as distinguishing it from the woodland caribou, the only other
member of the reindeer tribe existing on the American continent) is the
sole representative of the Cervidæ found in this locality.

The chief distinction between this animal and its cousin the woodland
caribou, or _caribou des bois fort_ in the half-breed parlance, lies in
the different size, the latter having by far the advantage in height and
weight. I have had no opportunity of weighing specimens of either kind,
but should imagine that the woodland must be fully a third the heavier
of the two. I cannot agree with some of the natural history books which
state that the smaller animals carry the larger horns, as of all the
Barren Ground caribou that we killed I never saw any with horns to
compare with the giant antlers of the woodland caribou of Newfoundland
or British Columbia; more irregular, if possible, they may be, and
perhaps have a greater number of points, but they are far behind in
weight, spread, and size of beam. The perfect double plough is more
often seen in the smaller specimen, the larger animal being usually
provided with only one, or with one plough and a spike. In colour they
closely resemble each other, but there is rather more white noticeable
in the representative of the Barren Ground, especially in the females,
while the texture of the coat, as is to be expected, is finer in the
smaller variety. The hoofs have the same curious "snow-shoe" formation
in both cases.

The range of the Barren Ground caribou appears to be from the islands in
the Arctic Sea to the southern part of Hudson's Bay, while the Mackenzie
River is the limit of their western wandering, although not many years
ago they are known to have crossed the Slave River in the neighbourhood
of Fort Smith. In the summer time they keep to the true Barren Ground,
but in the autumn, when their feeding-grounds are covered with snow,
they seek the hanging moss in the woods. From what I could gather from
the Yellow Knife Indians at the east end of the Great Slave Lake, and
from my own personal experience, it was late in October, immediately
after the rutting season, that the great bands of caribou, commonly
known as _La Foule_, mass up on the edge of the woods, and start for
food and shelter afforded by the stronger growth of pines farther
southward. A month afterwards the males and females separate, the latter
beginning to work their way north again as early as the end of February;
they reach the edge of the woods in April, and drop their young far out
towards the sea-coast in June, by which time the snow is melting rapidly
and the ground showing in patches. The males stay in the woods till May
and never reach the coast, but meet the females on their way inland at
the end of July; from this time they stay together till the rutting
season is over and it is time to seek the woods once more.

The horns are mostly clear of velvet towards the end of September, but
some of the females carry it later even than this; the old bulls shed
their antlers early in December, and the young ones do the same towards
the end of that month, the females being some weeks later. In June both
sexes present a very shabby appearance, as the old coats have grown long
and white and are falling off in patches; by the end of July the new
hair has grown, and the skins are then in their best condition.

The caribou are extremely uncertain in their movements, seldom taking
the same course in two consecutive years, and thus affording ground for
the universal cry in the North that the caribou are being killed off. I
think there is really much truth in the statement that they keep a more
easterly route than formerly, as they seldom come in large quantities
to the Mackenzie River, where they used to be particularly numerous in
winter. This is in a great measure accounted for by the fact that great
stretches of the country have been burnt, and so rendered incapable of
growing the lichen so dearly beloved by these animals. The same thing
applies at Fort Resolution, where, within the last decade, the southern
shore of the Great Slave Lake has been burnt and one of the best ranges
totally destroyed.

One point that seems to bear out the theory of a more easterly movement
is that within the last three years the caribou have appeared in their
thousands at York Factory on the west side of Hudson's Bay, where they
have not been seen for over thirty years; but I cannot believe, judging
from the vast herds that I myself saw, that there is any danger of the
caribou being exterminated.

It is absurd to say that the white man is killing them off, as no white
man ever fires a shot at them unless they pass very close to a Company's
establishment, and the Indians are themselves surely dying out year by
year. Nor is it any argument to say that the Indians sometimes starve to
death from want of success in hunting, as a glance at Hearne's _Journey
to the Northern Ocean in 1771_ will show that the same state of affairs
prevailed before the Company had penetrated to the Great Slave Lake or
Mackenzie River. Starvation will always be one of the features of a
Northern Indian's life, owing to his own improvidence; his instinct is
to camp close on the tracks of the caribou and move as they move; a
permanent house and a winter's supply of meat are an abomination to him.

Since the introduction of firearms the Indian has lost much of his old
hunting lore! a snare is almost a thing of the past, but is still
occasionally used when ammunition is scarce. It is no hard matter to
kill caribou in the open country, for the rolling hills usually give
ample cover for a stalk, and even on flat ground they are easily
approached at a run, as they will almost invariably circle head to wind
and give the hunter a chance to cut them off. But it is with the spear
that the vast slaughter in the summer is annually made. The best
swimming-places are known and carefully watched, and woe betide a herd
of caribou if once surrounded in a lake by the small hunting-canoes. One
thrust of the spear, high up in the loins and ranging forward, does the
work. There is no idea of sparing life, no matter what the age or sex of
the victim may be; the lake is red with blood and covered with sometimes
several hundred carcasses, of which fully one-half are thrown away as
not fat enough to be eaten by men who may be starving in a month. Surely
this should exterminate the game; but, if one remonstrates with the
Indians at the waste, the ready answer comes: "Our fathers did this and
have taught us to do the same; they did not kill off the caribou, and
after we are gone there will be plenty for our children." These animals
are easily induced to swim at any particular spot by putting up a line
of rocks at right angles to the water, and a line of pine bush planted
in the snow across a frozen lake has the same effect; the caribou will
not pass it, but following it along fall an easy prey to the hunter
lying in ambush at the end of the line. In the winter they are killed in
great numbers on the small lakes in the timber, as they seem disinclined
to leave the open lake and will often run close up to the gun rather
than take to the woods. I have heard this accounted for by the
suggestion that they take the report of the gun for a falling tree and
are afraid of being struck if they venture off the lake; but I fancy
their natural curiosity has a great deal to do with this extraordinary
behaviour. It frequently happens that they will run backwards and
forwards within range till the last of the band is killed.

The caribou supplies the Indian with nearly all the necessaries of life;
it gives him food, clothing, house, and the equivalent of money to spend
at the fort. He leaves the trading-post, after one of his yearly visits,
with a supply of ammunition, tea, and tobacco, a blanket or two, and, if
he has made a good season's hunt, is perhaps lucky enough to have taken
one of the Company's duffel _capotes_ (about the best form of greatcoat
that I have ever seen). He has a wife and family waiting for him
somewhere on the shore of the big lake where fish are plentiful,
expecting a gaudy dress, a shawl, or a string of beads from the fort,
but relying entirely on the caribou for maintenance during the awful
cold of the coming winter. The journey up till they fall in with the
caribou is usually full of hardships, but once they have reached the
hunting-ground and found game a great improvement in affairs takes
place; the hunter is busy killing, while the women dry meat and make
grease, dress the skins for moccasins, mittens, and gun-covers, and cut
_babiche_, which takes the place of string for lacing snow-shoes and
many other purposes. For the hair-coats, which everybody, men, women,
and children, wear during the cold season, the best skins are those of
the young animals killed in July or August, as the hair is short and
does not fall off so readily as in coats made from the skin of a
full-grown caribou; while the strong sinews lying along the backbone of
an old bull make the very best thread for sewing. Anything that is left
over after supplying the whole family finds a ready sale at the fort,
where there is always a demand for dried meat, tongue-grease, dressed
skins, and _babiche_, so that the Dog-Ribs and Yellow Knives, whose
country produces little fur, with the exception of musk-ox robes, are
thus enabled to afford some few of the white man's luxuries, tea and
tobacco being especially dear to the Indian's heart.

A good hunter kills the caribou with discretion according to their
condition at various seasons of the year. After the females leave the
woods in the early spring he has of course only the males to fall back
on, and these are usually poor till August, when the bones are full of
marrow and the back-fat commences to grow. By the middle of September
this back-fat, or _depouille_ as it is called in Northern patois, has
reached a length of a foot or more forward from the tail, and, as it is
sometimes a couple of inches thick and extends right across the back, it
is a great prize for the lucky hunter. It is a point of etiquette that
when two or more Indians are hunting in company, the _depouille_ and
tongue belong to the man who did the killing, while the rest of the meat
is shared in common.

Towards the end of October, when the rutting season is over, the males
are in very poor condition. The females then come into demand, but it is
not till the end of the year that they show any back-fat at all, and
this is always small in comparison with that of a bull killed in the
Fall. The summer months are generally spent by the Indians far out in
the Barren Ground, and then, as I have said, they slaughter everything
that comes within reach of their spear in the most indiscriminate

Excepting in times of plenty, when the utmost recklessness with
provisions is displayed, there are very few parts of the caribou thrown
away, and often the actual stomach is the only thing left; the blood is
carefully preserved, and some of the intestines are prized as great
luxuries. If one does not see the actual preparations for cooking they
are good enough, but the favourite dish of all, the young unborn caribou
cut from its dead mother, I could never take kindly to, although it is
considered a delicacy among the Indians throughout the northern part of
Canada. Another morsel held in high esteem is the udder of a milk-giving
doe, which is usually roasted on the spot where the animal is killed. Of
the external parts the ribs and brisket rank highest, the haunches being
generally reserved for dog's food; a roast head is not to be despised,
and a well-smoked tongue is beyond all praise. It was the caribou of the
Barren Ground that provided the reindeers' tongues formerly exported in
such quantities by the Hudson's Bay Company. The general method of
cooking everything in the lodge is by boiling, which takes most of the
flavour out of the meat, but has the advantage of being easy and
economical of firewood.

The marrow is usually eaten raw, and, as there is no blood visible in
the bones of a fat animal, it is not such a disgusting habit as it seems
to be at first sight, and one readily accustoms oneself to the fashion.
Everybody who has travelled in the North has experienced the same
craving for grease as the cold becomes more intense. In the case of a
white man the enforced absence of flour and all vegetable food may be an
additional cause for this feeling; but it is a fact that you can
cheerfully gnaw a solid block of grease or raw fat that it would make
you almost sick to look at in a land of temperate climate and civilized
methods of living.

The Indian is by no means the only enemy of the caribou. Along the shore
of the Arctic Sea live straggling bands of Esquimaux who kill great
quantities of these persecuted animals, although employing more
primitive methods than their southern neighbours; it is done, moreover,
at the most fatal season of the year, just as the females have arrived
at the coast and are dropping their young. Then there are the
ever-hungry wolves and wolverines that hang with such pertinacity on the
travelling herds and rely upon them entirely for subsistence. It is
rarely that a caribou once singled out can escape. The wolves hunt in
bands and seldom leave the track they have selected; the chase lasts for
many hours, till the victim, wearied by the incessant running, leaves
the band and his fate is sealed; he has a little the best of the pace at
first but not the staying power, and is soon pulled to the ground. Many
a time I witnessed these courses, and once disturbed half a dozen wolves
just as they commenced their feast on a caribou in which life was hardly
extinct, and I took the tongue and _depouille_ for my share of the hunt.

[Illustration: A Dead White Wolf]

I only saw wolves of two colours, white and black, during my stay in the
North, although I heard much talk of grey wolves. There was some sort
of disease, resembling mange, among them in the winter of 1889-90, which
had the effect of taking off all their hair, and, judging from the
number of dead that were lying about, must have considerably thinned
their numbers. They do not seem to be dangerous to human beings except
when starving; but the Indians have stories of crazy wolves that run
into the lodges, kill the children, and play general havoc. I know that
they do at times get bold under stress of hunger, as my own hauling dogs
were set upon and eaten by them while harnessed to the sleigh close to
the house at Fond du Lac; nothing remained but the sleigh, and a string
of bells that must have proved less tempting than the rest of the

I scarcely credit the statement I have often heard made, that the
wolverines will kill a full-grown caribou, although it is possible that
they may attack the young ones. They follow the herds more for the
pickings they can get from the feasts of the wolves, and are content
with showing their fighting powers on hares and ptarmigan; if meat is
not to be had they will eat berries freely, and their flesh is then not
so bad as after they have had a long course of meat. The _carcajou_
possesses great strength and cunning in removing rocks and breaking into
a _cache_; it climbs with great agility, and has a mean trick of
throwing down a marten-trap from behind and taking out the bait, and is
generally credited by the Indian with more wiles than the devil
himself. It is an animal common enough in many parts of Canada, but is
rarely seen in the woods on account of its retiring habits. In the
Barren Ground, however, I had many opportunities of watching them
through the glasses as they worked at the carcass of a caribou or
musk-ox, and was much struck by the enormous power exercised by so small
an animal; in travelling it seems to use only one pace, the _lope_ of
the Western prairies, which it is said to be able to keep up for an
indefinite time.

Another great source of annoyance to the caribou are the two sorts of
gadfly which use these animals as a hatching-ground for their eggs. The
biggest kind, which seem the most numerous, deposit their eggs on the
back, and, as they hatch out, the grubs bore through the skin and prey
on the surrounding flesh. They begin to show in October, and grow bigger
through the winter till the following spring, the number of holes in
many cases rendering the skin absolutely useless for dressing. The other
kind of fly lays its eggs in the nostril, with the result that in the
months of May and June a nest of writhing grubs, slimmer and more lively
than the grubs under the skin, appears at the root of the tongue; at
this time of year the caribou may be often seen to stop and shake their
heads violently, with their horns close to the ground, evidently greatly
troubled by these grubs. Of the latter kind the Indians who travelled
with me in the summer have a great horror, warning me to be very careful
not to eat them, as they have an idea they would surely grow in a man's
throat; and whenever we killed an animal, the first operation was to cut
off its head and remove these unpleasant objects. By the beginning of
August all the grubs have dropped off and the holes healed up, while the
new coat has grown and the skins are then in their best condition.

I could not hear of any attempt ever having been made to domesticate the
caribou, though there is no good reason why they should not be trained
to do the same work as the reindeer of Northern Europe. If this were
brought about it would do away with the greatest difficulty of winter
travel, the trouble about dog's food, which cripples any attempt to make
a long journey except where game is very plentiful; wherever there was
green timber and hanging moss the caribou might find its own supper, and
would always come in better for food than a thin dog in times of

The caribou afford a wide scope for the superstitions so ingrained in
the Indian nature, and the wildest tales without the least foundation
are firmly believed in. One widely-spread fancy is that they will
entirely forsake a country if anyone throws a stick or stone at them,
and their disappearance from the neighbourhood of Fort Resolution is
accounted for by the fact of a boy, who had no gun, joining in the
chase when the caribou were passing in big numbers, and clubbing one to
death with a stick; this belief holds good also down the Mackenzie
River, as does the idea that these animals on some occasions vanish
either into the air or under the ground. The Indians say that sometimes
when following close on a herd they arrive at a spot where the tracks
suddenly cease and the hunter is left to wonder and starve. It is very
unlucky to let the dogs eat any part of the head, and the remaining
bones are always burnt or put up in a tree out of reach, the dogs going
hungry, unless there happens to be some other kind of meat handy.
Another rather more sensible superstition, presumably invented by the
men, is that no woman must eat the gristle of the nose (a much-esteemed
delicacy), or she will infallibly grow a beard.

Such are examples of the endless traditions told of the caribou, which
will always form the chief topic of conversation in the scattered lodges
of the Dog-Ribs and Yellow Knives.


On the 17th of September we left our camp at the north end of Lake
Camsell for a short expedition in search of musk-ox, which we expected
to find within fifty miles of the edge of the woods. By this time we had
all fattened up, and entirely recovered from the effects of the short
rations we had had to put up with before we fell in with the caribou.

My crew consisted at starting of King, Paul, François, Michel, and José;
but as the two latter speedily showed signs of discontent I made no
objection to their turning back, and despatched them to Fond du Lac to
get ready the dog-sleighs, snow-shoes, and everything necessary for
winter travel. As a matter of fact they did absolutely nothing except
squander a relay of provisions and ammunition that had been sent on by
the trading-boat from the fort to meet me at Fond du Lac. I was not
sorry to see the last of them, as four of us were quite enough to work
the canoe, and a small party naturally stands in less danger of
starvation than a big one; moreover, they were certainly the most
quarrelsome men in the camp, which is saying a good deal, as we had all
done our fair share in that way since leaving the fort.

We started without any meat, expecting to find caribou everywhere, and
in this respect we had great luck all the time we were out; but we were
not so well off for shelter. We had brought only one lodge from Fond du
Lac, which was of course left for the women, while we took the chance of
what weather might come, hunting the lee-side of a big rock towards
evening, and often finding ourselves covered with an extra blanket of
snow (_le couvert du bon Dieu_, as King called it) in the morning.

The plan of campaign was to reach the musk-ox by canoe and bring back as
many robes as we could carry before the winter set in; or, failing this,
to kill and _cache_ caribou along our line of travel, so that we should
have meat to help us reach the musk-ox with dog-sleighs after the heavy
snow had fallen and all the caribou had passed into the woods.

I named the first lake that we portaged into King Lake, a narrow sheet
of water some five miles in length, and here we were storm-bound all day
by a northerly gale, the force of the wind being so great that we could
not move the canoe to windward, although the water was smooth enough.
The weather improving in the morning, we paddled down the lake and
passed into a small stream running out of its north end. A couple of
miles down stream, with a portage over a small cascade (the
thirty-fourth and last portage that we made with the big canoe), brought
us to a huge lake running in a south-east and north-west direction,
said to be the longest of all the lakes in this part of the country, and
by the Indians' account four good days' travel, or over one hundred
miles in length; the part that I saw is certainly over fifty miles, and
is said to be not half the total distance. The lake is narrow in most
places, and cut up by long points into numerous bays; there are a great
many islands, particularly at the north-east end, similar in appearance
to the main shore, which is just like the country I have described at
the Lac du Rocher, except that at the end of the big lake the hills
reach a greater elevation, and present more the aspect of a regular
range, than in any other part of the Barren Ground that I saw.

The position of Mackay Lake, as I named it after Dr. Mackay of the
Athabasca district, is worthy of remark, as it is the best
starting-point from which to work the most important streams of both
watersheds. It lies very nearly on the height of land between the Great
Slave Lake and the Arctic Ocean; its west end must be but a short
portage from the Yellow Knife River, while from its eastern extremity
runs out the large stream, named by Anderson the Outram, but more
generally known as Lockhart's River, from the fact of its falling into
the Great Slave Lake at Lockhart's house, which was established for the
relief of Stewart and Anderson when they went in search of the missing
Franklin Expedition. The Great Fish, or Back's River, which they
descended on that occasion, heads within half a mile of the north bay of
Aylmer Lake, lying next below Mackay Lake, on Lockhart's River. Fifteen
miles to the north is another large sheet of water known to my
companions as the Lac de Gras, through which the Coppermine River runs
on its course direct to the Arctic Sea.

The point at which we fell on Lake Mackay is about the edge of the
woods, and here we camped for the last time with pine timber, finding a
small hunting-canoe which some of the Beaulieus had left during the
previous autumn. This we decided to take with us, and it proved
extremely useful later on in crossing the Coppermine.

On Sunday, September 22nd, with a fresh fair wind and our blanket
pulling strong, we ran for several hours in a north-east direction; the
little canoe which we carried athwartship made the steering difficult,
as her bow and stern kept striking the tops of the big waves that were
running after us, but we met with no accident except the carrying away
of our mast.

We were continually in sight of large bands of caribou, but they seemed
to take little notice of the extraordinary apparition. Towards evening
we saw a herd on a long point projecting far out from the south shore of
the lake, and, thinking it would be a good place to make a _cache_,
landed inside them and walked down the point in line. We had the animals
completely hemmed in, and, when they charged through us, nine dropped
to quick shooting at short range. There was little fuel of any kind on
the spot, and we had to eat our meat almost raw, as is the fashion of
the Barren Ground on these occasions. In the morning we ferried all the
carcasses to a convenient island close to the point, put them in _cache_
among the rocks, and proceeded down the lake, camping at sundown at the
head of a small bay near its north-east end.

The weather now changed, and once more the north wind came howling
across the open country straight from the Arctic Sea, and a steady
continuous frost set in. We hauled up the big canoe and set out on foot,
taking with us only our rifles and ammunition, a blanket apiece, and a
couple of small kettles, besides the little canoe, which proved an
awkward load to carry against the strong head-wind. We must have walked
about twenty miles, occasionally making use of a lake for the canoe,
when we reached the south shore of the Lac de Gras, much disappointed in
seeing no musk-ox or caribou all day.

The Lac de Gras is much broader than Lake Mackay, and rounder in shape,
although at one spot it is nearly cut in half by points stretching out
from each side. The Coppermine River runs in at the east and out at the
west end, and the distance is not great to the site of Fort Enterprise,
Sir John Franklin's wintering place in 1820, and the scene of the awful
disasters which befell his first overland expedition.

We were now hard up for provisions again, and the first daylight found
us hunting for something to eat. Two of us walked along the shore, while
the others paddled the canoe, but we could find neither musk-ox nor
caribou; at midday we met and changed places, King and myself making
rather a bold crossing in the shaky little canoe, while Paul and
François walked round. On approaching the north shore of the lake we
noticed a raven rise and throw himself on his back in the air, uttering
the curious gurgling note which always seems to imply satisfaction. King
exclaimed, "See the raven putting down his load! there is something to
eat there"; and true enough there was, for we found the carcasses of
eight musk-ox, killed, as we afterwards heard, a month before by a party
of Yellow Knives, who had driven the animals into the water and
massacred the whole band. Half a dozen gulls flapped away heavily, and
we caught sight of a wolverine sneaking off as we came near. Neither of
us much fancied the appearance of the feast that lay before us, but we
had eaten nothing for some time, and one is not particular in such
cases, especially as it is never certain when the next meal will turn
up. We robbed from the wolverines and ravens, and, signalling to Paul
and François, made a meal of the half-putrid flesh in a little patch of
willow scrub that happened to be close at hand. It is never pleasant to
find the game you are hunting killed by somebody else, but in this
instance it was a relief to know that we had a supply of meat, such as
it was, to fall back upon in case we came to grief later on.

After supper we crossed the Coppermine, a big deep stream even here,
with a current of a mile and a half an hour, running out of another lake
which stretched northward and eastward as far as we could see. Here we
left the small canoe to cross with on our return, and walked on late
into the night, hoping to find some more willows, but eventually made a
wretchedly cold camp without fire on a long promontory, to which we
always after alluded as Le Point de Misère. A light snowstorm made us
still more uncomfortable, and it was well on in the next afternoon
before we found willows enough to make a fire, sighting almost
immediately afterwards a big band of caribou. We killed eight, and, as
all the small lakes were firmly frozen over by this time, were able to
make the safest form of _cache_ by breaking the ice and throwing the
meat into shoal water, which would at once begin to freeze and defy all
the efforts of the wolverines. Two months afterwards we chopped out this
meat, and found it fresh and palatable, although the outside was
discoloured by its long soaking. When we had finished our _cache_ we lit
a comparatively big fire in a bunch of well-grown willows and spent the
rest of the day in eating and mending our moccasins, which were all
badly worn out by the rough walking of the last few days. We had left
our main camp badly provided in this respect, as the women had not had
sufficient time to dress any skins before we started, and in consequence
we were all troubled with sore feet during our wanderings in search of
the musk-ox.

Curiously enough, now we did not want them, the ptarmigan appeared again
in great quantities, although we had not seen any since leaving our big
canoe. The only other birds remaining were a few hawks, owls, gulls, and
ravens; the wild-fowl had all left, and as a matter of fact we had come
across very few since leaving the Great Slave Lake. About this time,
too, we killed the first Arctic hare, an animal by no means to be
despised, as it is fully as big as an English hare and will at a pinch
provide a meal for a small party; at this time of year they are
completely white, with the exception of the tips of the ears which are
black; they are usually tame, and, being very conspicuous before the
snow covers the ground, afford an excellent mark for the rifle.

On this day we crossed a peculiar ridge composed of fine gravel and
sand, resembling at a distance a high railway embankment. It is a
well-known landmark for the Indians, and is said by them to stretch,
with few interruptions from the east end of the Athabasca Lake to the
east end of Great Bear Lake.

September 27th was a red-letter day, marking the death of the first
musk-ox. Soon after leaving camp we came to a rough piece of country,
full of patches of the broken rocks that I have already described, and,
mounting a small hill, saw a single old bull walking directly towards us
at a distance of three hundred yards. We lay down in the snow, and I had
a capital chance of watching him through the glasses as he picked his
way quietly over the slippery rocks, a sight which went far to repay all
the trouble we had taken in penetrating this land of desolation. In
crossing an occasional piece of level ground he walked with a curious
rolling motion, probably accounted for by the waving of the long hair on
the flanks; this hair reaches almost to the ground, and gives the legs
such an exaggerated appearance of shortness that, at first sight, one
would declare the animal to be incapable of any rapid motion. The shaggy
head was carried high, and when he finally pulled up at sight of us,
within forty yards, with his neck slightly arched and a gleam of
sunshine lighting up the huge white boss formed by the junction of the
horns, he presented a most formidable appearance. His fate was not long
in doubt, as my first shot settled him, and the main object of my trip
was accomplished; whatever might happen after this, I could always
congratulate myself on having killed a musk-ox, and this made up for a
great deal of the misery that we afterwards had to undergo.

Although not absolutely prime, this animal was a fine specimen of an
old bull, with the yellow marking on the back clearly defined, and as
good a head as any I saw during my stay in the musk-ox country. We took
the whole skin, with head, horns, and hoofs, and _cached_ it among the
rocks, where I am sorry to say it lies to this day; I intended to pick
it up in the course of our winter hunt, but unfortunately we were caught
in a snowstorm on the Lac de Gras, and were unable to find the _cache_.
In the evening we scattered over the country, hoping to find a band of
musk-ox, but another bull, killed by Paul, was the only one seen.

On the following day the frost was much keener; the smaller lakes and
the sheltered bays in the big one were set fast, and we began to realise
that the sooner we started back the better chance we had of getting
across Mackay Lake with the canoe, and avoiding the long detour to cross
Lockhart's River, which was sure to remain open much longer than the
lakes. The winter was coming on quickly, and we were badly provided with
clothes to withstand its severity; our moccasins were in rags, and
everybody showed signs of being footsore. By rough reckoning we were
about on the 65th degree of latitude, and it seemed too reckless to push
on any further towards the North, as already we were separated from the
nearest timber by a hundred miles of treeless waste; even if we found a
band of musk-ox, we should be forced to come out again with dogs to
haul in the robes, as our big canoe was now too far back for us to think
of carrying any great weight with us. Although we had not made a
successful hunt, our trouble was not all thrown away, as enough meat
_caches_ had been made to insure us a fair chance of getting out into
the same country on the first deep snow.

Nobody liked to be the first to talk about turning back, but on reaching
the top of a low range of hills and seeing a flat desolate stretch of
country lying to the north of us, with the lakes frozen up and no sign
of animals or firewood, King turned to me and said: "It is not far from
here that the white men died from cold and starvation at this time of
year; let us go back before the snow gets deep and we are not able to
travel." The old man looked particularly tough at this moment; none of
our faces were very clean, but his was the more remarkable, as the blood
of the last caribou that we killed had splashed in it, and, running down
his beard, had mixed with his frozen breath and appeared in the form of
long red icicles hanging from his chin. I think he knew what was in my
mind and had an idea that I was laughing at him, for suddenly his quick
temper got the better of him and he broke into one of those wild volleys
of blasphemy that I had heard him give way to so often, and, turning on
his heel, said that I could do as I liked, but he was going to make the
best of his way back to the lodge. The walk back in front of the wind
was not nearly so bad as it had been coming out head to it; and in many
places we could travel straight over the ice, and, by cutting across the
bays instead of walking round, save a considerable distance. Whenever we
got this chance we put our loads on a handful of willow-brush and
dragged them after us, finding it far easier than carrying them on our

Another night we spent without fire on the Point de Misère, and on
October 3rd crossed the Coppermine amidst running ice, and there
abandoned the little canoe. On the south side of the river we fell in
with the biggest band of caribou we had yet seen, numbering fully three
hundred; but as we had no need of any more meat _caches_ on the Lac de
Gras, we only killed enough for present use.

This crossing of the Coppermine, by the way, is an important spot in the
history of the Dog-Ribs and Yellow Knives. It has always been a
favourite swimming-place for the caribou, and many a struggle took place
for the possession of this hunting-ground in the old days when there was
continual warfare between the two tribes. At the present day it is a
breach of etiquette for any Indians to camp here, as it is supposed that
if the caribou are once headed back at this point they will not come
south of Mackay Lake. This rule had evidently been broken lately, as we
found signs of a recent encampment, and King considered that this amply
accounted for our not finding the caribou before we reached the Lac du

After two more days' hard travelling we arrived at our big canoe, and
had the satisfaction of finding some meat, that we had left there,
untouched by the wolverines; but the bay was frozen solid, and there was
no open water within two miles. Beyond the points of the bay we could
see the white-capped waves running, but we knew that at the first spell
of calm weather the whole lake would set fast.

I now saw an example of the readiness of idea which King possessed in
devising shifts and expedients to get out of difficulties. Of course he
had had fifty years' experience in northern travel, but he was
certainly, in my opinion, far above the average of the many other
half-breeds and Indians who had been my companions in more or less
difficult journeys in various parts of Canada. Before I thoroughly
understood his scheme we commenced operations, by lashing together all
the poles and paddles into a rough sort of ice-raft; on the top of this
we placed the loads that we had carried so many miles, forming a smooth
bed, two feet above the level of the ice, on which to rest the canoe.
The bay had evidently frozen and broken up once, and the second freezing
had left a rough surface; many of the floes were piled on top of each
other, while the rest had been turned on edge, and it was necessary to
keep the canoe clear of these sharp edges, which would have ripped the
tender birch-bark like a knife. One man ran ahead, trying the strength
of the ice with an axe, while the others hauled on the raft, and our
method of progression was so satisfactory that just before dark, after
much ominous cracking of the ice but no disaster, we camped on the east
point of the bay close to the edge of open water. The half-breeds showed
great knowledge of ice, and, with an occasional tap of the axe, picked
out the safest route without making a mistake.

The canoe propped on her side gave us the best shelter we had had for
many a night, and, finding willows enough for a fire, we all felt
jubilant at the idea of reaching the first clump of pines on the
following day, besides getting an opportunity to rest our feet, which by
this time were in a very bad condition. In this, however, we were doomed
to disappointment.

At the first sign of daylight we launched the canoe, and, breaking our
way out through the young ice, were soon paddling in a heavy beam sea,
with every splash of water freezing on us, and many stops to knock the
ice from our paddles. After two or three hours of this work the wind
died out, and, as we approached a group of small islands that cut the
lake up into numerous channels, we saw a thin sheet of ice across the
whole width. All hope of passing with the canoe was given up, and we
headed for the south shore while a heavy snowstorm made it difficult to
keep the course; the surface water was rapidly thickening into ice, and
the sharp needles began to scrape unpleasantly along the sides of our
frail vessel. We were none too soon in reaching the land, and had to
carry the canoe over the thick ice near the shore. Here we turned her
over carefully, and putting the poles, paddles, and all necessaries
underneath, abandoned her to be buried under the snow till I might want
her again the next summer. Late in the following June we found her, none
the worse for her long exposure to the rigour of a winter in the Barren
Ground, but even then there was no sign of open water in Mackay Lake.

We had now to continue our journey on foot; but by keeping to the shore
of the lake, and sometimes making use of the ice in crossing a bay, we
only camped twice before reaching the pine timber. Late on the third day
we came to the bank of an ugly, quick-flowing stream, and saw a large
bunch of pines on the far side. Waist-deep we made a ford among the
running ice, and were soon drying ourselves by a blazing fire of

The whole of life is said to go by comparison, and although a few
pine-trees in a wilderness of snow might seem the height of desolation
to a man lately used to the luxuries of the civilized world, it appeared
to us like a glimpse of heaven after the exposure of the last few weeks.
It really was a pleasant spot, and one which has impressed itself on my
memory more than any other camp that we made during this trip. A band of
caribou, passing close by, provided us with supper, while a big pack of
ptarmigan held possession of the little pine-trees, and kept up a
constant expostulation at the intrusion of the scarcely known human
beings. Hunger and danger were behind us just at present, and we felt in
the best of tempers as we lay down for a long sleep on sweet-smelling

Shortly after leaving camp in the morning another band of caribou
appeared, and, as the lodge was now not far ahead, we killed about a
dozen, and put them in _cache_ for later use. We then walked steadily on
all day, and in the evening came in sight of Lake Camsell, over which
the sun was setting in full northern splendour, throwing a wonderful
purple light across the thin film of ice that coated the water. It was
late in the night, and it was not till we had fired several gun-shots at
intervals, that we heard an answering signal, and found that the women
had set up the lodge in the next bunch of pines, as they had exhausted
all the firewood close to the old camp.

Meat was abundant, for the caribou had been passing, and many had been
killed by the women and boys. Bales of dried meat formed a solid wall
round the lodge, varied here and there by a bladder of grease or a
skin-bag full of pounded meat, while bunches of tongues and back-fats
were hanging from the cross-poles to smoke. The scene reminded me of the
old fairy stories in which the hero used to discover houses, with walls
of sugar and roofs of gingerbread, full of all the good things
imaginable, while any member of the Beaulieu family would make a
respectable ogre to guard such treasures. Of course the lodge was dirty
and infested with the vermin from which these people are never free; but
there was an air of warmth and plenty about it very agreeable after the
hand-to-mouth existence we had been leading.

On looking back at this expedition I cannot help thinking that we were
lucky in getting through it without more trouble; it was just the wrong
time of year to be travelling, too late for open water and too early for
dogs to have been of any service, even if we had had them with us. One
of the heavy snowstorms that, judging from Sir John Franklin's
experience, are common in the end of September and beginning of October,
would have made the walking much more laborious, as even the little snow
that was on the ground delayed us considerably. Another source of danger
was the numerous falls among the broken rocks; but though we all came
down heavily at times, and, once or twice, with big loads of meat on our
backs, no damage was done. The caribou kept turning up most opportunely,
and we had no real hardships from want of food. Fuel was nearly always
insufficient, but we only had two fireless camps, both on the Point de
Misère. In many places we used black moss in addition to whatever willow
scrub we could collect, and so long as the weather was dry found it
quite good enough for boiling a kettle, but when the snow fell it was
perfectly useless. This absence of a fire to sit by at night is the most
unpleasant feature in travelling the Barren Ground.


The day after our arrival was Sunday, a fine, calm day with bright
sunshine, of which we took advantage to wash our scanty stock of
clothing and generally pull ourselves together. Cleanliness of the body
is not looked upon with much favour by the half-breeds, but Sunday
morning was always celebrated in the lodge by the washing of faces and a
plentiful application of grease to the hair. After this operation was
over we held a consultation as to the best way of carrying on our hunt
of the musk-ox, which had so far not proved successful. The same old
wrangling and abuse of each other ensued, and finally the following
decision was arrived at. Paul and François were to go back to Fond du
Lac, so soon as their feet were in a fit condition to travel; they were
to occupy themselves in getting ready the dog-sleighs, and to return on
the first deep snow to the spot where we had killed the caribou on the
day that we reached the lodge. If any of the Indians, of whom I had seen
absolutely nothing so far, were going to the musk-ox, arrangements
should be made with them to come all together, so that we might have the
benefit of as many sleighs as possible to haul wood. All our dried meat
was to be put in _cache_ at Lake Camsell, and the camp moved to a clump
of pines that we had noticed the day before. King and myself were to
remain with the women, to kill meat enough to enable us to start well
supplied for the musk-ox country.

We built a rough scaffold with the longest poles obtainable, and stowed
all the meat as high above the ground as possible. Then we pulled down
the lodge, and, after a couple of days' walk with heavy loads, camped on
the south side of a ridge, from the summit of which we had a commanding
view of Lake Mackay and the surrounding country. There was little chance
of many caribou passing without being observed, as there were usually
several pairs of sharp eyes on the look-out.

As this was to be our home for a month or so, we took care to pick out a
good spot and set up the lodge in the most approved fashion, taking
advantage of the little shelter that the stunted pines could afford.

A mile or two to the east lay the northern end of a large sheet of
water, running about forty miles in a southerly direction, known to the
Indians as "The Lake of the Enemy," and formerly the home of that
terrible Evil Spirit supposed to haunt the Barren Ground. It is hard to
get a full description of the Enemy, as, although many people have seen
it, they are at once afflicted with insanity, and are incapable of
giving an accurate account of their experience; but one must not dare to
express unbelief in the existence of the Enemy any more than in that of
the Giant Musk-Ox, fully ten times the size of the biggest bull ever
seen, whose track many Indians say they have come across far out in the
Barren Ground.

King and myself spent most of our time prowling about in search of
caribou, but for the first fortnight few came and we were only just able
to keep ourselves in fresh meat, although there was soon plenty of dried
meat from the animals we had _cached_ at this spot a week before. I now
saw what an advantage it is to take women on a hunting-trip of this
kind, and certainly King's wife and daughter were both well up in the
household duties of the country. If we killed anything, we only had to
cut up and _cache_ the meat, and the women and small boys would carry it
in. On returning to camp we could throw ourselves down on a pile of
caribou skins and smoke our pipes in comfort, but the women's work was
never finished. The rib bones have all to be picked out, and the _plat
côte_ hung up in the smoke to dry; the meat of haunches and shoulders
must be cut up in thin strips for the same purpose, and the bones have
to be collected, pounded down, and boiled for the grease which is in
such demand during the cold weather about to commence. But the greatest
labour of all lies in dressing the skins, cutting off the hair, scraping
away every particle of flesh and fat, and afterwards tanning them into
soft leather for moccasins, which are themselves no easy task to make.
Many skins, too, have to be made into parchment or carefully cut into
_babiche_ for the lacing of snow-shoes, and again, there are hair-coats
to be made for each member of the party. In an ordinary Indian lodge the
women have to put up with ill-usage as well as hard work; but most of
the half-breeds know enough to treat them fairly; and King, except in
his moments of passion, when he did not stop at any cruelty, treated his
womenkind very well.

One of our first expeditions was to hunt birch for making the frames of
snow-shoes, which might be needed at any time, and King soon had a pair
ready for lacing; he was very clever with the crooked knife, the
universal tool of the North, but the stunted birch is hard to bend to
the proper shape, and requires constant watching during the process of

The evenings were generally spent in long discussions over our pipes,
for tobacco was still holding out, and the old man was keen to hear
about the doings of the white man in the Grand Pays, as the half-breeds
indefinitely term the whole of the outside world. The ignorance existing
among these people is extraordinary, considering how much time they
spend at the forts, and how many officers of the Hudson's Bay Company
they have a chance to talk to, besides the missionaries of both faiths.
It is a different matter with the Indians, as they seldom come to the
fort, and cannot hold much conversation with the Whites without an
interpreter. It was difficult, for instance, to persuade King that the
Hudson's Bay Company does not rule the whole world, or that there are
countries that have no fur-bearing animals, which in the North furnish
the only means of making a living for the poor man. He was much
interested in stories of the Queen, although he could never believe that
Her Majesty held such a high rank as the Governor of the Company, and
quite refused to acknowledge her as his sovereign. "No," he said; "she
may be your Queen, as she gives you everything you want, good rifles and
plenty of ammunition, and you say that you eat flour at every meal in
your own country. If she were my Queen, surely she would send me
sometimes half a sack of flour, a little tea, or perhaps a little sugar,
and then I should say she was indeed my Queen. As it is I would rather
believe Mr. Reid of Fort Province, who told me once that the earth went
round and the sun stood still; but I myself have seen the sun rise in
the morning and set at night for many years. It is wrong of you White
Men, who know how to read and write, to tell lies to poor men who live
by the muzzle of their guns."

Another matter over which his mind was greatly exercised was the last
North-West Rebellion under Louis Riel. He was convinced that during
this rising the half-breeds and Indians had declared war upon the
Hudson's Bay Company, and gained a decisive victory besides much
glorious plunder; and he asked why such an outbreak should not succeed
on the Great Slave Lake, where there was only one man in charge of a
fort. He had many questions too to ask about the various good things
that we eat and drink in England, and criticised severely the habit of
eating three regular meals a day, which he described as eating by the
clock instead of by the stomach, a much more greedy habit than that of
gorging when meat is plentiful and starving at other times. On several
occasions during our travels together I had reason to expostulate with
him on the carelessness he displayed with provisions, but without making
the least impression. "What is this improvidence?" he would say. "I do
not like that word. When we have meat why should we not eat _plein
ventre_ to make up for the time when we are sure to starve again?" He
could never realise that starvation might be partially avoided by a
little care.

Often King would spin me a long story as we lay round the fire in the
lodge; usually some tradition handed down from the time when all the
animals and birds could converse together; what the wolf said to the
wolverine when they went on a hunting-trip in company, and how the
ptarmigan invited the loon to dine with him in a clump of willows in the
Barren Ground, while there was a big stock of giant stories, with
heroes much resembling those of the favourite nursery tales of one's
childhood. Again he would come down to more recent times and describe
the battles of the Dog-Ribs and Yellow Knives, which seem to have been
carried on in the same sneaking fashion that has always distinguished
the warfare among the tribes of Canadian Indians; there was no open
fighting, and all the victories were won by a successful approach on an
unsuspecting and usually sleeping encampment of the enemy, the first
grey of dawn being the favourite time of attack.

The following story of the Deluge, as believed by the Yellow Knives, I
copied down from King's recital; it appears to be a curious mixture of
old tradition with some details from the Biblical version as taught to
the Northern Indians on the arrival of the first priests in the country.

Many years ago, so long ago in fact that as yet no man had appeared in
the country of the Slave Lake, the animals, birds, and fishes lived in
peace and friendship, supporting themselves by the abundant produce of
the soil. But one winter the snow fell far more heavily than usual;
perpetual darkness set in, and when the spring should have come the
snow, instead of melting away, grew deeper and deeper. This state of
affairs lasted many months, and it became hard for the animals to make a
living; many died of want, and at last it was decided in grand council
to send a deputation to Heaven to enquire into the cause of the strange
events, and in this deputation every kind of animal, bird, and fish was
represented. They seem to have had no difficulty in reaching the sky,
and passing through a trap-door into a land of sunshine and plenty.
Guarding the door stood a deerskin lodge resembling the lodges now in
use among the Yellow Knives; it was the home of the black bear, an
animal then unknown on the earth. The old bear had gone to a lake close
at hand to spear caribou from a canoe, but three cubs were left in the
lodge to take care of some mysterious bundles that were hung up on the
cross-poles; the cubs refused to say what these bundles contained and
appeared very anxious for the return of the old bear.

Now the idea of spearing caribou did not find favour with the deputation
from below, and as the canoe was seen lying on the shore of the lake,
the mouse was despatched to gnaw through the paddle, and as he had
nearly accomplished this feat the bear came running down in pursuit of a
band of caribou that had put off from the far shore. When he was close
up to his intended victims and was working his best, the paddle suddenly
broke, the canoe capsized, and the bear disappeared beneath the water.
Then the animals, birds, and fishes grew bold, and pulling down the
bundles, found that they contained the sun, moon, and stars belonging to
the earth; these they threw down through the trap-door to lighten the
world and melt the snow, which by this time covered the tops of the
tallest pine-trees.

The descent from Heaven was not made without some small accidents. The
beaver split his tail and the blood splashed over the lynx, so that ever
afterwards till the present day the beaver's tail is flat and the lynx
is spotted; the moose flattened his nose, and many other casualties
occurred which account for the peculiarities of various animals, and the
little bears came tumbling down with the rest.

And now the snow began to melt so quickly that the earth was covered
with water, but the fish found for the first time that they could swim,
and carried their friends that could not on their backs, while the ducks
set to work to pull up the land from beneath the water.

But it was still hard to make a living, so the raven, then the most
beautiful of birds, was sent to see if he could find any place where dry
land was showing; but coming across the carcass of a caribou he feasted
upon it, although the raven had never before eaten anything but berries
and the leaves of the willow. For this offence he was transformed into
the hideous bird that we know, and to this day is despised of every
living thing; even omnivorous man will not eat of the raven's flesh
unless under pressure of starvation. The ptarmigan was then sent out and
returned bearing in his beak a branch of willow as a message of hope; in
remembrance of this good action the ptarmigan turns white when the snow
begins to fall in the Barren Ground, and thus warns the animals that
winter is at hand.

But the old life had passed away and the peace that had reigned among
all living things was disturbed. The fish, as the water subsided, found
that they could no longer live on the land, and the birds took to flying
long distances. Every animal chose the country that suited it best, and
gradually the art of conversation was lost. About this time too, in a
vague and indefinite manner about which tradition says little, the first
human being appeared on the shore of the Great Slave Lake.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weather continued fine without severe frost till the middle of
October, the snow was still light on the ground, but the lakes all set
fast. On the night of the fourteenth a storm arose equal in violence to
a Dakota blizzard and continued till the following evening, by which
time there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground. It was
impossible to keep the drift from coming into the lodge, and as soon as
the storm was over we had to throw down our shelter and clear away the
banks that had accumulated inside. This was distinctly the coming of
winter and there was no more sign of a thaw; the cold kept growing
severer, especially on clear days, but I had no thermometer to mark its
intensity. The daylight was shortening rapidly and the sun shone with
little warmth.

[Illustration: The Indians Driving Caribou]

With the increasing depth of snow there was a noticeable migration of
life from the Barren Ground. Ptarmigan came literally in thousands,
while the tracks of wolves, wolverines, and Arctic foxes made a
continuous network in the snow. Scattered bands of caribou were almost
always in sight from the top of the ridge behind the camp, and increased
in numbers till the morning of October 20th, when little Baptiste, who
had gone for firewood, woke us up before daylight with the cry of _La
foule! La foule!_ and even in the lodge we could hear the curious
clatter made by a band of travelling caribou. _La foule_ had really
come, and during its passage of six days I was able to realise what an
extraordinary number of these animals still roam in the Barren Ground.
From the ridge we had a splendid view of the migration; all the south
side of Mackay Lake was alive with moving beasts, while the ice seemed
to be dotted all over with black islands, and still away on the north
shore, with the aid of the glasses, we could see them coming like
regiments on the march. In every direction we could hear the grunting
noise that the caribou always make when travelling; the snow was broken
into broad roads, and I found it useless to try to estimate the number
that passed within a few miles of our encampment. We were just on the
western edge of their passage, and afterwards heard that a band of
Dog-Ribs, hunting some forty miles to the west, were at this very time
in the last straits of starvation, only saving their lives by a hasty
retreat into the woods, where they were lucky enough to kill sufficient
meat to stave off disaster. This is a common danger in the autumn, as
the caribou coming in from the Barren Ground join together in one vast
herd and do not scatter much till they reach the thick timber. It turned
out very well for us, however, and there is really no limit to the
number we might have killed if we had been in need of them; but it was
too far out to make a permanent winter's camp, and hauling such a long
distance with dogs is unsatisfactory, as most of the meat would be
consumed on the way. We killed therefore only so many as we could use,
and had some luxurious living during the rest of our stay in this camp.
The caribou, as is usually the case when they are in large numbers, were
very tame, and on several occasions I found myself right in the middle
of a band with a splendid chance to pick out any that seemed in good
condition. The rutting season was just over, and as the bulls had lost
all their fat and their meat was too strong to eat, only does were
killed. A good deal of experience is necessary to tell the fat ones, but
the half-breeds can tell age and sex pretty well by the growth of the
horns; often King told me which to shoot at, and it was seldom that he
made a mistake in his choice.

This passage of the caribou is the most remarkable thing that I have
ever seen in the course of many expeditions among the big game of
America. The buffalo were for the most part killed out before my time,
but, notwithstanding all the tall stories that are told of their
numbers, I cannot believe that the herds on the prairie ever surpassed
in size _La foule_ of the caribou.

Soon after the migration had passed, José Beaulieu arrived from Fond du
Lac in company with an Indian, having made the journey on foot in eight
days. Things had apparently gone all wrong there; they had been
starving, and had of course taken everything of mine that they could lay
hands on, both provisions and ammunition. They had then quarrelled over
the division of the spoil, but as the caribou turned up within two days
of the house contentment was now reigning. José had brought a little tea
and tobacco, of which we were now badly in need, and a long string of
grievances against his brothers at Fond du Lac. He had done nothing to
help me in any way, although he had promised to have everything ready
for the first snow, and seemed rather surprised that I did not take much
interest in his wrongs. He got even with me, however, on his way back,
by breaking into a _cache_, that I had made before reaching the Lac du
Rocher, and stealing the tobacco that I was relying on for our next trip
in the Barren Ground.

José reported the woods to the south of us to be full of caribou, and a
big band of Yellow Knives camped at the Lac de Mort, some of whom were
talking of coming for a musk-ox hunt, if I could give them ammunition. I
sent word to the chief that I could supply three or four of them, and
ordered Paul and Michel to come on with the dogs as soon as possible.
The snow was by this time quite deep enough for travelling, and any
delay meant an increased severity in the weather, while in any case it
would be late in the year before we got back to Fond du Lac.

After José left we relapsed into our lazy existence of eating and
sleeping, having no more excuse for hunting; occasionally we made a
short trip on snow-shoes to examine some of our _caches_ and bring in a
little meat, and once went for a three days' expedition to our meat on
the island in Mackay Lake, and made a more secure _cache_ by putting the
carcasses of the caribou under the ice. At other times we amused
ourselves by setting snares for ptarmigan, which were in great numbers,
or by hauling a load of wood across a small lake in front of the lodge,
as we had used up all the fuel within easy reach. On the shore of this
lake was a fine specimen of the balanced rocks so common all over the
open country; an enormous boulder many tons in weight, so neatly set on
the three sharp points of an underlying rock that it could be easily
shaken but not dislodged; the lake is known among the Indians as the
"Lake of the Hanging Rock." We might have done some successful trapping
for wolves, wolverines, and foxes, but had unfortunately left all our
steel traps at Fond du Lac in order to travel as lightly as possible in
the portages.

Quickly and without incident the short days slipped away until on the
tenth of November, as I was returning to camp, I heard a gunshot to the
southward of us. Instantly all was excitement, and we had barely time to
answer the signal before a large party of men and eight dog-sleighs came
in sight over the ridge. At first I could recognise no one, as the day
had been very cold and their faces were covered with hoar frost, which
makes it hard to distinguish one man from another; but they turned out
to be Paul, François, and Michel, besides several Indians, among whom
was Zinto, the chief of the Yellow Knives, who had come some hundred
miles from his hunting-camp on purpose to pay me a visit.

A small supply of tea and tobacco had come up, but not nearly enough for
our wants, and I could see that we should have to do without these
luxuries just at the time when we most required them; there was also a
little flour, and we had a big feast of flour and grease the same
evening; all the new arrivals came into the lodge, and sixteen people
and fully as many dogs slept inside that night. After supper I handed
round a small plug of black tobacco to each man, as is the invariable
custom of the officer in charge of a fort on the arrival of a band of
Indians; and when the pipes were lit Zinto gave me to understand that he
had a few remarks to make to me. He would have been a fine-looking
specimen of a Yellow Knife but for a habit of blinking his eyes, which
gave him a rather owlish expression; he was possessed with a great idea
of a chief's importance, but I found him a pretty good fellow during the
many dealings that I afterwards had with him. King acted as interpreter,
and I fancy rather cut down the speech in length, but this was the gist
of it. "Zinto was very pleased to see a white man on his hunting-ground.
He had known several at the forts, but had never before seen one among
the caribou. Many years ago his father had told him stories of some
white men who had wandered across the Barren Ground and reached the
sea-coast; they had all endured much hardship, and many had died from
cold and starvation; he did not know why they came to such a country,
when by all accounts they were so much better off at home, but supposed
there was some good reason which an Indian could not understand. For his
own part he liked the Whites; all that he valued came from their
country, and he had always been well treated by the Company. He was
willing to help me as much as he could now that I had ventured so far
into his hunting-ground, but the musk-ox hunt in snow-time was hard;
only the bravest of his young men went, and last year was the first time
they had made the attempt. The Dog-Ribs who traded at Fort Rae often
went, but they had an easier country, as the musk-ox were nearer the
woods. There would be much walking to do, and the cold would be great;
however, if I meant to go he would order his young men to look after me,
and on no account to leave me if from starvation or any other cause I
could not keep up. I was to have the first choice of the meat in the
kettle and the best place in the lodge to lie down. He hoped we should
have a successful hunt, and, although he knew that we were short of such
things, he could not help asking for a little tea and tobacco to give
him courage for his journey back to the camp. If he received this he
should have a still higher opinion of the white man and his heart would
be glad."

I replied that I was much gratified at seeing the chief of the Yellow
Knives in my camp, and was sorry that I could not give him a more
imposing reception on the present occasion; I had heard much to his
credit from King Beaulieu and from the Company's officer in charge of
Athabasca district; he was spoken of as a good chief and friendly
towards the Whites. I had come from far across the big water on purpose
to see the country of the Yellow Knives, and was anxious to know how
they lived, and how they hunted the various kinds of animals upon which
they depended for subsistence. For this purpose I now proposed going for
a musk-ox hunt, and was glad to see that some of his tribe were
prepared to accompany me. I could let them have enough ammunition for
the trip, and would share with them the meat _caches_ that we had made
along our line of travel, and also the tea and tobacco while it lasted.
Much interest was felt in my country with regard to the Yellow Knives,
and I hoped to be able to give a good account of their treatment to a
stranger when I returned home. If his young men behaved well while they
were out with me they should all receive presents when they reached the

Here the effect of my oration was rather spoilt by the Beaulieus
breaking in to ask what presents they were to receive. Had they not been
faithful so long, and gone so much out of their way to help me? and then
the misery they had gone through in the Barren Ground on the last
musk-ox hunt! Now followed a tremendous quarrel among themselves,
mostly, I believe, about the stealing they had been doing at Fond du
Lac, and whether the value of the articles they had taken should be
deducted from the wages I had agreed to pay them before starting. After
the discordant clamour had subsided a little, Zinto replied that he was
satisfied, and thanked me for the small present of tea and tobacco which
I could not well refuse; we then discussed all the various plans for the
forthcoming hunt, and sat up feasting till late in the night.

Something in the proceedings of the evening must have displeased King,
as he suddenly astonished us all by saying that he would not go with us.
What the grievance was I never found out, but he was obstinate on the
point. I had been relying on him for interpreter, and was rather annoyed
at his refusal to go, especially as François, the best French speaker in
the outfit, declared his intention of returning straight to Fond du Lac.
Michel too was wavering, but finally decided to go, as Paul, who behaved
very well on this occasion, steadily declared that he was quite willing
to accompany me, and would carry out the promise that he had made at
Fort Resolution to go the whole trip. These two then and myself,
together with the five Indians, Noel, William, Peter, Saltatha, and
Marlo (brother of Zinto), and twenty-four dogs hauling six sleighs made
up the party that eventually started for the Barren Ground about midday
on Sunday, November 11th.

King maintained his ill-temper till the hour of departure, saying that
he did not want so many men and dogs in his lodge eating up the
provisions that he had worked so hard to earn, and that the sooner we
started the better he would be pleased. He used some particularly
offensive language to me, but relented at the last moment and gave me
his own hair-coat and a new pair of snow-shoes, of which I was badly in
want. He also promised to do his best in the way of leaving meat
_caches_ along the course that we should follow on our return from the
musk-ox country. I was rather sorry to leave the old fellow after all,
as on the whole we had been pretty good friends while we lived together,
and he certainly had great influence over the Indians which might have
been useful during our difficult journey.


That night we made an open camp in a bunch of pines on the south side of
Lake Mackay, at which point we intended to load wood for use in the
Barren Ground. We were much better found in all respects than on the
last occasion, and having dogs with us should not be obliged to carry
anything ourselves. We used the ordinary travelling sleighs of the
North; two smooth pieces of birch, some seven feet in length, with the
front ends curled completely over and joined together with cross slats
secured with _babiche_ into a total width of sixteen inches. A
ground-lashing is passed along through holes in the outside edge of the
sleigh, and to this is fastened a rough deerskin wrapper in which the
load is stowed as neatly as possible and the wrapper laced on the top,
so that in case of a capsize, which frequently happens, nothing can fall
out. The traces are hitched on to loops in the front end of the sleigh,
and four dogs put in the caribou-skin harness one in front of the other.
The company officers have imported leather dog-harness with buckles for
their own use between the forts; but I think for handling in really cold
weather the caribou-skin, or better still moose-skin, with thongs
instead of buckles, is preferable.

Our twenty-four dogs rejoiced in endless varieties of names, English,
French, and Indian, some popular names introduced by the Whites being
freely given without reference to sex or colour. For instance, in my own
sleigh the fore-goer, a big yellow bitch, answered to the name of
Napoleon, whilst just behind her came a black bushy-tailed dog La Reine;
we had three Drap Fins, from their resemblance to the fine black cloth
so dearly beloved by the half-breeds and Indians, two Chocolates of
different colours, besides Cavour, Chandelle, Diable, Lion, Blucher,
Royal, Bismarck, and a host of unpronounceable Indian names.

We were all dressed alike in coats of caribou-skin with the hair outside
and hoods fastened up closely under the chin, and these we hardly took
off day or night for the five weeks that we were out. Our hands were
thrust into moose-skin mittens lined with duffel and hung round the neck
by highly ornamented plaited woollen strings, or in the case of a man of
little wealth with a more humble piece of _babiche_, but most of my
companions managed to show a little colour in this respect. We rolled
our feet in duffel and cased them in huge moccasins, of which we all had
two or three pair; and as we were very careful in drying them every
night before sleeping to get rid of all dampness caused by perspiration
there was not a single case of frozen feet during the whole journey,
although the big cold of an Arctic winter had now fairly set in. We
used small snow-shoes about three feet in length, as most of the
travelling would be on the frozen lakes where the snow is always
drifting, and, consequently, pretty hard. One man, or in case of softer
snow two, went ahead to break the road and the dogs followed in their
tracks, or, if they showed any disinclination to start, were most
unmercifully clubbed and cursed by name till they did so.

A big deer-skin lodge and a sufficient number of carefully trimmed poles
had been brought up from Fond du Lac, as it would have been impossible
to endure the cold and almost perpetual wind without shelter of any
kind, but they had the disadvantage of greatly increasing the weight of
our load. King had given us a little dried meat, but only enough for a
couple of days for such a large outfit; the dogs alone required at least
fifty pounds a day to keep them in good condition. We had the meat
_caches_ ahead, and hoped to fall in with the musk-ox before we ran out
of provisions entirely. The danger of course lay in not finding these
animals when we got far out, as the caribou had almost all passed into
the woods and we could not hope to see any after the first few days. Our
ammunition was rather limited, but with care we had enough to keep the
muzzle-loading weapons supplied, and Paul and myself had a fair amount
of cartridges for our Winchester rifles. We were obliged to wrap
deer-skins round the levers and the parts of the barrel that our hands
touched to avoid contact with the iron, which sticks to the bare skin in
cold weather and causes a painful burn.

The next day was spent in cutting wood into short lengths and loading it
on to the sleighs. In the morning Marlo was very ill from the surfeit of
flour he had had in King's camp, but was well enough to travel a short
distance in the afternoon, and we pitched our lodge in the snow, clear
of all timber. Here I had my first experience of a winter camp in the
Barren Ground.

A spot being chosen where the snow is light and the ground clear of
rocks, a ring of the requisite size is marked out. Snow-shoes are taken
off and used as shovels for throwing away the snow from the inside of
this ring, making a wall varying in height according to the depth of
snowfall. Outside this circle the sleighs are turned on edge, the poles
planted behind them, and the deer-skin lodge spread round, forming as
comfortable a camp as can be expected in such a country. The wood
allowed for supper is carefully split and a fire lighted, the kettle
hanging over it from three small sticks carried for the purpose; the
lumps of meat for dog's food are spread round the fire till sufficiently
thawed, when a lively scene commences outside the lodge, every man
feeding his own dogs and watching them to see there is no foul play. By
the time this is over the melted snow in the kettle is boiling, and
every man gets his piece of meat in much the same manner as the dogs.
I always had the privilege of first choice, but in the dense clouds of
smoke that usually filled the lodge it was by no means easy to take the
full advantage of it. We drank tea while it held out, and then fell back
on the greasy snow-water that the meat was boiled in. There was always a
good proportion of caribou hair in everything we ate or drank, varying
afterwards to the coarse black hair of the musk-ox, which was far more

[Illustration: Making Camp]

As soon as supper was over and our moccasins dry the fire was allowed to
go out, to economize wood, and each man rolled himself up in his
blanket, lay down on the frozen ground, and slept as well as he might
till it was time to travel again. Directly all was quiet the dogs forced
their way in and commenced a free fight over us for any scraps or bones
they could find lying about; finally they curled themselves up for the
night without paying much attention to our comfort. A warm dog is not a
bad thing to lie against or to put at your feet, but these hauling dogs
seem to prefer to lie right on top of your body, and as most of them are
a considerable weight a good night's rest is an impossibility. Any
attempt to kick or shove them off produced a general row, and a moving
foot was often mistaken in the darkness for a hostile dog and treated as
such; Paul received one rather bad bite on his toes, but the rest of us
all got off with slight nips. We had to be careful to put everything
edible, in the way of moccasins, mittens, and even snow-shoes, under us,
as these are things that few dogs can resist, and there is nothing more
annoying than to find all the _babiche_ eaten out of your snow-shoes in
the morning. When the hungry time came later on the dogs began to eat
the lodge, and would soon have left us houseless but for one man always
keeping watch at night.

One is accustomed to hear of men sleeping in fluffy woollen bags in the
Arctic regions, but I found that a deer-skin coat and one blanket were
sufficient to keep me warm except on the very coldest nights. I had told
Michel particularly to bring another blanket that I had left behind at
Fond du Lac, and abused him roundly when I found he had come without it.
It seems that an Indian had arrived at the house with a load of dried
meat and grease, and was in want of a blanket; Michel, to use his own
expression, took pity on him and gave him my blanket in exchange for the
grease. He doubtless considered this a pious act of charity, but had
rather spoilt it by consuming the grease himself; and on my asking him
why, if he felt so sorry for the Indian, he had not given him one of his
own blankets, or at least kept the grease for me, he replied: "I have
only two blankets and I have a wife; you have no wife, so one blanket is
enough for you; besides, I love grease, and it is hard for me to see it
and not eat it."

In the middle of the night Saltatha, always the earliest, got up and
drove out the dogs, lit the fire, and prepared another meal, exactly
similar to our supper of the evening. Usually we harnessed up many hours
before daylight and travelled, with only an occasional ten-minutes'
rest, till the sun had been long down and there was just enough daylight
left to make camp; dinner was completely cut out of our day as being too
heavy a strain on our firewood. There was no attempt at washing made by
any of the party during the whole time that we were out, and indeed it
would have been an impossibility, as our small fires were only just
sufficient to melt the snow for cooking purposes.

In clear weather the nights were of wonderful brilliancy, and after we
had been out a couple of weeks the moon was big enough to add a little
light, and of course kept steadily improving in this respect; but the
starlight alone illumined the waste of snow sufficiently to see
landmarks far ahead. Generally the Aurora was flashing in its full
glory, and if there was no wind the travelling was pleasant enough. At
the first sign of dawn, and thence till the sun rose, the cold always
became more severe, and if a light head-wind happened to get up at the
same time there were sure to be some frozen noses and chins in the
outfit. The hair on our faces, even to the eyebrows and eyelashes, was
always coated with rime, giving everybody a peculiarly stupid
expression; my beard was usually a mass of ice, and I had great
difficulty in thawing it out by our small fires, although it proved a
grand protection from frost-bite. I think I was the only one that
escaped being bitten in the chin, but my nose, cheeks, and forehead were
touched several times.

The sunrise was often very beautiful, and the effects of long duration,
as the sun is close to the horizon a considerable time before he shows
above it, while the dense blue blackness in the north and west gives the
impression that the night is still lingering there. Often a sun-dog is
the first thing to appear, and more or less of these attendants
accompany the sun during his short stay above the horizon. The driving
snow, which obliterates everything in blowing weather, often spoils the
evening effects; but once or twice I saw the sun set over a frozen lake,
tinting the snow with various shades of red, and throwing a beauty over
the wilderness that it is useless for me to attempt to describe.

A thick fog hung over everything during the whole of the second day out
from the woods, and of course made it extremely difficult to find the
meat _cache_ in Lake Mackay; at dark we camped on the first land that we
came to, but had no very accurate idea of our position. Luckily the
weather cleared towards morning, and we made out the island on which we
had stored the carcasses of the caribou killed on September 22nd. We
had some trouble in punching a hole with our only ice-chisel and hauling
out a solid lump of meat and ice some five feet thick and many feet in
circumference; but the Indians were much cheered at the sight of so much
provision, and declared themselves ready to go out to the sea-coast if
necessary. The short day was nearly over by the time we had got the
meat, so we camped for the night on the island; but before daylight we
were off again, and when the sun set had nearly reached the end of the
lake and made a wood _cache_ on a conspicuous point for our return
journey. The next day was thick again, and we were lucky in finding the
bay in which we had left the big canoe during our last expedition. A
very curious thing, illustrating the difficulty of recognising objects
in these fogs, happened just as we were leaving the ice. We saw an
animal, apparently at some distance, bounding along the horizon at a
most remarkable pace; all down the line there were cries of _Erjerer_
(musk-ox), _Et-then, Le loup!_ guns were snatched from the sleighs, and
even the dogs charged at a gallop in pursuit of the strange animal.
After a rush of ten yards the quarry disappeared; the first man had put
his foot on it, and it turned out to be one of the small mice so common
in the Barren Ground. What it was doing out on the lake at this time of
year, instead of being comfortably curled up under ground, I cannot say;
but it certainly gave me the impression that if these fogs continued we
should run a good chance of coming to grief through losing our way.

At sunrise the weather cleared, and we found a small band of caribou at
the beginning of the twenty-mile portage to the Lac de Gras. After we
had killed three and fed the dogs, we began our overland work. The snow
was much softer here, with many large rocks showing through, and some
steep hills made travelling hard for the dogs. Night caught us about
half-way between the two lakes, and the north wind freshened up into a
tempest such as I have never seen surpassed by the blizzards of the
western prairies. Fortunately we found a fairly sheltered place for the
lodge or it must have been swept away; as it was the deer-skin flapped
with a noise like that of a sail blown to pieces at sea; two of our
lodge-poles were carried away, and we were in momentary expectation of
being left without shelter to the mercy of the storm; the driving snow
forced itself in, and men and dogs were only recognisable by the white
mounds which marked their position. For thirty hours we lay like this
till the wind abated at midnight, when we started again towards the
north, and continued walking till we had crossed the big bay of the Lac
de Gras into which the Coppermine River runs. We camped a little short
of our second meat _cache_ on the Point de Misère, and on the following
day, although the fog had settled down again, Paul, by a very good
piece of piloting, discovered the small lake in which we had _cached_
the meat. We were getting pretty hard up again by this time, and the
Indians, with the exception of Saltatha whose good spirits never failed,
were showing signs of sulkiness. This new supply, however, gave them
fresh courage, and we were all confident of finding the musk-ox before
we got to the end of the six caribou that we picked up here. We
experienced the same difficulty in breaking the ice, and as we spent
much valuable time in getting out the meat, made but a poor day's
journey. On the following day we passed the most northerly point that we
had reached in the autumn, and were now pushing on into a country that
none of us had ever seen before.

At the spot where we had left the Lac de Gras we had noticed a few small
willow sticks showing above the snow, which afterwards proved very
useful. Following a small stream we reached another large lake,
stretching in a north-easterly direction, and camped at the far end of
it in a heavy snowstorm that had been going on all day. During this time
we were keeping a sharp look-out for musk-ox; but we could find no
tracks, and as the weather continued thick had no opportunity of seeing
animals at a distance. Two more days we travelled on in this manner,
making long journeys with our meat nearly finished and our wood-supply
growing rapidly less; for there had been more delay, from various
reasons, than we had anticipated, and we had been careful to avoid
_caching_ wood for our return journey as we might be unable to follow
the same course. The shape of the hills here changes in a most distinct
manner. The usual undulations give way to sharp scattered buttes,
composed of sand and taking very remarkable forms, a solitary conical
mound being a common feature in the scenery. Small lakes were still
numerous, and for a considerable distance we followed a large stream,
evidently one of the head waters of the Coppermine, here running in a
south-east direction.

On November 20th we dropped on to a lake some twelve miles in breadth,
and crossed to the north shore in falling snow. We had been on short
rations, men and dogs, for some time, and our last mouthful was eaten
for supper this night. When we made camp a few miles beyond the lake the
outlook therefore was by no means cheerful. The continual thick weather
spoilt our chance of finding the musk-ox, and we were now too far away
from the woods to have much chance of reaching them without meat. Of
course we could always have eaten the dogs, but then we should have been
unable to haul our wood, which in the Barren Ground is almost as
necessary as food. As we felt certain that we were well in the musk-ox
country we decided to spend the next day in hunting at all risks, and by
good luck the morning broke clear and calm. Michel and myself remained
in camp to look after the dogs, which had now become so ravenous that
they required constant watching to keep them from eating the lodge,
harness, and everything else that they could get at. The others went in
couples in different directions with the agreement that if anyone
discovered a band of musk-ox they should return at once to wait for the
rest of the party to come in, when we were all to start with the dogs in
pursuit. There was no breakfast, and all the hunters were off before
daylight, evidently fully aware that the success of our expedition, if
not our chance of supporting life, was centred in the result of the
day's proceedings; and it was certainly a great relief when Paul and
Noel appeared towards mid-day and reported a large band of musk-ox
undisturbed a short distance to the north. Peter and Marlo returned soon
afterwards, having found another band in a more westerly direction. I
distributed a pipeful of the now very precious tobacco, while we waited
for William and Saltatha, and discussed the plan of attack. I was rather
surprised at Noel's asking Paul to tell me that I might have some of the
musk-ox, as he was pleased at receiving the tobacco. I was about to
reply that I had come far, and been to a great deal of trouble, on
purpose to kill some of these animals, and I should think it rather
extraordinary if I were not allowed to do so, when Paul explained that
it was a custom among the Yellow Knives to consider a band of musk-ox as
the property of the discoverer, and only his personal friends were
granted the privilege of killing them without payment of some kind.
Sometimes an Indian would go through all the hardships of a hunt, and
then have to give up nearly all his robes because he had not been lucky
enough to discover a band and was out of favour with his more fortunate
companions; so I told Noel I was very grateful for his kindness, and
made him believe himself a remarkably good Indian. By this time it was
getting late, and as the wind had risen the snow was beginning to drift.
There was much grumbling at the delay, and in spite of my remonstrances
at breaking up our agreement to wait for William and Saltatha, the dogs
were harnessed, the lodge pulled down, and the sleighs loaded. I pointed
out that the snow was drifting badly and that the other two would not be
able to follow our tracks; but was told that it was only white men who
were stupid in the snow, so I made no further objection. After
travelling about three miles through some rough hills, we caught an
indistinct view of the musk-ox, fully a hundred in number, standing on a
side-hill from which most of the snow had drifted away; and then
followed a wonderful scene such as I believe no white man has ever
looked on before. I noticed the Indians throwing off their
mitten-strings, and on enquiring the reason I was told that the musk-ox
would often charge at a bright colour, particularly red; this story
must, I think, have originated from the Whites in connection with the
old red-rag theory, and been applied by the Indians to the musk-ox. I
refused to part with my strings, as they are useful in keeping the
mittens from falling in the snow when the hand is taken out to shoot,
but I was given a wide berth while the hunt was going on. Everybody
started at a run, but the dogs, which had been let out of harness, were
ahead of us, and the first thing that I made out clearly through the
driving snow was a dense black mass galloping right at us; the band had
proved too big for the dogs to hold, and most of the musk-ox had broken
away. I do not think they knew anything about men or had the least
intention of charging us, but they passed within ten yards, and so
frightened my companions that I was the only man to fire at them,
rolling over a couple. The dogs, however, were still holding a small lot
at bay, and these we slaughtered without any more trouble than killing
cattle in a yard. There is an idea prevalent in the North that on these
occasions the old musk-ox form into a regular square, with the young in
the centre for better protection against the dogs, which they imagine to
be wolves; but on the two occasions when I saw a band held in this
manner, the animals were standing in a confused mass, shifting their
position to make a short run at a too impetuous dog, and with the young
ones as often as not in the front of the line. There was some rather
reckless shooting going on, and I was glad to leave the scene of
slaughter with Marlo in pursuit of stragglers. Marlo, in common with the
other Indians, had a great horror of musk-ox at close quarters, and I
was much amused at seeing him stand off at seventy yards and miss an
animal which a broken back had rendered incapable of rising. He said
afterwards that the musk-ox were not like other animals; they were very
cunning, could understand what a man was saying and play many tricks to
deceive him; it was not safe to go too near, and he would never allow me
to walk up within a few yards to put in a finishing shot. After killing
off the cripples, we started back to the place where we had left the
sleighs, and, night having added its darkness to the drifting snow, we
had the greatest difficulty in finding camp. Marlo confessed he was
lost, and we were thinking what it was best to do for the night when we
heard the ring of an axe with which somebody was splitting wood in the
lodge; the others, with the exception of William and Saltatha, were all
in, but there seemed little chance of these two reaching camp that
night. We had eaten nothing for a long time, so we celebrated our
success with a big feast of meat, while the dogs helped themselves from
the twenty carcasses that were lying about. They gave us very little
trouble in the lodge, as we saw nothing of them till we skinned the
musk-ox next day, when two or three round white heaps of snow would
uncurl themselves on the lee-side of a half-eaten body. I questioned the
Indians about the two missing men, and they were unanimous that unless
the night got colder they were in no danger of freezing to death; they
were sorry that they had not waited, and would go at the first sign of
daylight to see if they were in the old camp. Peter and Noel accordingly
started very early in the morning, and found the men lying close
together under the snow at the old camp; they had returned at dark, and
as our tracks had drifted up there was not the least chance of finding
us. They were slightly frost-bitten in the face and hands, but as soon
as they had got over their first numbness were able to walk to camp,
where they soon forgot their natural indignation at the mean trick we
had played them in the joys of warmth and food. We were obliged to be a
little extravagant in our wood to make up for the hard times of the
night before, and Saltatha soon recovered his liveliness; he was far
away the best Indian that I met in the North, always cheerful and ready
for work, and afterwards, in the summer, the only one of the Yellow
Knives brave enough to volunteer for an expedition down the Great Fish
River. A hard life he leads, always in poverty, a butt and a servant to
all the other Indians, who are immeasurably his inferiors for any useful
purpose. Although a capital hunter, they swindle him out of everything
he makes, and take the utmost advantage of the little fellow's
good-nature; he seems to have no sense in this respect, and will jump
readily at any bargain that is offered him. He is just the man for an
expedition in the Barren Ground, as when once he has given his word to
go he can be relied upon to carry out his promise, which is more than I
can say for the rest of his tribe, who only wait to rebel and desert
till a time when they think you can least do without them.

We spent most of the day in skinning the musk-ox, which, by the way, is
not a pleasant undertaking in cold weather; the skin is naturally hard
to get off, and on this occasion the carcasses had grown cold during the
night, and the difficulty was greater than usual. The robes were in
splendid condition; the undergrowth, which resembles a sheep's fleece
and is shed in summer, was now thick and firm, while the long permanent
hair had obtained the black glossiness distinctive of a prime fur. We
cut up all the meat that the dogs had left us, and loading it on the
sleighs with the robes, moved camp about five miles to the west to be
ready to go in search of the other band which Peter and Marlo had
discovered. We calculated that we should be able to haul forty-five
robes, besides meat enough for our journey, back to the woods, and at
present we had only half a load.

While the men were planting the lodge I climbed to the top of a high
butte to have a look at the surrounding country; the hill was so steep
that I had to take off my snow-shoes to struggle to the summit, and was
rewarded for my trouble by a good view of probably the most complete
desolation that exists upon the face of the earth. There is nothing
striking or grand in the scenery, no big mountains or waterfalls, but a
monotonous snow-covered waste, without tree or scrub, rarely trodden by
the foot of the wandering Indian. A deathly stillness hangs over all,
and the oppressive loneliness weighs upon the spectator till he is glad
to shout aloud to break the awful spell of solitude. Such is the land of
the musk-ox in snowtime; here this strange animal finds abundance of its
favourite lichens, and defies the cold that has driven every other
living thing to the woods for shelter.


Early on the following morning we left camp with the light sleighs, and
at sunrise were close to the place where the second band had been
discovered. We were a long time in finding them, as the fog had settled
down again, but at last made out a band of sixty on a high ridge between
two small lakes in a very easy place to approach. Directly after we
sighted them Paul's sleigh, which was ahead, capsized over a rock, and
his rifle, which was lashed on the top of it, exploded with a loud
report. The bullet must have passed close to some of us, as on
examination the rifle appeared to be bearing right down the line, and it
was lucky that nobody was killed or crippled; a wounded man would have
had little chance of getting back to the woods alive. The musk-ox took
not the slightest notice of the report, although we were within a couple
of hundred yards of them, and we soon had eighteen rounded up, the main
body breaking away as they had done before. A sickening slaughter,
without the least pretence of sport to recommend it, now took place till
the last one was killed, and we were busy skinning till dark.

I took some of the best heads, but most of them were afterwards thrown
away by the Indians to lighten the load on the sleighs. The animals that
we killed in this band were of various ages, and it was interesting to
note the growth of the horns in different specimens. They begin in both
sexes with a plain straight shoot, exactly like the horns of a domestic
calf, and it is then impossible to tell the male from the female by the
head alone. In the second year they begin to broaden out, and the bull's
horns become much whiter and project straighter from the head than the
cow's, which are beginning already to show the downward bend. At the end
of the third year the cow's horns are fully developed, and I do not
think they grow much after that age; with the bulls, however, the horns
are only just beginning to spread out at the base, and it is not till
the sixth year that the solid boss extends right across the forehead,
the point of junction being marked by a slight crack into which the skin
has been squeezed during the growth of the horns. A curious fact is
noticeable in the horns of the young bulls before the boss has begun to
form; they are quite soft and porous at the base, and can easily be cut
with a knife; when once the boss has grown, the horn is as hard as a
rock. I made careful inquiries of the Indians on these points, and they
told me that, except in the case of very young or very old animals, they
could always tell the age of the musk-ox by a glance at their horns.

We had the greatest difficulty in finding our way back to the lodge, and
it was late before we turned in, everybody agreeing that we had done
enough, and ought to make our best way back to the timber before our
firewood was exhausted. The loads would be quite as heavy as they had
been coming out, for we now had the weight of robes and meat to make up
for the wood we had used. We had, roughly, three hundred and fifty miles
to travel to reach Fond du Lac, but intended to take the last part of
the journey easily after we fell in with the caribou. I should like to
have known our exact position on the map, and the distance from the
sea-coast at Bathurst Inlet, but of course had no chance of making even
an approximate calculation; the Indians had no local knowledge, as they
were entirely beyond any country they knew. Our only luxuries, tea and
tobacco, were now finished, and I found that the want of tobacco was the
most trying hardship on the whole trip: one pipeful as you roll up in
your blanket for the night imparts a certain amount of comfort, and
makes you take a more cheerful view of life; but when even this cannot
be obtained there is a perpetual craving for a smoke, and the best of
tempers is liable to suffer from the deprivation. After we had boiled
our last handful of tea-leaves three times over, Saltatha ate them with
great gusto, and in future we drank the water in which the meat was
boiled. I did not miss the tea nearly so much as the tobacco, and soon
began to like the hot greasy _bouillon_ well enough to struggle for my
full share.

We were late off next morning, and could not make a good day's journey,
as the snow was soft till we got on the large lake, and we were further
delayed in the evening by finding another band of musk-ox. The Indians
said they could carry half a dozen robes more, and insisted, against my
wishes, on killing this number; the consequence was that we had to camp
for the night, and the dogs were more overloaded than ever; they were
able, however, to eat to their hearts' content, and there was very
little left of the six musk-ox in the morning. Two long days' travel
took us back to the point on the Lac de Gras where we had seen the
willows above the snow, and as the dogs were showing signs of fatigue
and their feet were much cut about by the sharp snow-needles sticking
between their toes, we decided on taking a day's rest. We managed to
pull up enough small willows to keep a bit of a fire going most of the
day, and if we had had tobacco should all have enjoyed ourselves
immensely. It was a bright clear day, without wind and terribly cold. I
climbed to the top of a hill in the afternoon to see if I could make out
the west end of the lake, but an intervening hill made it impossible to
get a clear view, and I could form no idea of its length. On this day I
felt the top of my tongue cold in breathing, and my companions, who
were well accustomed to low temperatures, all remarked the extreme
severity of the cold.

It must have been about midnight when I heard Saltatha splitting wood,
and the well-known cry of _Ho lève, lève, il faut partir!_ Looking out
of my blanket I felt the snow falling in my face through a big hole that
the dogs had eaten in the lodge, and said that it was no use moving, as
we should never be able to find our way across the broad traverse that
lay ahead. I was laughed at as usual, and after a breakfast of boiled
meat we started out into the darkness. I soon saw there was little
chance of picking up the skin of the musk-ox that we had _cached_ in
September, as, although the intention was to follow the shore of the
lake till we came to the _cache_, we lost sight of land immediately with
absolutely nothing to guide us on our course. There was no wind, and
such a thick downfall of snow that matters did not improve much when the
blackness turned into grey with daylight.

I have often heard it stated that the gift of finding their way is given
to Indians under all conditions by a sort of instinct that the white man
does not possess, but I never saw children more hopelessly lost than
these men accustomed all their lives to Barren Ground travel. I have
seen it happen to half-breeds and Indians many times, and have come to
the conclusion that no man without a compass can keep his course in
falling snow, unless there is wind to guide him. It is always advisable
to put ashore at once, or, better still, not to leave your camp in the
morning, as then you know your point of departure on the first signs of
a break in the weather. On this occasion the usual thing happened; we
walked all day, changing our roadbreaker every hour or so, while the men
behind shouted contrary directions when they thought he was off his
course. Luckily we found land just at dark, and camped immediately. A
great discussion ensued as to our position, and opinions varied greatly
about the direction of the north star; but we could do nothing till the
weather improved, and even then, unless it grew very clear, or the sun
came out, we might not know which course to take, as landmarks are few
and far between. Fuel could not last more than three nights with the
strictest economy.

The wind rose in the evening, and the snow ceased falling, but began to
drift heavily. In the night there was a tremendous uproar. I was
awakened by hearing the universal Indian chant (_Hi hi he, Ho hi he_),
and much clapping of hands, while the dogs were howling dismally far out
on the ice, evidently thinking they were meant to hunt something, but
disappointed at not being able to find anything to tear to pieces. I
looked out to see what was going on, and found everybody sitting in the
snow shouting; Saltatha had discovered a single star, and the noise I
had heard was the applause supposed to bring out one of the principal
constellations, so that we might get an idea of our direction. The
heavens certainly did clear, and when daylight broke and the wind
moderated we made out our position easily enough. In fourteen hours'
walk we had come perhaps five miles straight, having made a huge circle
to the right and fallen on an island close to the shore that we had left
in the morning. There was still the whole width of the lake to cross,
but when we camped late in the portage between the two big lakes I
thought we had got out of the scrape very well. There was no apparent
reason why the snowstorm should have stopped, and a continuation of it
must have brought us serious trouble.

The next day was worse than ever. A gale from the south in our teeth and
drifting snow made it cruel work to face the storm; but we had to go, as
fuel was rapidly vanishing, and we had already burnt some of our
lodge-poles, and we hoped to reach a small wood-_cache_ that night. We
could find the way, as we had the wind to guide us; but the snow was
soft, and the dogs were hardly able now to drag the sleighs over the
rough hills; one of the poorest froze in harness and had to be
abandoned. Our blankets, which we usually wrapped round our head and
shoulders when facing the wind, now came in for dog-cloths, and
certainly saved some more of the dogs from being disabled by frost-bite;
but as the snow melted between their backs and the blankets, the latter
got wet and afterwards froze till they would stand like a board, and
were then a most uncomfortable form of bedding. The slow pace at which
we were forced to travel made it much worse, and we all found our faces
slightly frozen. At dark we camped nearly at the end of the portage,
although we did not know it till morning, and reluctantly cut up another
couple of lodge-poles for firewood, besides a small box in which I had
been carrying my journal and ammunition.

The wind lightened during the night, and backing into the east came fair
on Lake Mackay. We found our wood-_cache_ all right, and set out on the
sixty-mile walk that still lay between us and the first pine-timber. The
travelling on the lake was better than in the portage, and well on in
the night we put ashore on the island where we had stored our first meat
during the autumn musk-ox hunt. The dogs were too tired to go any
further without rest, or we should have pushed on all night. Our last
lodge-pole was burnt to cook a kettleful of meat for breakfast on
December 1st, and before daylight we were off, with no thought of
camping till we could make fire. The sun at this time only stayed above
the horizon for a couple of hours, and had sunk beneath the snow before
we made out far ahead the high ridge under which the first clump of
pines lay. We were badly scattered along the track, and some of the
dogs, and the men too for that matter, had great difficulty in keeping
up pace enough to make the blood circulate; it was six hours later, and
we were all pretty well used up, when we saw the little pines standing
out against the sky line.

What a glorious camp we had that night! The bright glare of two big
fires lit up the snow-laden branches of the dwarf pines till they
glittered like so many Christmas-trees; overhead the full moon shone
down on us, and every star glowed like a lamp hung in the sky; at times
the Northern Lights would flash out, but the brilliancy of the moon
seemed too strong for even this wondrous fire to rival. It was pleasant
to lie once again on the yielding pine-brush instead of the hard snow,
and to stretch our legs at full length as we could never stretch them in
the lodge; pleasant, too, to look back at the long struggle we had gone
through, and to contrast our present condition with that of the last
month. Our experiences had been hard and not without their share of
danger, and we could now congratulate ourselves on having brought our
hunt to a most satisfactory conclusion. I had fully succeeded in
carrying out the object of my expedition, and could look forward to a
period of ever-increasing comfort, culminating in the luxury of life at
a Hudson's Bay Fort within a few weeks. I had intended to winter at the
edge of the Barren Ground, but was forced to give up the idea, as I had
seen too much of the Beaulieus to care about living any longer with
them. The fact that meat was scarce again did not trouble me, as I was
by this time accustomed to empty larders and had fallen into the happy
Indian method of trusting that something would turn up; besides, we were
pretty sure to run across the caribou within the next few days. The want
of tobacco was the worst grievance that I had, but the prospect of
obtaining this was getting brighter after each day's travel.

Very late at night Saltatha turned up with a badly frozen nose and chin.
One of his dogs had given out and been abandoned, and he had been
pushing the sleigh for many hours; he had almost given up trying to
bring in his load when he saw the blaze of the fires far off and his
courage came back. The sun was up before anyone turned out, but the dogs
were better for the rest, and a short day took us into a big bunch of
pines on King Lake, within an easy day of a small meat _cache_ that I
had made while we were camped at the Lake of the Enemy. I had my doubts
about finding the place, as none of the others knew where it was, but
was lucky enough to hit it off; and we took out the meat of two caribou,
after breaking an axe to pieces in our endeavours to chop away the ice
which had formed between the rocks from the melting of the snow during a
warm spell in the beginning of October.

The same night we camped at the scaffold on which we had stored all the
dried meat that the women had made while we were away on the first
musk-ox hunt. King was to have taken most of it, leaving us sufficient
for a couple of days' supply, and a note in the syllabic characters
introduced into the North by the priests informed us that he had kept
his promise. There were plenty of signs that he had done so; but the
wolverines had been before us, and a few shreds of meat lying at the
foot of the stage told the story plainly enough. This was rather a
disappointment, and matters looked worse when we had travelled the whole
length of Lake Camsell at our best speed. Here again we expected to find
a _cache_, as some meat had been left when we killed the first caribou
in the autumn, but the wolverines had taken it. This is a common
incident in Northern travel, but never fails to draw forth hearty
execrations on the head of the hated _carcajou_.

There was much talk of abandoning loads and making a rush to reach the
caribou or a Yellow Knife encampment which was supposed to lie some
distance ahead of us; but I opposed this scheme strongly, and for once
managed to get my own way. The weather was fine, and we cared little for
the cold, as we could always make a fire in case of freezing. Without
eating much we pushed on rapidly for two days, crossing the Lac du
Rocher, the scene of our starvation in September, and finally on the
third morning found a band of caribou, of which we killed enough to
relieve all immediate anxiety. By this time we were among thick timber
and following closely our canoe-route of three months ago.

In the early hours of December 7th we came to a line of pine-brush
planted across a small lake, and soon afterwards fell on the tracks of
fresh snow-shoes; before daylight, at the end of a long portage over a
thickly wooded hill, we dropped into an encampment of a dozen lodges. It
turned to be Zinto's camp, and all my Indians found their wives and
families awaiting them here. There were great rejoicings over our
arrival, as we had been so long on the hunt that a good deal of anxiety
was felt for the safety of husbands and brothers. Zinto invited me into
his lodge, gave me a feast of pounded meat and grease, a cup of tea,
and, better still, a small plug of black tobacco; this seemed too good
to leave, and as we had travelled many hours in the night I decided to
spend the rest of the day here.

The camp was very prettily situated on a small flat a few feet above the
edge of a frozen lake; and when the sun rose over the hill, lighting up
the brown deer-skin lodges with their columns of blue smoke rising
straight up in the frosty air, the snow-laden pine-trees, and the
silver-barked birches, the whole scene seemed a realization of one of
Fenimore Cooper's descriptions of an Indian camp in winter.

Much talking had to be got through, and the story of our musk-ox hunt
was told many times over. I was the object of great interest, and was
closely questioned as to my experiences in the Barren Ground and the
contrast between life there and in my own country. After Zinto had
satisfied himself on these points he broached more abstruse subjects,
insisting on knowing my opinion with regard to the differences of the
Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths, and seeming pleased to hear that
he was by no means the first man who had found this point hard to fully
understand. Many other things there were about which he desired
information; but I am afraid some of my answers conveyed little meaning
to him, as I was myself rather hazy about many of the topics of
conversation, and had only Michel, who was the worst Frenchman of all,
for interpreter, Paul having gone off to see his wife who was camped a
few miles to the east. But when Zinto got on to trading he was quite at
home, and before leaving I had to give him an order for many
beaver-skins (the medium of trade in the North), to be paid at Fort
Resolution. He was very good in providing me with everything I wanted
for my journey, and gave me a new pair of snow-shoes and a sleigh,
besides lending a dog to replace one that had fallen lame; meat he was
short of, but he had heard that the Beaulieus had been killing caribou,
so that I was likely to find _caches_ by the way; a track was broken to
Fond du Lac, and we ought to get there easily in three days. Zinto
thought the Great Slave Lake would be entirely frozen over and fit to
travel on by this time, as lately the sky had been clear in the south;
when there is any open water a perpetual mist rises from it and lies
like a huge fog-bank over the lake.

A happy indolent life the Yellow Knives lead when the caribou are thick
on their pleasant hunting-ground round the shores of the Great Slave
Lake, and most of the hard times that they have to put up with are due
to their own improvidence. This is their great failing; they will not
look ahead or make preparation for the time when the caribou are scarce,
preferring to live from hand to mouth, and too lazy to bother their
heads about the future. They are rather a fine race of men, above the
average of the Canadian Indian, and, as they have had little chance of
mixing with the Whites, have maintained their characteristic manners
till this day; they are probably little changed since the time when the
Hudson's Bay Company first established a trading-post on the Big Lake a
hundred years ago. When the priests came into the country the Yellow
Knives readily embraced the Roman Catholic religion, and are very
particular in observing all the outward signs of that faith, but I doubt
if their profession of Christianity has done much to improve their
character. They are a curious mixture of good and bad, simplicity and
cunning; with no very great knowledge of common honesty, thoroughly
untrustworthy, and possessed with an insatiable greed for anything that
takes their fancy, but with no word in their language to express thanks
or gratitude. To a white man they are humility itself, looking upon him,
by their own account, as their father, and so considering him bound to
provide them with everything they want, even to his last pair of
trowsers or pipeful of tobacco; refuse them anything when you are
dependent upon their services on a journey, and they will leave you in
the woods; for their own part, if they have ammunition they are always
at home. In another way they are generous enough, and take great pride
in showing hospitality. Go into one of their lodges, and a blanket is
spread for you in the seat of honour farthest away from the flap that
does duty for a door; a meal is instantly provided, no matter if it
takes the last piece of meat in the camp, and the precious tea and
tobacco are offered you in lavish quantities. The Yellow Knives are a
timid, peaceable race, shrinking from bloodshed and deeds of violence,
and it is seldom that quarrels between the men got beyond wrestling and
hair-pulling. The women are, as a rule, not quite so hideous as the
squaws of the Blackfeet and Crees; they are lax in morals, and
accustomed to being treated more as slaves than wives in the civilized
interpretation of the word. They do all the hard work of the camp,
besides carrying the heaviest loads on the march; and in too many cases
are rewarded with the worst of the meat and the blows of an
over-exacting husband. Early marriages are fashionable, as a man is
useless without a wife to dry his meat and make moccasins for him. The
great object of a Yellow Knife beauty is to secure a good hunter for a
husband; the man who can shoot straight, and is known to be skilful in
approaching the caribou, is always a prize in the matrimonial market and
need have little fear of a refusal, especially as the husband is
supposed to hunt for his father-in-law after marriage, and the old man
will use all his influence to arrange the match. Superstition still
reigns supreme among these people; any mischance is put down to "bad
medicine," and reasons are always forthcoming to account for its
presence. There are several miracle-workers and foreseers of the future
in the tribe, who are said to perform very wonderful things, but I found
them extremely shy of showing off their accomplishments when I asked for
an exhibition. Like all other Indians who live the wild life that they
were intended to live, the Yellow Knives are dirty to the last degree.
They are careful about combing and greasing their hair, and are lavish
in the use of soap, if they can get it, for face and hands, but their
bodies are a sanctuary for the disgusting vermin that always infest
them; they seem to have no idea of getting rid of these objectionable
insects, but talk about its being a good or bad season for them in the
same way that they speak of mosquitos.

From every point of view, then, the Indian of the Great Slave Lake is
not a pleasant companion, nor a man to be relied upon in case of
emergency. Nobody has yet discovered the right way to manage him. His
mind runs on different principles from that of a white man, and till the
science of thought-reading is much more fully developed, the working of
his brain will always be a mystery to the fur-trader and traveller.

At sunrise the following morning I left Zinto's camp, with Michel and
Marlo, bound for Fond du Lac, all the other musk-ox hunters going back
to domestic happiness. The weather was still bright and cold, and the
days perceptibly longer as we travelled south. We were again short of
meat, as all the Indians were in the same plight, and although we saw a
band of caribou shortly after starting, we were unable to get a shot at
them. Towards evening we found a small _cache_ of meat hung in a tree,
and knowing that it must belong to some of the Beaulieus I had no
compunction in taking it. Here we left our canoe-route, and passing to
the westward of the Lac de Mort headed straight for the house at Fond du
Lac. The woods were well grown and signs of life abundant; the tracks of
wolves, wolverines, foxes, and an occasional marten, frequently crossed
the road, and ptarmigan were continually flying up under the leader's
feet. Here, too, I saw again my old friend the Whisky Jack, as he is
called throughout the North, a grey and white bird the size of a
thrush, with a most confiding disposition and an inordinate love of fat
meat; he sits on the nearest tree while the camp is being made, comes in
boldly, inspects the larder, and helps himself with very little fear of
man. If it is a starving camp he chortles in contempt and flies away,
having a very low opinion of people who travel without provisions; but
if meat be plentiful he spends the night there, and comes in for rich
pickings in the morning when the camp is struck. This bird is common
throughout the wilder parts of Canada, and has acquired many names in
different places; in the mountains of British Columbia he is the
Hudson's Bay bird or grease bird, and far away to the East the moose
bird, caribou bird, Rupert's bird, and camp-robber.

On the afternoon of the second day we met the Indian Etitchula, who had
left the fort with us in August and had been hanging on more or less to
our party ever since. He was on his way back to King Beaulieu's Camp,
two days' travel to the north-east, having made a trip to Fond du Lac to
make a raid on my tea and tobacco, and see if there was any news of us,
as King was greatly alarmed at our prolonged absence. We relieved him of
a little tea, but he had not been able to get any tobacco out of
François, who had roundly asserted that it all belonged to him; he also
gave us a couple of whitefish, which proved a very acceptable change
from our long course of straight meat. Late the same evening we made
our last camp on the high land close to the edge of the mountains within
five miles of the house; we could easily have got in that night, but I
much preferred a quiet camp under the stars to the company of the gang
of Beaulieus who were sure to be at Fond du Lac.

One word of caution against using the compressed tea imported by the
Hudson's Bay Company into the North as a substitute for tobacco; it is
very good to drink, but if you smoke it you pay the penalty by a most
painful irritation in the throat, which is made worse by breathing the
intensely cold air. We all tried it that night, and all swore never to
do so again, although I have often smoked the ordinary uncompressed tea
without disastrous results and with a certain amount of satisfaction.

We were off in good time on the morning of December 10th, and were soon
sitting on the sleighs, rushing down the steep incline, with frequent
spills from bumping against trees; this was the only piece of riding I
had during the whole five weeks' travel. The first signs of the _petit
jour_ were just showing as we pulled up at the house, and François
quickly produced the tobacco he had refused Etitchula. I think for a few
minutes they were really glad to see us back safe, but soon the old
complaints began. Times had been hard, although the women and children
all looked fat enough to belie this statement; José had been catching
whitefish, but had refused to give any to François; while the latter,
according to José, had been very mean in distribution of my effects,
eating flour every day himself but giving none away. They had gone
through nearly everything between them, and moreover did not seem the
least bit ashamed of their conduct. As my dogs were all used up, I
decided to leave them here, and made arrangements with François to bring
his own train on to the fort with me. It seemed that notwithstanding the
hard times he had sufficient meat and fish stored away for our trip, and
there were still a few pounds of flour left, so that we should live in
luxury all the way in.

I spent the day shooting a few ptarmigan, indulging in much tobacco, and
listening to the petitions of the various ill-used members of the
family. José was particularly amusing; he had been the most useless man
of the lot, never even venturing into the Barren Ground, but spending
most of his time at Fond du Lac, shooting away my ammunition and playing
havoc with tea and tobacco, besides robbing the _cache_ at the Lac du
Rocher. Now he was full of love for me, and gave me a list of things
that he wanted in addition to his wages, as a reward for all that he had
done and was ready to do for me. Among other items, he wanted my rifle
and hunting-glasses, and remarked that my Paradox gun, which had been
lying here all the time, would be very useful for him at the goose-hunt
in the following spring. Fortunately none of the Beaulieus know how to
put together a breech-loading gun, so the Paradox and its ammunition had
been left in peace to do me good service in the summer. I think the
Paradox is the most useful gun yet invented for purposes of exploration,
as it does away with the necessity of carrying a separate weapon for
shot and ball, and shoots very true with either; but there seems no
reason why the patent should not be applied to a 20-bore. For procuring
food in a really rough country, where a man has to carry his own
ammunition, the ball-cartridges for a 12-bore are needlessly heavy, and
the charge of shot is too great for the close range shooting which is
usually done on these occasions.


At Fond du Lac I slept for the first time since we left the fort under a
roof, but on account of the awful squalor of the house I should have
much preferred the usual open camp in the snow. Daylight found us under
way again, François and myself, with a small boy to run ahead of the
dogs; as we were travelling light I expected to be able to ride the last
half of the journey, but for the first two days the fish for dogs' food
made our load too heavy to travel at a fast pace. I left all the musk-ox
and caribou heads and skins that I had managed to save, to come in with
Michel and Marlo when they made the usual journey to the fort for New
Year's day, on which occasion the Indians from all quarters bring in
their furs to trade, and receive a small feast of flour and sugar, an
event not to be missed on any account, even though wives and families
may be left to starve in the woods and the famished dogs drop with
fatigue along the track.

There was no news as to the state of the ice, as we were the first
people to attempt the crossing of the lake this winter. It is usually
not safe for travel till the middle of December, so we coasted along the
north shore, increasing the distance, but getting greater safety by
doing so. We took things easily, making early starts and putting ashore
frequently for a cup of tea; it was a great improvement on the
canoe-travelling which had delayed us so much in the autumn. At sundown
every night we picked out a sheltered spot among the tall pine-trees
where firewood was plentiful, threw away the snow with our snow-shoes,
and put down a thick mat of pine-brush; then a huge fire was lit and
enough wood cut for the night, the fish thawed for the dogs, and supper
cooked for the men. We had bread at every meal, which is in itself a
luxury after four months of straight meat; the day ended with tobacco,
and we rolled ourselves in our blankets to sleep, till the position of
the Great Bear told us it was time to be on the march once more. People
who live in civilization find it hard to believe that men in these
northern latitudes habitually sleep out under the stars, with the
thermometer standing at 30°, 40°, and even 60° below zero; yet it is
those same people of civilization who suffer from colds in the head,
lung-diseases, and a variety of ailments unknown to the _voyageur_,
whose only dangers are starvation and the risk of accidents incidental
to travelling in rough countries.

On the second day we passed a couple of houses occupied by an Indian,
Capot Blanc, with whom I afterwards became great friends; he had left
for the fort a couple of days before, but the ice was reported to be
dangerous in the Grand Traverse. Another Indian, Thomas, a brother of
Marlo and Zinto, was ready to start, and joined in with us for the rest
of the journey; he had only two dogs, but with a light load managed to
keep up easily enough. The ice among the islands was pretty good, but
the snow was soft and deep, and it was not till our fourth night out
from Fond du Lac that we camped on the last outlying island, ready to
take the Traverse. About eighteen miles away to the south, without any
chance to put ashore till we reached it, lay the Ile de Pierre, and we
were to make for a half-breed's house that lay within a mile of it on
the main shore of the lake. It had been arranged that I was to ride in
pomp across this piece, so, after a good breakfast about three o'clock,
I turned into the sleigh and soon dropped off to sleep to the music of
sleigh-bells and a volley of French oaths with which François encouraged
his dogs every few minutes. At this time the stars were shining
brightly, and there was not a breath of wind. I must have slept for a
couple of hours when François awoke me with the information that we were
lost. Turning out of my warm berth I found a gale of wind blowing, with
snow falling and drifting heavily; I could hardly make out the men in
the darkness, though they were all standing within a few yards of me. Of
course I had not the slightest idea where we were, or the direction in
which we had been travelling. François seemed undecided, but Thomas was
quite sure that by keeping the wind abeam we should hit off the Ile de
Pierre. We put him ahead, and he proved perfectly right in his
direction; for after four hours' steady walk we made out the land, the
weather clearing a little at day-break. We had headed a little too far
to the west, but were soon inside the half-breed's cabin, where we found
plenty of fish for the dogs, and so decided to spend the day there, as
the wind had freshened up again and the drifting snow made travelling
unpleasant. We did not know what a narrow escape we had had till the
owner of the house came in, after making an attempt to visit his nets.
He reported the ice broken up to the west by the violence of the gale,
and had we kept a little more in that direction we might easily have
walked into open water in the darkness and made a disastrous ending to
our expedition.

[Illustration: Skins in the Post Storeroom]

[Illustration: Taking the Post Dogs for Exercise]

Our course the next day lay over shoal water, mostly inside sandbanks
and through narrow channels of the delta of the Slave River. We crossed
the main stream on good ice, and following the shore of the lake for ten
miles, rattled into the fort about two o'clock, within ten minutes of
the arrival of the outward-bound packet from Mackenzie River. Luckily
enough it had been delayed one day by the storm that had overtaken us in
the Grand Traverse, and I had an opportunity of sending out letters by
the dog-sleigh that was to leave the same night. For true hospitality
there is nothing in the world to beat the welcome back to a Hudson's Bay
post in the North after one has made a long journey in the wilds; no
need to trouble your head with the idea that you may not be wanted, or
that you will eat too much of the ever insufficient supplies sent in
from the outside world to the officer in charge. Why is it that the less
a man has, and the harder things are to obtain, the more ready he is to
divide? It does not seem to work in civilization, but it is certainly so
in rough countries, and especially with the Hudson's Bay Company's
officers in the Far North. Perhaps it is because they have all seen
hardships and privations in the Company's service and know the value of
a helping hand given in the time of need; men who have suffered
themselves have always more feeling for the sufferings of others than
people who have lived only on the soft side of life.

I don't think I ever enjoyed a meal so much as that first dinner at Fort
Resolution, after a most necessary wash. A year later I dragged myself
into a small trading-post at the foot of the Rocky Mountains after many
days' total starvation, but had then got beyond the capacity of enjoying
anything. On the present occasion I was able to thoroughly appreciate
the change from my four months' experience in the Barren Ground. How
strange it seemed once more to sit at a table, on a chair, like a white
man, and eat white man's food with a knife and fork, after the long
course of squatting in the filth of a smoky lodge, rending a piece of
half-raw meat snatched from the dirty kettle. Then, too, I could speak
again in my own language, and there was a warm room to sit in, books to
read, and all the ordinary comforts of life, with the knowledge that so
long as I stayed in the house I had my own place, while the wind and the
snow had theirs outside.

There was no scarcity at the fort this year, although the autumn fishing
had not been successful. The Fond du Lac boat had brought in a good
supply of dried meat, and there was a better stock of flour than is
usually to be found at a northern fort. Mr. Mackinlay, too, had got in a
fair supply of luxuries from Winnipeg, and, as Mrs. Mackinlay was an
excellent manager, we always lived as well as one should wish to live

Fort Resolution is a fair sample of a trading-post in the North. It is
situated on the south side of a bay, the entrance to which is sheltered
by a group of islands, the largest known as Mission Island, from the
Roman Catholic mission established there in charge of Father Dupire. The
original site was on an outlying island known as Moose Island, but the
present position on the mainland has been found more practicable. The
buildings consist of the master's house, a comfortable log-building
flanked on each side by a large store, one used for provisions and the
other as a fur and trading store; these were originally within a
stockade and formed the fort proper, but the peaceful nature of the
Indians has removed all need for defensive works. Outside is a small row
of log-houses, occupied by the engaged servants, freemen, and a couple
of pensioners too old to make their living in the woods. Close at hand
are the buildings belonging to the Protestant Mission, while the willows
and bush-growth of a densely-wooded level country hem in the small patch
of cleared ground on which the settlement stands; here potatoes and a
few other vegetables are raised, and in a favourable season produce very
fair crops. There are a yoke of work-cattle for hauling wood and a
couple of milch cows are kept, as hay is easily procured in the numerous
swamps which are scattered through the woods in every direction. The
only high land to be seen is a conspicuous bluff marking the entrance to
the Little Buffalo River some ten miles along the lake shore, this
stream heads in to the south, and as it breaks up earlier in the spring
than the Little Slave River it is used at that time of year as a route
to Fort Smith, one overland portage being made, to drop on to the main
stream a short distance below the fort.

Looking out over the vast expanse of frozen lake on still, bright days
some very beautiful and curious mirage effects can often be seen.
Everything takes an unnatural and frequently inverted form; islands so
far away as to be below the horizon are seen suspended in the air, and
it is impossible to recognise a point or bunch of trees with which you
are perfectly familiar in ordinary circumstances.

There are four engaged servants at the fort; a white man, Murdo Mackay,
native of the Hebrides, who was serving a five years' contract with the
Company, and three half-breeds, by far the best of whom was Michel
Mandeville, who has held the position of interpreter at Fort Resolution
for several years. Except at the time of the Fall fishery, an engaged
servant's work is light--cutting and hauling enough firewood to keep the
fort supplied, visiting the nets and lines, and an occasional trip with
the packet, or to get trading-goods from another fort.

Christmas passed away quietly, but there was stir enough when the
Indians came in for New Year and the trading began. The old system of
barter is still carried on, with the beaver-skin for a standard. An
Indian's pile of fur is counted, and he is told how many skins' worth of
goods he has to receive; then he is taken into the store and the door
solemnly locked, as it is found impossible to trade at all with more
than one at a time. It seems very simple; the Indian knows exactly how
many skins he has to take, and the value in skins of every common
article. But, to begin with, he wants everything he sees, and the whole
stock would hardly satisfy him, and it is a long time, with many changes
of opinion, before he has spent the proceeds of his hunt. Then arises
the question of his debt, and he tries to take the largest amount
possible on credit for his spring hunt; the trader cannot refuse
absolutely to make any advances, as there are some things essentially
necessary to the Indian's life in the woods, but the debts are kept in
proportion to the man's character. After he has finished his trade, he
shows his purchases to his friends, and, acting on their advice, usually
comes back to effect some change, and the game begins all over again;
sometimes a whole day is passed in laying out a hundred skins, roughly
fifty dollars according to our method of calculation. Before the Indian
leaves the fort he always comes in and does a little begging while
saying good-bye to his master.

I had a very bad time of it settling up with the Beaulieus. Promises
that I had made under stress of circumstances had to be redeemed, but it
was hopeless to try and satisfy them; although they had each received
far more than had been originally agreed upon, they continued grumbling
till they left the fort. On New Year's day a big ball was given to the
half-breeds, while the Indians were provided with the materials for a
feast, and held a dance of their own in one of the empty houses. It was
the poorest display imaginable; many of the Canadian tribes have really
effective dancing, but the Yellow Knives appear to have a very
elementary idea of graceful movement. Their only figure is to waddle
round in a circle, holding each other's hands, keeping up a monotonous
chant, and spitting freely into the middle of the ring. In the big house
Red River jigs and reels were kept up with unflagging energy till

As soon as everything had quieted down and the Indians had gone back to
their hunting-ground, Mackinlay and myself started on an expedition
after the caribou to try and kill some fresh meat for the fort. We took
Michel, the interpreter, with us, and Pierre Beaulieu, a brother of
King's; and a resident of Mission Island joined us with his two sons, as
there was news of the caribou being at no great distance on the far side
of the lake. It was now the dead of winter, the season of the _gra'
frète_, and we had two remarkably cold days' travel to reach the north
shore of the Great Slave Lake. We struck into the woods, not far to the
eastward of the Gros Cap, the point forming the eastern extremity of the
long narrow arm leading to Fort Rae. We each had a sleigh of dogs, and
were able to ride most of the time on a good road broken by a band of
Indians hunting in the neighbourhood. Two long days over small lakes and
through the thick pine woods, in a country much resembling that of Fond
du Lac but of lower elevation, brought us among the caribou, but they
were not in very large numbers.

We had everything we could want to make life pleasant in the woods,
abundance of tea and tobacco, meat if we killed it, and no hardships;
the cold was severe of course, but there was plenty of firewood, and it
was our own fault if we could not keep ourselves warm. Three days we
spent in hunting, and, although we did not kill very much, there was a
little meat to take back; we never really found the caribou in any
quantity, or we should have made a big killing and _cached_ the meat, to
be hauled later on when the days grew longer. A rattling three days'
journey took us back to the fort, as old Pierre, who is one of the most
rushing travellers I ever met, hustled us along to save using his meat
on the way home; he had no intention of feeding his dogs from his load
for more than two nights when he had fish to give them at home. This
trouble about dogs' food is the great drawback to winter travelling in
the North; a dog, to keep him in good order, requires two whitefish,
weighing each perhaps three pounds, every night. This adds so much to
the load that a ten days' journey is about the longest one can undertake
with full rations all round, unless it be in a part of the country where
game is plentiful or fish can be caught _en route_.

After the caribou hunt, we amused ourselves about the fort; sometimes
going in search of ptarmigan, which are usually to be found among the
willows close to the edge of the lake; and sometimes paying Father
Dupire a visit on his island, a couple of miles away, to hear some of
his interesting experiences during a residence of many years among the
Indians. Close at hand lay the Protestant Mission, where there was
always a welcome, and, with these attractions and a fair supply of
books, time did not hang at all heavily till early in February the
winter packet from the outside world arrived. I received a big bundle of
letters, the first that reached me since June, but it happened that none
of the newspapers for the fort turned up, and we were left in ignorance
of what had happened in the Grand Pays.

So many travellers have written about this great Northern Packet and the
wonderful journey that it makes that it is unnecessary for me to say
much about it. On its arrival at Fort Resolution it presents the
appearance of an ordinary dog-sleigh, with a man ahead of the dogs,
which are driven by a half-breed, with plenty of ribbons and beads on
leggings and moccasins, capable of running his forty miles a day with
ease, and possessed of a full command of the more expressive part of the
French language.

Dr. Mackay, who was on his yearly round of visits to inspect the
outlying posts in his district, came down from Fort Chipeweyan with the
packet, and we had a long talk respecting a summer trip to the Barren
Ground which I proposed making.

My intention was to leave the fort on the last ice in the spring and
travel with the dogs to the spot where we had left our big canoe in the
autumn, there to await the breaking up of the lakes and to descend the
Great Fish River with the first open water. I had no special object in
reaching the sea-coast, as a birch-bark canoe is not the right sort of
craft for work among salt-water ice; and it was more to see what the
Barren Ground was like in summer, and to notice the habits of the birds
and animals, than for the sake of geographical discovery, that I wished
to make the expedition.

The Great Fish River has been twice descended before, but of course both
Back's and Anderson's parties were compelled by the shortness of the
summers to confine their exploration to the immediate neighbourhood of
the river; and I thought that, by spending more time at the head-waters
than they had been able to do, I should get a good idea of the nature of
the country and an insight into the Indian summer life among the
caribou. The difficulty was to obtain a crew; but Dr. Mackay very kindly
consented to Mackinlay's accompanying me, and also lent me the two
engaged servants, Murdo Mackay and Moise Mandeville, brother of Michel
Mandeville the interpreter, but not half such a good fellow. We hoped to
be able to engage the services of some of the Indians to guide us to the
head of the river, but they have such a dread of the Esquimaux, who hunt
farther down the stream, that we hardly expected any of the Yellow
Knives to accompany us beyond that point. Long ago there was always war
between the Indians and the Esquimaux, and Hearne's description of the
massacre at the Bloody Falls on the Coppermine gives a good idea of the
hatred that existed between these tribes. For many years they have not
met, and although the Esquimaux seen by Anderson on the Great Fish River
appear peaceful enough, the Yellow Knives hunting at the head of the
river are in constant fear of meeting them.

Zinto, the chief, and another Indian, Syene, arrived at the fort soon
after Dr. Mackay left, and we consulted them as to the best route to
follow, and whether we could depend upon their tribe for any help. They
told us that there was no difficulty in reaching the head-waters of the
river, as the Indians were in the habit of coming there every summer,
but beyond was an unknown country; they both remembered Anderson's
expedition, and were full of stories about the difficulties of
navigation, the numerous portages and the likelihood of starvation, but
knew nothing from personal experience. We failed lamentably in the
attempt to discover when the ice in the river usually broke up. Syene
told us that it was in the moon when the dogs lie on their backs in the
sun, and Zinto volunteered the information that it was soon after the
leaves begin to shoot on the little willows in the Barren Ground; but we
could not work it out into any particular month. Both promised to make
dried meat and pemmican for us if they fell in with the caribou, and to
leave _caches_ in the last bunch of pine-trees. Next day they left for
their camp, two hundred miles away in the woods, to await the first
signs of warmer weather to start for the spring musk-ox hunt. Zinto was
to come to the fort about the 1st of May, and personally conduct us to
the places where he had piled up the meat of many caribou for our use.


About the middle of February, 1890, little François, an Indian living at
the mouth of Buffalo River, arrived with the news that during a
hunting-trip he had made to the southward he had seen the tracks of a
band of wood buffalo and intended to go in pursuit of them after this
visit to the fort.

Mackinlay and myself both wanted an excuse to be in the woods again, and
the next day saw us plodding across the bay on snow-shoes to the
comfortable little shanty, under the high bluff, which forms the most
conspicuous landmark within sight of Fort Resolution. The establishment
was presided over by an old lady, formerly cook at one of the forts, and
kept with a cleanliness not always to be found in a white man's
dwelling. The following morning we started with two sleigh-loads of fish
for the dogs and provisions and blankets for ourselves. François brought
his wife and little girl, besides a rather crazy boy, given to epileptic
fits, but a good worker in the intervals between his attacks. We
followed the river for a mile or two, then turned into the woods on the
west bank, and, crossing a lake of some size, headed in a south-west
direction through the thick pine-forest, occasionally picking up a
marten from a line of traps set by little François, for we were
following the track that he had made on his last trip, or finding a
rabbit hung by the neck in one of his wife's snares; very cunning these
old women are in all things concerning the stomach, and if there are
many rabbit-tracks to be seen in the snow there is little danger of
going without supper.

On the second day we crossed a large prairie dotted with lakes, formerly
the home of many beavers, and still bearing evidence of their labours in
the long banks which served as dams and the huge mounds which were once
their houses. The beavers have all gone long ago, and the ladies who
wore the pretty fur-trimmed jackets in far-away England, and the
husbands who grumbled at their price, are gone too; but the beavers have
left the most impression on the face of the earth. Wonderful moulders of
geography they are; a stream dammed up in a level country forms a huge
lake where the forest stood, the trees fall as their roots rot in
standing water, and, if the dam be not attended to by the workers, a
fertile grass-covered prairie takes the place of the lake. From the
Liard River and Great Slave Lake, to the Peace River on the east side of
the Rocky Mountains, extends the greatest beaver country in the world.
It is known by Indian report alone, as no white man ever penetrates far
into the wilderness of pine-forest and morass; many streams head away
into the interior of this unknown land, but the white man has only seen
their mouths, as he passes up or down the main waterways of the North.
It is true that the Company's men have ascended Hay River, a large
stream falling into the Great Slave Lake, and by making an overland
portage, have dropped on the Peace River at Fort Vermillion; but they
have always made hurried voyages and have had no opportunity of
exploring much new ground.

Scattered over this huge extent of country are still a few bands of
buffalo. Sometimes they are heard of at Forts Smith and Vermillion,
sometimes at Fort St. John close up to the big mountains on Peace River,
and occasionally at Fort Nelson on the south branch of the Liard. It is
impossible to say anything about their numbers, as the country they
inhabit is so large, and the Indians, who are few in number, usually
keep to the same hunting-ground. These animals go by the name of wood
buffalo, and most people are of opinion that they are a distinct race
from the old prairie buffalo so numerous in bygone days; but I am
inclined to think that the very slight difference in appearance is
easily accounted for by climatic influences, variety of food, and the
better shelter of the woods. Here too the giant moose and the woodland
caribou have their home, and even in the short journey that I made into
this district the tracks in the snow told a tale of plenty. Many black
bears' skins are brought out every year, and towards the mountains the
formidable grizzly is often encountered by the fearful hunter. Nor are
the small fur-bearing animals wanting; foxes--red, cross, and a few
silver--seek their living on the prairie, while wolverines, fisher,
mink, marten, and lynx may be trapped in the woods, and a few otters
frequent the streams and lakes. In the summer ducks, geese, and many
other water-birds have their nests in the muskegs, and two or three
varieties of the tree grouse are always to be found. "The hunter's
Paradise!" says the sporting reader; "let us go and have a hunt there."
But now for the other side of the picture. In the summer it is
practically impossible to travel, as it is a swampy country not to be
crossed with horses, and the lakes are too far apart to be available as
a canoe-route, while the mosquitos are intolerable. Only when the snow
has fallen, and all water is held fast in the grip of winter, has one a
chance of exploring this Land of Promise with dogs, sleighs, and
snow-shoes; but, by this time, the summer life has all flown far away
southward, and, though I think one would be fairly safe in pushing on,
there is always a chance of coming across a large tract of gameless
country, and finding a difficulty in obtaining provisions.

After three days' good travel we reached the end of François' road, and
long before daylight on the following morning were away to try and find
the buffalo tracks. We had a long day's walk over a perfect
hunting-ground, crossing several open ridges with sufficient elevation
to give us a view of the surrounding country. Prairie and timber were
about in equal proportion, and the eye could follow the windings of a
large stream that falls into the Little Buffalo River close to the Fort
Smith portage; its water are strongly impregnated with sulphur, and do
not readily freeze; in fact this stream, although it has little current,
remains open during a considerable part of its course even in the
coldest weather. About noon we found the track that we had been looking
for, easily distinguishable from the many tracks of moose and woodland
caribou that we had crossed; little François made a capital approach,
and after a couple of hours' walk we sighted a band of eight buffalo
feeding in a small wood-surrounded swamp. There are few spots on the
American continent to-day where one can see buffalo in their wild state,
but the Indian gave us no time to watch them, and completely spoilt the
chance of clean shooting by letting off his gun too soon; we only wanted
to kill one, as we could not haul any more meat, and it is really a pity
to kill animals so nearly extinct as these. As it turned out there were
several snap-shots fired as they ran into the woods, and two tracks of
blood in the snow showed that we had done too much shooting, although it
was not till late in the second day that we secured a cow that had
travelled many miles before lying down.

By the way, it is as well when going for a hunting expedition in the
North to leave at home all the old-fashioned notions of
shooting-etiquette. If you see a man in a good position for a shot, run
up, jostle his elbow, and let your gun off; if an animal falls, swear
you killed it, and claim the back-fat and tongue no matter whether you
fired or not; never admit that you are not quite sure which animal you
shot at. It is only by strict attention to these rules that a white man
can get a fair division of plunder when shooting with half-breed

The other buffalo, on whose track there was little blood, had not
separated from the band, although we followed it for a whole day, and,
as this was a sure sign of its having been only slightly wounded,
perhaps not much damage was done; a badly struck animal will always
leave its companions and lie down.

There was much rejoicing when late on the third night the result of our
hunt was hauled into our pleasant camp in a clump of thick pine-timber.
The little girl patted and played with the meat as an English child
would with a doll, and eventually dropped off to sleep with the raw
brisket for a pillow; while Pierre, the boy, after a huge feast was
seized with such a violent fit that for a long time I was afraid it
would prove his last. The others took no notice of him beyond putting
down a log to keep him from rolling in the fire, and in the morning he
seemed perfectly well and hungry as ever for buffalo-meat. With
heavily-laden sleighs we started back for the fort, but a wind-storm had
drifted up our track over the prairie, and the dogs had hard work to
drag their loads. In one of our steel traps were the remains of a cross
fox that a wolverine had eaten, and beyond a few more martens our
fur-hunting was unsuccessful. It took us four days to reach little
François' house at the mouth of the river, and another half-day to get
to the fort, where we found everything quiet, as usual in the monotony
of the long winter. February was nearly over, and the "moon of the big
wind" was doing its best to keep up its reputation. Day after day the
north wind howled over the lake, drifting the snow into a vast ridge on
the lee shore and making it no easy matter to find the trout-lines,
which had now to be set four or five miles out at sea, the fish moving
into deep water as the cold gets more intense and the ice thicker. The
thermometer hanging against the wall of the house ranged between _minus_
30 and _minus_ 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and this state of affairs
continued until I left the fort for another hunt with little François.
We spent three weeks happily enough in the woods, doing a little
trapping, and getting enough moose and caribou-meat to keep the dogs and
ourselves in good condition. Our course lay the same way as on the last
hunt, to take advantage of the road and visit the line of traps; but we
pushed further on till we came across the tracks of a party of Indians
hunting from Fort Smith. We saw no sign of buffalo, and as François'
wife damaged her leg rather badly we were obliged to haul her back on
the sleigh, and this accident put an end to our trip. Away far in the
forest beyond the influence of the great frozen lake we found the first
indications of the coming spring. By the end of the first week in April
the snow was falling under our snow-shoes in the middle of the day, and
the sun, which now had a long course to run, shone with considerable
power; the pine-trees threw out the delicious scent so suggestive of
Nature's awakening after her long snow-wrapped sleep, and a puff of warm
south wind, sighing through the poplars, whispered a message of hope
from a more favoured land. But winter made a final struggle, and it was
not till the 25th of April that the collapse came. Then the snow in the
woods around the fort melted away rapidly, and the bare ground showed in
patches. On May 1st water was standing in pools over the ice in the bay,
the snow had disappeared except in the drifts, a light rain was falling,
and the first goose was killed from the door of the master's house;
small bands of wildfowl were passing frequently, and cranes were calling
in the swamps to the southward; daylight lingered in the sky all night,
but there was always a sharp frost while the sun was down.

It was time to shake off our luxurious habits and push out again for the
North to take full advantage of the short summer of the Barren Ground.
The fort seemed to wake up with the spring, and there was bustle and
activity everywhere. The furs had to be spread out to dry before they
could be baled up; fish had to be thrown out of the provision-store as
they thawed, and the dogs were happy for once. There was talk of
ploughing and planting the potato-crop; Indians kept dropping in with
small bundles of fur, to trade for ammunition for the goose-hunt, which
would soon be in full swing; canoes were patched up and made tight in
readiness for the first open water. But there was a rumour that the
expedition to the Great Fish River would fall through, as no crew could
be found, and some discontented spirits had been trying to persuade the
Indians against going with us; the half-breeds were all full of excuses,
and for a time it looked bad for us. Mackinlay was of course keen enough
for the trip, and so was Murdo Mackay, the Scotch engaged servant; and
luckily David, an Esquimau boy from Peel's River, who had been left at
Fort Resolution for the winter to learn English from the Protestant
missionary there, was willing to come with us, and, although not a
first-rate traveller, might be very useful as interpreter if we fell in
with any of his countrymen. Moise Mandeville was more obstinate and had
the greatest horror of the expedition, but he finally agreed to come in
the capacity of steersman and as Montaignais' interpreter. We were still
without a guide. Zinto, despite his promises, had not put in an
appearance, and there was as yet no news of him. Meanwhile preparations
went on; dogs were got together, new snow-shoes provided for each member
of the party, and all available pounded meat and grease converted into
pemmican as the most portable form of provisions; four sacks of flour
were forwarded to Fond du Lac to await our arrival, and the women round
the fort were busy making moccasins for men and dogs, as the latter have
to be shod in spring-travelling, to prevent their feet being cut to
pieces on the rough needle-ice that appears after the snow has melted
off the lakes. We also took a light canvas lodge in place of the heavier
deer-skins, and found it a great saving in weight, especially after
rain; dressed deer-skins hold water like a sponge, and where firewood is
scarce are extremely hard to dry.

On May 4th Mr. Clark arrived from Fort Smith to take charge of
Resolution during Mackinlay's absence. The slushy state of the snow made
travelling hard, but the Fort Smith people had managed to bring us a
welcome supply of tea, tobacco, ammunition, and a few matches; none of
these necessary articles were to be had at Resolution, as the unusually
heavy fur-trade had left the store empty. We collected all the
touch-wood we could get hold of, and each took a flint and steel, while
Dr. Mackay sent us a burning-glass, a compass, and a watch from
Chipeweyan, besides half a dozen pair of spectacles to keep off
snow-blindness, from which an unprotected eye is sure to suffer. There
was also a small stock of axes, knives, and beads, presents for the
Esquimaux in case we fell in with them. Arrangements were made for the
fort boat to meet us at the old site of Lockhart's house, at the
north-east end of the Great Slave Lake, on August 1st, to bring us
across the lake, as I wished to start for the South in time to get back
to civilization before the rivers and lakes were set fast by the coming

The day after Mr. Clark's arrival a couple of Indians came in from Fond
du Lac. Zinto had not yet arrived there, but was expected any day; he
had no meat for us, and caribou were reported scarce on the road we
proposed taking; most of the Yellow Knives would be at Fond du Lac to
meet us if they found food enough for present use. Pierre Lockhart, an
Indian who had come to the fort, immediately engaged with us as guide to
the Great Fish River, saying that whatever the other men might do he
would be faithful to the end of the journey, even if we wanted him to go
to the sea-coast: needless to say he was the very first to desert on the
appearance of hard times.

It was a goodly procession that left Fort Resolution on the afternoon of
May 7th, for every sleigh was pressed into service to help us over the
bad ice that lay between the fort and the big river, and all the
goose-hunters had been waiting till we started to move their families to
the favourite feeding-grounds. Across the first bay there was fully a
foot of water, with a crust of ice caused by the last night's frost;
this top crust had to be broken, and the dogs waded up to their bellies,
with the sleighs floating behind them: bitterly cold for the feet and
hard to avoid a fall, which meant a thorough drenching in the icy water.
On reaching the delta and passing into the narrow channels at the mouth
of the big river the ice was much better, as the water had run off
through the cracks; the crossing of the main stream looked dangerous,
but, by carefully picking our way and sounding the ice with an axe, we
got across without accident and camped in a bunch of willows on the far
side. The fires were kept up late that night and much talking was done,
as to-morrow we had to say good-bye to our companions, and many
instructions were given to wives, mothers, and children with reference
to their good behaviour during our absence. The red glow of sunset
stayed in the sky till it mingled with the brightness of the coming day;
often a whirr of wings told of a flock of wildfowl passing overhead, and
a few geese that had arrived from the south kept up a continual
_honking_ as they searched for a patch of open water to alight on. But
the frost was sharp in the night, and on breaking camp at four o'clock
we found the crust of surface-ice in the next bay strong enough in most
places to bear our sleighs, which were now reduced to two in number and
much more heavily loaded than on the previous day. Sometimes a man would
break through, and, floundering on the bottom ice, would bruise his
shins and feet in a desperate manner, and we were all badly knocked
about when we put ashore at Tête Noire's House, five miles beyond the
Ile de Pierre, ready to take the big traverse on the following day. A
couple of hours out from the land brought us again to dry snow, as the
change of climate is very sudden after leaving the south shore of the
lake. Crossing the big traverse was ordinary winter travelling, although
the snow was soft in the strong sunshine; we made use of the frost at
night and generally rested during the heat of the day. Between the
islands snow-shoes were necessary, and, although spectacles were
constantly worn, some of the men began to show signs of snow-blindness;
occasionally we found a bare rock to camp on, but more generally made
the old winter form of encampment on the snow. It was not till the sixth
day after leaving the fort that we pulled into Fond du Lac, and found
nearly the whole tribe of Yellow Knives awaiting us with King Beaulieu
and his family at their head; there were five and twenty lodges, and in
every one we heard the old story of _Berula_ (no meat); they had tried
fishing without success, and hoped the white masters would give them a
little flour and pemmican. Why had they not pushed on to some of the
sure fisheries in the big lake when they found the caribou fail? They
wished to talk with us, they said, and so had stayed and starved at Fond
du Lac till we came. What did they want to speak to us about? Only this,
that an Indian's life is hard, and he has at all times need of a little
tea and tobacco to give him courage; they had heard we were taking much
tea and tobacco, besides other presents, to the Esquimaux. In vain did
we tell them that we had not enough for own use; there was no peace till
pipes were going in every lodge.

[Illustration: Dog-rib Powwow at Fort Resolution]

[Illustration: Group of Dog-rib Indians]

Zinto had not put up any meat for us. At one time he had killed a good
many caribou, but he had met with a band of Dog-Ribs from Fort Rae and
the two tribes had camped together; the chief of the Yellow Knives was
bound in honour to give a feast to his guests, and after the meat that
was meant for us had been used for this purpose they fell to gambling.
The unfortunate Zinto lost all his ammunition, so that he had no chance
to kill any more caribou, much as he would have liked to help the white
men in their undertaking.

The snow was lying deep in the woods and as yet no breath of spring had
visited Fond du Lac, although at Fort Resolution, not more than one
hundred miles to the south, the buds were by this time shooting on the
birch and willow trees, and the ground had been bare for two weeks; no
wildfowl had arrived, and the Indians were of opinion that such a late
spring had never been known, advising us strongly not to attempt to
force our way into the Barren Ground till there was some indication of
better weather. It seemed to us, though, that we should never be in a
better position to start than now, as any delay meant waste of
provisions, and we hoped to find caribou before we began to starve.
Several days we spent in talking to the Indians before we came to any
satisfactory conclusion, and we had the greatest trouble in persuading
any of them to come with us. Finally it was settled that Capot Blanc,
Saltatha, Syene, and Marlo, with their wives and families, should start
with us, and on reaching the head of the Great Fish River should wait
there and hunt while we made the descent of the stream. Capot Blanc
behaved very well at all the consultations, speaking up for the white
men whenever an opportunity offered, but the interpretation was
unsatisfactory; Moise refused this duty in the presence of the
Beaulieus, and the latter, so far as we could make out, used all their
influence with the Indians to damage our chances of making a successful
expedition. David, the Esquimau, rather complicated matters by falling
in love with King's daughter, but he made no objection to starting, and
soon forgot all about her in the excitement of the journey. On the last
evening that we spent at Fond du Lac a Dog-Rib arrived with his family
from the Barren Ground in a wretched state of starvation. He had come in
by the route that we proposed to take, and gave a very unsatisfactory
report of the country: the cold was still severe, and he had met with no
game since leaving the musk-ox a couple of weeks before; one of his
children had died of starvation and he was forced to bury her under the
snow at the Lac de Mort; the rest had barely escaped with life. Of
course we gave them enough flour and pemmican to take them to a
well-known fishery twenty miles on, but our provisions were going very
fast. Most of the Yellow Knives had already moved away to the fishery,
and the encampment was entirely deserted when we pulled down our lodges
on the morning of May 21st. Paul Beaulieu was to have caught us up to
show us some meat-_caches_ that he had made in the winter, and we had
engaged an Indian, Carquoss, to fish for his wife while he was away; but
we saw neither Paul nor his _caches_. Carquoss, however, joined us later
on, and explained that he had given up fishing because we had not left
him any tea and the other Indians had laughed at him.

A miserable-looking outfit we were as we plodded for two days along the
north shore of the lake, against a strong head-wind and driving
snowstorms. Seven trains of starving dogs hauled their loads in a
melancholy procession, and over twenty people walked in the narrow road
made by the passage of the sleighs; by far too large a party for any
rapid travelling, and badly handicapped by women and children. On the
third day we turned up the mountain, and followed the course of a stream
coming in on the north shore; we mounted by a series of frozen cascades,
many of them so steep that we were obliged to use ropes to help the
dogs, and towards evening camped at the far end of the first lake on the
plateau. This day's work was not got through without a good deal of
growling, as everybody was kept on short rations to make the most of our
provisions; three days' full allowance for human beings alone, to say
nothing of the thirty dogs, would have put an end to our supplies.

From this lake the country was level, and the women were quite able to
manage the dog-sleighs, while the men scoured the country on either side
of the track in search of caribou or ptarmigan. The birds were fairly
plentiful, but of course at this season were all paired, and there was
no chance of making a slaughter at a single shot, as one can do in the
fall of the year when the birds are in big packs; this shooting at
separate birds was a serious strain on our ammunition, but the ptarmigan
helped us out till we fell in with the caribou. It was almost a
certainty to find these birds in every bunch of pines, and they kept up
such a constant crowing round the camp at night that they had a poor
chance of escaping the hungry man's gun. After the snow has melted the
male bird gets pugnacious and runs up to meet the hunter, with his
feathers puffed out, offering a fair mark for a stone; but before this
happened we disdained ptarmigan, and would only kill the
fattest-looking caribou. We eked out a precarious existence in this
manner for a week, making short days' journeys, as the dogs could not
travel fast or far. Pierre Lockhart deserted one morning when breakfast
was particularly scanty, and taking his gun and blanket started back for
Fond du Lac; we were depending on him for guide, but it was rather a
relief when he went, as he was inclined to steal food, and had several
disgusting habits that made his absence from the lodge rather acceptable
than otherwise. Marlo's brother-in-law disappeared about the same time,
but we thought they had gone off together and did not trouble ourselves
further about them.

On the last day of May, acting on Capot Blanc's advice, we forked from
our canoe-route, and took a more easterly course, to fall on the chain
of lakes by which Anderson and Stewart had reached the Great Fish River.
We hoped to find caribou in this direction, and on the same day that we
made this change in our course the indefatigable Saltatha, having made a
much longer round than the rest of us, came into camp late at night with
a load of caribou-meat on his back; he had seen snow-shoe tracks to the
east, but falling in with the caribou had turned back to the camp
without following the tracks.

Sunday, June 1st, brought a distinct change in the weather; a mild
south-west wind was melting the snow rapidly, and several flocks of
geese and ducks passed to the north. A few geese were called up to the
camp and killed from the doors of the lodges; the Indians imitate to
perfection the cry of any bird, and at this time of year the geese are
easy to call, as they are always in search of open water, and seem not a
bit surprised to hear their friends calling to them from a group of
deer-skin lodges. In the morning we sent two men to bring in the rest of
Saltatha's meat, with orders to investigate the tracks, and see if there
was another encampment of Indians to the east, as none of the caribou
hunters had intended to leave the Great Slave Lake till the thaw came.
Our peaceful Sunday was greatly disturbed by a royal row in one of the
lodges, and we sent for Capot Blanc to ask him what the trouble was. The
old fellow was glad enough to get into our lodge away from the clamour,
and explained the cause of the disturbance in his even low-pitched
voice, so pleasantly contrasted with the Yellow Knife Billingsgate that
was being freely used outside. "It is the women," he said; "the wife of
Syene has called the wife of Saltatha by a bad name, because she would
not give her some meat; the wife of Saltatha has taken the wife of Syene
by the hair and beaten her in the face with a snow-shoe till her nose
bleeds very much; the men have tried to separate them, but that only
makes things worse. It is always like this in our camps when we starve.
If the men are alone they are quiet; but when there are women there is
no peace. Is it so also in your country?"

Late in the night the men who had gone to fetch the meat came back,
hauling on the sleigh Marlo's brother-in-law José, whom they had found
lying in the snow, without fire, in a bunch of dwarf pines; the
snow-shoe tracks were his, and but for the lucky chance of Saltatha's
killing the caribou in that direction he must have perished in a day or
two, as he was too weak to travel. He had left us to hunt ptarmigan, and
lost himself eight days ago, and, as we supposed he had deserted with
Pierre, we had taken no trouble to look for him. He was one of the
unlucky ones, believed to have seen "the Enemy" in his youth, and it
certainly says little for his wits that he was unable to follow the
tracks of such a large party. José had used up what little ammunition he
started with on the first day, and since then had eaten nothing; he was
without matches or touchwood to make fire, and as the weather had been
cold he must have suffered greatly. We fed him up to the best of our
ability, and he recovered rapidly when meat was abundant in the camp.


On the following day we made an easy day's travel to the east, and most
of us succeeded in killing caribou while the women drove the dogs. From
this time, all through the summer till we again reached the Great Slave
Lake late in August, we had no difficulty about provisions; although
there was many a time when we could not say where we might find our next
meal, something always turned up, and we were never a single day without
eating during the whole journey. I really believe it is a mistake to try
to carry enough food for a summer's work in the Barren Ground, as the
difficulty of transport is so great, and after the caribou are once
found there is no danger of starvation.

We were now travelling with the bull caribou, which had just left the
thick woods, and made easy marches from lake to lake in an north-east
direction; the weather became cold again for the last time, and June 7th
was like a bad winter's day with a strong north wind and snowstorms.
Then the summer came suddenly, and on the 11th we were obliged to camp
on a high gravel ridge to await _le grand dégel_, which rendered
travelling impossible, till the deep water had run off the ice.
Although we had been so far taking it very easily, a rest was of great
service, as many of the party were suffering from acute snow-blindness
caused by the everlasting glare of the sun on the treeless waste; there
was no dark object to rest the eyes upon for a moment, and besides the
actual pain the constant inflammation injured the sight and made
rifle-shooting very uncertain. The Indians smeared their faces with
blood and wood-ashes, and the white men were further protected with
spectacles; but these efforts were only partially successful in keeping
off the glare. I was lucky in getting off quite free myself, but should
imagine that it must be a most painful affliction.

Along the foot of the sandy ridge, which closely resembled the one I had
seen the autumn before at Lac de Gras, were many small lakes partially
thawed, and here the snow geese, or white "wavies," were resting in
thousands, waiting till the warm weather should have melted the snow
from their feeding-ground along the sea-coast. We could have made
enormous bags of them, as they were tame and disinclined to leave the
open water; but we were sparing with our ammunition, as we might want it
badly later on. Great numbers were killed, however, and their prime
condition told of the good feeding-ground they had left far southward.
There were also plenty of large Canada geese, but the grey wavy, or
laughing goose, the best of all for eating, is much scarcer. Of the more
edible ducks the pintail seems to be the only one that comes so far
beyond the Great Slave Lake, but long-tailed ducks and golden eyes were
in great numbers along this sandy ridge. Of the loons, the red-throated
variety was by far the most numerous, and the Pacific or Adam's diver
was fairly common, but the great northern diver, although plentiful on
the Great Slave Lake, does not appear to visit the Barren Ground.

While we were waiting here, another band of Indians from Fond du Lac
caught us up, and our camp assumed still larger proportions; but as we
were fairly among the game it did not much matter. With the new arrivals
were two blind men, Pierre and Antoine Fat, who preferred a wandering
life to the support they would doubtless have been given at the fort.
Both were good fishermen, and would spend hours sitting on the ice at
the edge of an open hole with the greatest patience, and later on made
heavy catches of trout. Pierre would often walk with the hunters to get
his share of the meat; Capot Blanc was usually his guide, but seldom did
more than trail a stick after him and the blind man followed the sound;
when a caribou was killed, Pierre was led up to it, and in spite of his
blindness would do the butcher's work cleanly and well.

The snow melted away rapidly; the hillsides were running with small
streams, the ground showed up in ever increasing patches, and a thick
mist, which the Indians say always appears at the time of the big thaw,
hung over everything. On June 16th we found that most of the water had
run off through the cracks in the ice, and resumed our journey, after
solemnly burning some thirty pairs of used-up snow-shoes. At first
walking without them seemed hard to me, as I had used them continually
since the previous October, and we all found that our feet were made
sore by walking on the rough ice; unfortunately the skins of the caribou
that we killed were so riddled by grubs that they were unfit to dress
for leather, and we were always short of moccasins. We still travelled
along easily, as the river would not break up for a fortnight at the
earliest, and our best plan was to move with the caribou, which seemed
to be keeping up with the edge of the snow much in the same manner as
ourselves. The portages between the lakes were often three or four miles
in length, and, as the snow had gone, we were obliged to carry the heavy
loads on our backs; firewood was getting scarce, and I came to the
conclusion that our old canoe-route was by far the best way to reach the
Barren Ground in summer or in winter. A few warm days made a great
difference in the appearance of the country. Leaves began to sprout on
the little willows, and the grass showed green on the hillsides;
sober-hued flowers, growing close to the ground, came out in bloom, and
a few butterflies flapped in the hot sunshine, while we were still
walking on eight feet of solid ice. Mosquitos appeared in myriads: in
the daytime there was usually a breeze to blow them away, and the nights
were too cold for them; but in the calm mornings and evenings they made
the most of their chance to annoy us.

On June 25th we planted our lodges on a high ridge overlooking Lake
Mackay. It has always been the fashion of the Yellow Knives to camp in
an elevated position, in order to have command of the surrounding
country in looking out for the caribou, or, in the olden times, for a
band of hostile Indians. Right across the lake we could see the bay in
which we had left our big canoe during our first attempt to find the
musk-ox, and the hills forming the height of land between the Great
Slave Lake and the Arctic Sea; on our right lay Lockhart's River and the
huge Aylmer Lake, which we were about to cross. Blind Pierre knew the
whole picture as well as any of us; on my way back to camp at sundown I
found him sitting on a boulder smoking, for we always rather favoured
him in the matter of tobacco; his face was turned to the north-east, and
he was evidently taking in all the details of the landscape, without the
sense of sight. "_Tetchenula_, _Tetchen Yarsula_, _Tetchen Taote_ (no
wood, not a little wood, no wood at all)," he said, as he waved his
hands towards Aylmer Lake; then, with a sweep of his arm, he traced
correctly the course of Lockhart's River, with a rapid downward motion,
to denote its abrupt termination in a series of rapids and waterfalls as
it joins the Great Slave Lake. Poor old fellow, it must be hard for him
not to see the country he loves so well; but he is happy, after his
fashion, in the summer-time when the caribou are thick.

From this point we sent Moise with three Indians and our own dogs to
bring up the big canoe from the south shore of Lake Mackay, where I had
left her in the beginning of last October. Many little hunting-canoes
had been picked up along the track from Fond du Lac, and now every
sleigh carried a canoe athwartships; these proved useful enough in
crossing the small lake in the course of Lockhart's River, as on
arriving at the far side we found open water between us and the land,
and had to use the canoes to ferry our cargo to the shore, the dogs
swimming with the empty sleighs in tow, while some enterprising spirits,
who conceived the idea of floating ashore on blocks of ice, came in for
a ducking. The ice on Aylmer Lake was still solid, but extremely rough,
causing great damage to our moccasins. We kept near the north shore,
with sometimes a long traverse across a deep bay; at the head of every
bay a stream ran into the lake, and the open water at its mouth was
always a sure find for trout; forty or fifty large fish were often
caught in a day with hook and line at these places, and, as we could
always kill caribou, even the dogs were getting fat in this land of
plenty. Soon we began to see scraps of musk-ox hair on the large
boulders where these animals had been rubbing, and on the second day's
travel along Aylmer Lake David had an adventure with an old bull. David
was by far the keenest hunter in the outfit, but up till now had not
succeeded in killing anything bigger than a goose, and it was an
exciting moment for him when he got within range of a musk-ox. He had
heard strange stories about these animals when a small boy among his own
countrymen at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and it was not without a
little trembling that he fired one of his scanty stock of bullets. The
beast was wounded but would not die, and David, standing off at a safe
distance, soon exhausted all his bullets; he then proceeded to load his
gun with round stones, and finally with handfuls of gravel; his last
charge of powder was used to fire the ramrod, but another half hour
elapsed before the musk-ox expired. As this was the first one that had
been killed on this trip, the proud hunter was made a good deal of when
he came into camp with the best of the highly-flavoured meat.

On the evening of July 1st we made the encampment at the head of the
most northerly bay of Aylmer Lake, named Sandy Bay by Back, from the
conspicuous sand-ridges that here form the divide between the lake and
the Great Fish River, a distance of three quarters of a mile. The ice
was still firm in Aylmer Lake, but there was a little difficulty in
getting ashore through a narrow belt of open water, and the head-reaches
of the river were clear. We were inspecting the stream, to see what
chance there was of being able to run the canoe through the numerous
rapids, when Noel, one of the Indians who had been with me on the winter
hunt, came up with the news that he had spied a large band of musk-ox
feeding a couple of miles down the river. The women were badly in need
of their hides for making moccasins, as the caribou-skins were still in
poor condition, so a hunt was arranged in a fashion that I had not seen
before. Most of the guns crossed the river, and a spot was selected for
the slaughter just where the stream broadened out into a small lake; at
right angles to the river mounds of stone and moss were put up at a few
yards' distance from each other, ornamented with coats, belts, and
gun-covers, and behind the outside mound Capot Blanc took up his
position. A steep hill ran parallel with the stream about two hundred
yards away, and along this guns were posted at intervals, with the
intention of heading the musk-ox towards the water. Noel and Marlo,
supposed to be the two best runners, were to make a long round and start
the band in our direction; I was stationed with three other guns among
some broken rocks on the south side of the river, just opposite the
barrier; and orders were given that no shot should be fired till the
musk-ox took to the water.

It was a most interesting scene, and I would not willingly have changed
places with any of the loyal Canadians who were at this time
celebrating the anniversary of Dominion Day, with much rye whisky, a
thousand miles to the southward. I had plenty of time to admire the
surrounding landscape, and the sunset that lit up the snow-drifts on
each side of the river; when suddenly over the opposite ridge appeared
the horns of a band of caribou, and for a moment the leader was outlined
against the sky as he paused to look at the strange preparations going
on in the valley below. Behind me a ptarmigan, perched on a rock, crowed
defiance; but there was no other sound, except the rush of water and the
occasional grinding of an ice-pan dislodged from some small lake in the
course of the stream. Fully an hour we sat among the rocks, and were
beginning to think that the hunt had miscarried, when we heard a distant
shouting far down the valley, and the next moment caught sight of a
scurrying black mass crossing a spur of the hill close to the river's
bank. The men posted along the ridge took up the cry as the musk-ox
passed them, and joined in the chase; soon the animals came to the
barrier, and pulled up short at the apparition, while, to increase their
alarm, the hoary head of Capot Blanc arose from behind a mound of rocks
right in front of them. This was the critical moment, and they would
certainly have taken to the water and been at the mercy of their
pursuers but for an untimely shot that caused them to break, and I was
not sorry to see that several of the band escaped. I had had a splendid
view till now, as the musk-ox halted within twenty yards of me, but we
were forced to lie low when the shooting began, as bullets were rattling
freely among the rocks in which we were hiding. We did no shooting on
our side of the river, except to finish off a couple that took to the
water; seven were killed in all, six cows, and a calf about a month old;
there were no bulls in the band, and from what I afterwards saw they
seemed to keep separate from the cows during the summer. A solitary old
bull is often met with at this time of year.

When the hunt was over, I inquired the meaning of the shouting that had
been kept up so continually throughout the drive, and was informed that
this was necessary to let the musk-ox know which way to run. At starting
they had shouted, "Oh, musk-ox, there is a barrier planted for you down
there, where the river joins the little lake; when you reach it take to
the water, there are men with guns on both sides, and so we shall kill
you all"; when the men are out of breath, they shout to the musk-ox to
stop, and, after they have rested, to go on again. These animals are
said to understand every word of the Yellow Knife language, though it
seems strange that they do not make use of the information they receive
to avoid danger instead of obeying orders. The partial failure of the
hunt was attributed to the fact that Moise had called across the river
to me in French, and the musk-ox had not been able to understand this
strange language.

The sun had risen again when we got back to camp, and there we found the
big canoe, not a bit damaged by her long rest under the snow or her
adventurous journey on the dog-sleigh. The day was spent in getting in
the meat and skins, and early the next morning we carried the canoe
across the portage and launched her on the waters of the Great Fish
River. The cargo was all sent overland to a lake some six miles down the
stream; sleighs were abandoned, as there was now no snow to haul on, but
the dogs' work was by no means over, the only difference being that they
had to carry loads on their backs instead of dragging a sleigh; rough
deer-skin pack-harness was made, and the loads secured in a manner
worthy of a Mexican mule-packer. We came to grief with the canoe at the
third rapid, and should have done much better to have made the portage
to the lake, instead of trying to navigate the difficult stream. A long
delay was necessary to effect repairs, and there were so many portages
over ice-blocks along the edge of the lake, when we reached it, that the
sun was high on the following morning before we camped. The same work
continued for several days, the Indians toiling overland heavily loaded,
and our own party struggling with the ice in a chain of lakes through
which the river runs. On the edge of one of these lakes we stopped for
dinner on the spot where Stewart and Anderson separated from their
Indian guides before descending the river in 1856. The rough stone
fireplaces, by which they had economised fuel, were still standing, and
Capot Blanc, seated on one of them, gave us a long lecture on the events
that had taken place during their expedition, as he had heard the story
from his father. More than thirty years had elapsed since the last party
of Whites camped by the side of the Great Fish River, and thirty years
again before them Back the discoverer had pushed out into the unknown
land. Why has all exploration in the Barren Ground ceased? No more is
known of the country than was discovered by Franklin and Back sixty
years ago in their short summer journeys, and the expeditions sent out
in search of the former in the 'Fifties. There are many thousands of
square miles on which the foot of white man has never stepped. The
Canadian Government has an efficient body of surveyors and geologists at
its command, and it is curious that no attention is paid to one of the
most interesting fields for exploration.

On July 6th, after slow and tiresome travelling, we reached the north
end of a large sheet of water named by Back Musk-ox Lake, and finding
enough willow-scrub for firewood, determined here to await the breaking
up of the ice in the lake. Judging by the Indian's account the season
was fully three weeks later than usual, and, as I wished to be back at
Fort Resolution in time to save the open water up Peace River before
winter set in, there was a poor chance of our being able to penetrate
far into the country of the Esquimaux. Musk-ox Lake runs pretty nearly
due north and south, and is fifteen miles in length, averaging about two
miles in width. Our camp was just at the point where the river runs out,
and a short distance above is the best swimming-place for the caribou
known to the Indians. In some years immense slaughters are made here,
but on the present occasion the caribou did not cross in their usual
numbers, so that our companions had no chance to put up the dried meat
that we expected to get for our cruise down stream, and we could only
kill enough for the present support of such a large encampment. Across
the lake is a hill of insignificant height, known as the Musk-ox
Mountain, a good landmark, and a favourite haunt for the animals from
which it takes its name.

This is the northerly limit of the Yellow Knives' hunting-ground.
Northwards is the land of the dreaded Esquimaux, and many rumours were
brought into the camp of a strange track seen on soft ground, of men
standing far off on the sky-line, and a blue cloud of smoke arising far
down the valley of the river. The Indians were convinced that their old
enemies were continually close to them, despite the fact that it would
be an impossibility for canoes to have yet ascended the stream on
account of the ice. We afterwards discovered that there was a debatable
ground, fully sixty miles in width, between Musk-ox Lake and the highest
point that the Esquimaux reach.

There is here a very striking change in the appearance of the country.
The old red granite formation gives way almost entirely to ironstone,
split up into slabs and piled into such peculiar shapes that one might
imagine giants had been building castles over the rolling hills. Some of
the slabs were turned on edge and formed perfect turrets towering many
feet into the air, and in many places were heaps of shiny black sand,
resembling coal-dust, piled up into conical mounds almost too steep to
climb. Wherever vegetation had a chance to grow it was much more
luxuriant than one could suppose possible in such a climate. The stunted
willows, not two feet in height, were thickly clothed with bright green
leaves; there was abundance of grass, and in many spots the pretty
little Arctic flowers formed a bright carpet along the foot of a slowly
melting snowdrift.

Capot Blanc and myself made an expedition into the roughest part of this
country, to the north-east of Musk-ox Lake, but we found travelling very
hard, as we had to climb continually over broken masses of ironstone.
This is another well-known haunt of "the Enemy," and Capot Blanc
attributed to his malign influence the disaster that prevented our
further exploration in this direction. We reached a stream of no great
size, one of the tributaries of the Great Fish River, and attempted to
wade across to the opposite bank, selecting the head of a small rapid
for the purpose, as the water appeared to be shallower there. On
reaching the centre of the current our legs were swept from under us,
and we were immediately running the rapid at the imminent risk of
breaking our heads against a rock. We both reached the still water at
the foot of the rapid with nothing worse than a few bruises, and
moreover held on to our guns, but of course our ammunition was spoilt,
and we were obliged to make the best of our way back to camp. Capot
Blanc afterwards told me that he thought the Enemy had made the water
strong, to keep us from coming into his country, and it would be flying
in the face of Providence to make another attempt. It would be
interesting to know how far this ironstone formation extends; and, as
the journey to Musk-ox Lake and back to the fort might easily be made by
canoe during the summer, the trip would amply repay the geologist and
botanist for their trouble.

Many other little expeditions we made in various directions, sometimes
watching the birds, and sometimes in pursuit of caribou or musk-ox. One
hunt in particular I remember, which took place appropriately enough on
the top of Musk-ox Mountain. We had made out the moving black spots
through the glasses from the lodge, and, as there was still a demand for
hides from the women and meat was being used in great quantities, we
paddled across the lake through a narrow channel in the ice. The sun
went down while we were climbing the ascent, and a long wait was
necessary, as the animals were feeding towards us on the flat top of the
mountain and there was no cover to enable us to make a nearer approach.
The mosquitos buzzed merrily round us while we lay behind the rock and
watched the grotesque motions of the calves as they played with each
other, little suspecting that danger was so close. Presently the band
moved within easy range and we opened fire with four guns. Seven were
killed, and Mackinlay caught a calf that stayed by the body of its dead
mother, a fluffy, long-haired little beast; I was sorry that we could
not keep it alive, but it would have been impossible to carry it in a
birch-bark canoe. Cruel work, this shooting in the summer-time, but it
was necessary to keep the camp in meat even though mother and young had
to be sacrificed. I had a long run after a cripple, and eventually
killed it on the shore of a large lake in a valley eastward of the
mountain. The sun was high when I found the rest of the hunters eating
marrow-bones in front of a big fire, in a clump of well-grown willows
close to the canoe, and we took a load of wood back to the camp, sending
over the women for the meat and skins later in the day.

The weather during this time was variable in the extreme; two or three
hot days would be followed by a snowstorm, and once we were visited by a
hurricane that did much damage to lodge-poles, and caused us to shift
camp hurriedly to the lee-side of a steep cliff hanging over the river.
July 10th was exceptionally hot in the morning, with the mosquitos at
their worst; in the middle of the day there was a thunderstorm, and at
five o'clock the ground was covered with snow. The ice now began to show
signs of rotting, and the channel of open water round the weather edge
of the lake grew rapidly broader.

We had many talks with the Indians about the chances of our being able
to get together a crew; but they had no enthusiasm about the voyage, and
wanted nothing better than to keep us hanging about the head of the
river, providing them with ammunition. Saltatha was the only one of the
band who volunteered to go, and he insisted on having another Indian
with him, as he was not used to the ways of white men, and would feel
safer if he had one of his own tribe with him in case of accidents; but
he hoped we should not go farther than the big lake (Beechey Lake) which
he had heard us talking about, for it was getting late in the year, and
when the ice is long in melting winter comes again soon. At last it was
arranged that Saltatha and Noel were to come in our canoe, while Marlo
and Carquoss accompanied us with a small hunting-canoe, to carry a
little ammunition in case we lost our cargo by capsizing in a rapid; we
should then have a chance of making a living, and be able to cross the
tributary stream if we had to return on foot. On our part we agreed to
turn back from Beechey Lake, reserving the privilege of taking the
little canoe overland from there to Bathurst Inlet. As caribou were
scarce, the rest of the Indians were to work their way back towards the
Great Slave Lake, except Capot Blanc, who was to stay on the divide at
Aylmer Lake, if he could kill enough meat to keep his family, and there
await our return.

The evening before we started, Syene, who was a Medicine Man, sent a
message to our lodge that he was going to foretell the result of our
expedition down the river, so we went over to hear what was in store for
us. His lodge was full of Indians, but they made room for us, and we sat
down on a blanket on the side of the fire farthest from the door. Syene
held a drum made of tightly-stretched deer-skin parchment, which he
punched continually with a caribou's thigh-bone, keeping up a melancholy
chant, and singing a sentence or two every few minutes. "It is not that
I can see anything myself," he said, "but it is an unborn child that is
speaking to me." Mrs. Syene, who was sitting close to the Medicine Man,
clasped her hands and groaned, as if in great pain, by way of giving
assent to this statement. "The child sees the canoe of the big masters
running down the strong water of a rapid; below the rapid is a long
point, and seven lodges of the Esquimaux are planted on the point. There
is blood on the snow-drift; it is the blood of a white man. One man is
walking on the bank of a river; he walks like a starving man, and the
child knows not if he is white or Indian. Now all is dark, and the child
has ceased speaking."

Not a very cheerful prophecy, and it was hard to make out how far the
Indians believed in the Medicine Man; but our crew were rather
downhearted about it, although, as is usual all the world over, the
people who were not going the journey themselves took a philosophical
view of the whole affair.


On Thursday, July 17th, at two o'clock in the afternoon, we struck camp
and started on a four-mile portage to the next lake down stream, as the
river-bed was too full of large boulders to navigate the strong current
with safety. It was hard work carrying the cargo and canoe through the
mosquito-stricken ironstone country, and we did not camp till midnight.
Here another bad omen was observed. Mackinlay and I had gone ahead,
after carrying over a load, to try and kill something for supper; we
found a musk-ox, but made rather a clumsy mess of killing it, and the
animal was badly heated before we finished it off. The meat was
consequently discoloured, and Saltatha declared this to be an unfailing
sign of some great misfortune at hand. The women had made us a few pair
of moccasins each, but not nearly enough for the tracking-work that we
should have to do when we turned up stream; and our stock of provisions,
instead of the bales of dried meat that we had expected to enable us to
travel without waste of time in hunting, consisted of ten dried
deers'-ribs, so full of maggots, from having been imperfectly cured,
that we threw them away on the second day out. Our flour and pemmican
had of course been finished long ago, and we drank the last kettleful of
tea before leaving Musk-ox Lake, but as the Labrador tea grows all over
this country in profusion, this did not much matter; tobacco too was
nearly at an end.

The lake was still full of floating ice, but we had no trouble in
passing the canoe into the river at the north end, and found the stream
considerably increased in volume by a couple of large tributaries that
come in from the opposite sides of the lake. After dropping down two or
three miles with a sluggish current, we heard the roar of a rapid, and
put ashore on an island in mid-stream as soon as we sighted broken
water. It was lucky we did so, as there was a heavy overfall impossible
to run, and we were obliged to portage the whole length of the island
and then shoot the tail of the rapid. Here we put ashore to patch the
canoe, which was leaking badly, and pulled out big trout as quickly as
we could throw in the spoon-bait; we found this could be done at the
foot of all the rapids, so one need not take much thought about
provisions in this part of the stream. After another small rapid, which
was run with a full load, the river, heading straight to the north,
passes through a small lake and emerges as a broad canal-like waterway
with very slight current, flowing through the roughest part of the
ironstone country that we had yet seen; the banks were steep too, and we
could put the canoe alongside a natural wharf in any spot for a
distance of five or six miles. In passing down these reaches we saw and
killed musk-ox, but the caribou seemed to shirk the labour of crossing
the confused masses of rocks, and none of these animals were seen till
we reached a less rugged district. Again the channel widened out into a
lake, two miles in length, with an ugly rapid at the north end; this we
negotiated with the precaution of leaving guns and ammunition ashore,
and directly afterwards Saltatha caused some excitement by saying he had
caught a glimpse of a man walking on a neighbouring ridge; we put
ashore, but could find no tracks, and came to the conclusion that it was
Saltatha's imagination. A long day's travel was made successfully, and
by ten o'clock we were clear of the ironstone and slipping quietly along
through a pleasant sandy country. We camped at the foot of a high
sand-butte covered with flowers and moss, and found a bunch of willows
on the bank of the river. There were indications that some one had
camped on the same spot many years ago; small sticks had been chopped
with an axe, and bones of caribou were lying in heaps on the ground. The
Yellow Knives at once said it was an old Esquimaux camp, and it was
evident that they had little inclination to go any farther down stream;
more probably the chopping was done by a band of Dog-Ribs, whose
hunting-grounds lie to the west, or possibly by the members of
Stewart's and Anderson's expeditions. On mounting the butte we saw that
the country northward presented a much more fertile appearance than
anything we had seen on the south side of the watershed. There was a
luxurious growth of grass over the sandy ridges, and during the two
months of summer one could imagine oneself back on the prairies of
Alberta; the willows here too grew to a better size, and, as far as we
descended the river, we had little trouble about fuel; in the winter, of
course, the willows would be all drifted over with snow, and it would
then be no easy matter to make a fire. This stream heads in the woodless
country; consequently there is no drift-timber, and not a single
pine-tree is to be seen along its course.

We had a pleasant camp enough that night, but rebellion was rife and
burst into flame on the following morning when we ordered the men to
take their places in the canoes. This is the hopeless part of having to
rely on natives for travelling in the Barren Ground; they have no
courage outside their own country. If we had had a good crew of
half-breeds from Red River or the upper country of British Columbia we
might even now, notwithstanding the lateness of the season, have pushed
far out towards the northern sea-coast, and possibly have made the
acquaintance of some of the scattered bands of Esquimaux who live there
in happy ignorance of any more comfortable form of life. But we were
practically in the hands of the Yellow Knives, for although I would
myself have taken the risk of steering, none of the men who were willing
to go knew how to stitch up a broken canoe, and it would have been
madness to push on without this knowledge. Moise, our half-breed
interpreter and steersman, who was an engaged servant of the Hudson's
Bay Company and bound by his contract to obey Mackinlay's orders in
everything, showed the Indian side of his nature by joining the
mutineers and refusing to take his position in the stern of the canoe.
For two hours we argued the matter on the bank of the river, and at one
time I thought we should certainly have come to blows. Marlo and
Carquoss were the ringleaders, but Saltatha was inclined to stand by us,
although afraid of giving offence to the other Indians. The result of
the dispute was that the worst two deserted, taking with them the little
canoe, while Noel and Saltatha, tempted by many promises of great reward
when we reached the fort, agreed to come with us, and Moise sulkily went
back to his duty. After we had thus got rid of the element of discord
things went on better; but the loss of the little canoe, besides doing
away with our chance of crossing overland to Bathurst Inlet, increased
the risk of losing all our possessions by one disaster. A pretty
poetical thing is a birch-bark canoe, as it leaps down a sparkling river
among its native birch woods, but too frail a craft for a long journey
in the rockbound country beyond the line where timber grows. No chance
here to strip the bark from a birch-tree and put a new side in a canoe
that has struck a rock in the foaming rapid, or if needs be to build a
new canoe altogether; three square feet of birch-bark, a little gum, and
a bundle of fibre were our only resources for effecting repairs.

The day's journey began with a rapid, below which was a reach of quiet
water gradually broadening out into a lake some eight miles in length;
its surface was covered with ice at the north end, but we found an open
channel close ashore on the west side and effected a passage through by
skirting the bays. Several bands of musk-ox were seen, and there was
always too much anxiety among the men to put ashore and shoot, or to do
anything except push steadily on; just as we were leaving the lake a
magnificent bull appeared on the top of a high ridge, and, standing on a
flat rock within one hundred yards of us, leisurely surveyed the first
human beings who had encroached upon his sanctuary for so many years.

Below the lake the river makes a sharp bend eastward, and for three
miles is nothing but a succession of rapids. Moise when once at work was
a splendid steersman, and he certainly handled the canoe with great
skill through this difficult piece of navigation; we passed the mouths
of two big streams coming in from the west, and at camping-time shot
into a quiet sandy lake and put ashore for the night. A musk-ox that I
killed from the door of the lodge, and the unlimited number of trout
that we could catch in the river, enabled us to spend a peaceful Sunday
without hunting. We explored towards the east, and came once more upon
the iron country, which seems to run with a sharply defined edge in a
north-easterly direction. There were few lakes out of the course of the
river, but long stretches of flat grassy muskegs extended as far as the
eye could see to the west. Four-footed game was plentiful, especially
musk-ox; the caribou that we saw were generally solitary bucks, but it
was now nearly time for the does to be coming back from the sea-coast;
of the smaller animals we often came across a skulking wolf, a
wolverine, an Arctic fox, or a hare, while the holes in the sand-hills
were the abode of numerous _siffleurs_ and ermines. A ferocious little
mouse, brown in summer, but turning white as the winter comes on, is
very common all over the Barren Ground; if disturbed from a tuft of
grass it will turn on a man and dance with impotent rage at his feet;
these mice naturally fall an easy prey to the hawks and owls, which make
a good living here during the summer months. Beyond these predatory
birds little feathered life was visible in this part of the country; a
few gulls, terns, and skuas flitted along the reaches of the river, and
occasionally a loon or a long-tailed duck could be seen in the lakes.
The Canada goose and grey wavy were breeding in the marshes, but not in
great quantities; the main body of geese go right out to the coast to
lay their eggs, and do not start for the South till the end of August.

In the early morning we made a short portage over a small cascade
immediately below the camp, and found that the river still held its
northerly course through a chain of small lakes connected by short
stretches of bad water. We made one more portage at mid-day and ran
several rather nasty rapids. After dinner we were obliged to portage
fully a mile to avoid an impassable reach, and then took more risk than
we were justified in doing with our only canoe by running a couple of
miles of broken water, full of boulders and with such a heavy sea that
we shipped a good deal of water; luckily we did not touch anything, and
dropped safely into a long narrow lake, on the east side of which camp
was made for the night. This was the most dangerous day that we made; as
although we always put ashore to inspect the rapids in case we might
discover a waterfall below, we became emboldened by success and ran in
safety through some places that we should not have attempted. Back's map
of the river would have been a great help to us, but neither this nor an
account of the previous journeys that had been made down the stream was
procurable at the fort.

The next day a curious blue haze hung over everything, closely
resembling the smoke of a forest fire at a distance from the scene of
conflagration. The lake that we had camped on proved to be about six
miles in length, with the usual rapid at its north end connecting it
with another lake, the size of which we could not at first determine
owing to the murky state of the air; nor could we at once find its
outlet, but by keeping in a north-easterly direction soon felt the
influence of a current, and found the volume of water much increased by
the junction of a tributary, which we afterwards discovered came in from
the north-west. On the east side of the stream, just as it left the
lake, we noticed a circle of flat stones standing on end, evidently put
up by human hands, and on landing discovered unmistakable signs of a
band of Esquimaux having been encamped there not very long before. Seven
small oval-shaped enclosures, surrounded by rough turf-heaps six inches
in height, had been the dwelling-places, but we could not determine
whether these low walls were the foundations of snow-houses or deer-skin
lodges; there were several blackened fireplaces outside, but the fires
must have been very small judging from the charred stumps of tiny green
willow twigs, and we saw no wood within several miles of the encampment.
The stones propped on end had been used probably for drying meat, and
for tying up the dogs to keep them from stealing. Bones and horns of
musk-ox and caribou were lying about in every direction, and their
numbers showed that this must be a favourite camping-place of the
Esquimaux; some of the musk-ox horns had been cut into rough spoons, and
several were found in a half-finished condition. A flat stone kettle was
picked up with the grease still sticking to it, and a small piece of
copper let into the back, possibly an arrangement for a handle, showed
that these people are able to work this metal; there were also a few
bone arrow-heads scattered about in the camp. If any further proof were
necessary to determine what tribe of people had camped here, it was
forthcoming in the form of several pieces of undressed sealskin with the
hair on, and these seemed to be of greater interest to our crew than any
of the other discoveries; arrow-heads, spoons, and kettle were dropped
in the contemplation of the skin of an animal they had never seen, and
they instantly demanded a description of the seal. After we had told
them all we knew upon the subject, we asked their opinion as to the
length of time that the Esquimaux had remained here, and when they had
left. Saltatha, reading the signs that a white man might miss, came to
the conclusion that they had come here in the autumn, as was proved by
the hard horns of male caribou lying about, that they had stayed here
through the winter, and left late in the spring with dogs on the last
snow, about six weeks before our arrival. He thought too that they made
a practice of coming here regularly, in the same manner that the Yellow
Knives come to the head-waters of the river, as the bones appeared to
him to have belonged to animals killed at widely differing dates. We
found hiding-places among the rocks close to the edge of the river,
which had evidently been used for concealing men engaged in spearing the
swimming caribou. The only weak point in Saltatha's theory seemed to be
the absence of any carcasses of freshly killed caribou; but it is
possible that the Esquimaux may have left before the females came out so
far, and the animals would have been later than usual in arriving here
owing to the backward nature of the spring.

When we had thoroughly inspected everything we left again down stream,
with a swift current and good water without rapids for eight miles,
where we found another lake running more to the eastward than the
general course of the river; on the west side of this lake we were
obliged to camp, as a strong head-wind raised too much sea to travel
against, and rain was falling in torrents. We explored the shore of the
lake in hopes of finding further traces of the Esquimaux, but made no
discoveries of any kind. No musk-ox were seen this day, but there were
enough caribou to provide food for the party.

With better weather we made an early start in the morning, the river on
leaving the lake bending a little more to the eastward, with a swift
current for several miles, and two rapids which we ran in safety. A
short distance below the second rapid the current slackens and the
stream gets rapidly broader, till, with a sudden sweep to the
south-east, the whole length of Beechey Lake comes open; a long narrow
sheet of water, twenty-five miles in length, and nowhere more than two
in breadth, lying east and west, and forming a well-defined elbow in the
course of the Great Fish River. With a light fair wind, and a blanket
set for a sail, we ran down the lake and pitched our lodge on the north
shore. Two days were spent in exploration, but again we failed entirely
to find any signs of the Esquimaux. Towards the east end of the lake the
iron formation shows up once more, and the country is rough to travel
through. There was a slight difficulty about provisions at this time as
game was scarce, and, though we fully expected to catch fish in the lake
and put out our net both nights, not a single fish was taken; just at
the critical time, however, a few female caribou with their young turned
up on their way back to the South, and we were relieved of all anxiety.

As we had promised our crew that we would not descend the river beyond
Beechey Lake, and it was already the end of July, orders were
reluctantly given on the third day to start up stream with the intention
of doing a little exploration to the northward of the old Esquimaux
camp, to see if there was any feasible route from there to Bathurst
Inlet, as there were no signs of these people having camped in any other
place along the river. It seemed a pity to abandon the voyage just at
the interesting time, after we had got over all the difficulties of the
upper part of the river and had now only a broad stream to follow, with
a great deal of easy lake-travel, to reach the Arctic Ocean, and the
scene of the final sufferings of the members of Sir John Franklin's last
expedition. On the other hand, we had no object in going down to the
sea, and there is little pleasure to be got out of a journey of this
kind with an unwilling and untrustworthy crew; our canoe, too, which was
already leaking badly, would have been of very little service for sea

As far as Beechey Lake the south side of the Great Fish River is free
from any large tributary streams, so that, if our canoe had been smashed
up in a rapid, and we had been able to save guns and ammunition, it
would have been easy enough to follow the river on foot; but on the
north side there are several large streams to be forded, and a long
detour might be necessary to find a spot shallow enough for this

There was much more enthusiasm displayed by the Indian portion of the
crew on the up-stream journey, and no encouragement was needful to get a
good day's work done. In the river stretches the tracking line was used,
and three men at the shore end of it kept the canoe travelling at a
lively pace except in the very strong water; in mounting the second
rapid a mistake on the part of Noel, our bowsman, caused a heavy
collision with a rock, and several hours were spent in putting in a
patch of birch-bark. On the second night we pitched our lodge on the
sandy lake within sight of the Esquimaux camp, and found a considerable
stream coming in from a north-westerly direction. I cannot find any
mention of this stream in the accounts of the two former journeys down
the river, nor is it marked on the maps; it was probably unnoticed on
both occasions, as it comes in at the west end of the lake, out of the
course of a canoe passing up or down the main river.

Mackinlay, Murdo, and myself started on foot the following morning, to
explore this stream for a couple of days, taking David with us in case
we came across any of his countrymen. The malcontents were left in
charge of the camp, with orders to kill caribou if any passed, and
partially dry the meat to save the waste of time caused by having to
hunt for our living as we travelled; they were also to thoroughly gum
the canoe, to stop as much as possible the leaking which was getting

We struck out along the bank of the stream, carrying nothing but a gun
and a blanket apiece, and at dinner-time were lucky enough to find a
flock of moulting Canada geese, unable to fly; four were shot, and two
eaten at once, while the other two were stowed away among the rocks for
use later on. We had a long day's walk through a pleasant grassy
country, and towards evening crossed an unusually high range of hills
through which the river cañons. Finding a few willows here, we left our
blankets, and walked on along the bank for an hour or two, finally
climbing a solitary sand-butte at sundown for a last survey of the
country before turning our faces to the south.

Far away towards the north-west we could trace the windings of the
stream to a ridge of blue hills, which formed the horizon under the
setting sun. How these blue ridges in the distance tempt one to push on
and see what lies on the far side! And the experience that nine times
out of ten you would have done better to stay where you were is never
sufficient to overcome this feeling; to this day I can seldom resist it,
although game may be plentiful at the door of my lodge and everything
that one desires in a wild country is close at hand. Below us lay a
broad valley, so green and fertile in appearance that we could hardly
realise that for nine months in the year it lay frost-bound and
snow-covered under the rigour of an Arctic climate. In the middle of
this valley, close to the bank of the stream, was a black object that we
had long ago learnt to recognise at a glance, an old bull musk-ox
feeding in a patch of willow-scrub; he was sacrificed for our night's
rations, and, loaded with meat and marrow-bones, we returned to the
cañon where we had left our blankets. There was a distinct twilight, and
late in the night David awoke me to draw my attention to the first star
that we had seen for many weeks. "See," he said, "a star already; it is
past middle summer, and we have not yet seen the sun all night." It was
the first summer he had ever spent without seeing the midnight sun, as,
since he had been left at the Peel River Fort by a band of Esquimaux who
come there annually to trade, he had passed his life within the Arctic

The only signs that we saw of people having travelled along this valley
were occasional cache-marks made by piling up a heap of small stones in
a conspicuous position, to denote the carcass of an animal hidden in the
rocks close by; but it seems such an easy route and leads so nearly in
the direction of Bathurst Inlet, the nearest point on the sea-coast,
that it is probably used regularly by wandering bands of Esquimaux on
their way to and from their inland hunting-ground.

This was the end of our voyage of discovery, though I should have liked
to have pushed on another day or two; but we wanted a small canoe to be
certain of reaching the coast, which must have been within sixty miles
of us, as there are sure to be many lakes to cross _en route_, and
making long detours on foot would be an endless task. The fine weather
also had broken, and heavy showers of rain came driving in front of the
north wind, while the rest of our crew that had remained with the canoe
were not too trustworthy, and, with the exception of Saltatha, in whom
both Mackinlay and myself had great confidence, were quite capable of
leaving us to find our way out of the country on foot. We had to content
ourselves with the hope that in a future summer, with an earlier season
and a better crew, we might find an opportunity of exploring thoroughly
this promising valley in the Barren Ground. But now I must turn my
attention to my long journey of seventeen hundred miles, mostly
up-stream, to cross the Rocky Mountains by the head-waters of the Peace
River before the winter set in; and even if I could manage this there
were still many hundred miles of mountain and forest to be crossed
before I saw the shores of the Pacific and the abodes of civilization.

When we reached the lodge we found that the Indians had made a stupid
slaughter of caribou, and, not contented with taking as much meat as we
could carry, had been recklessly killing the females and young that were
now passing in great numbers. The love of killing seems deeply rooted in
the nature of most men, but the Yellow Knives have it more fully
developed than other people. This indiscriminate slaughter is especially
culpable in a land where ammunition is scarce, and not to be replaced
when wasted by needless firing.

The next morning we picked out of our trading-stock a few presents to be
left in the Esquimaux camp, as a sign that there were people in the
interior willing to be on friendly terms with the people of the coast.
Knives, axes, beads, and files, a couple of hand-mirrors, a few strips
of red cloth, and a flannel shirt or two were stuffed into a copper
kettle, which would be itself the biggest prize of all. On lifting the
lid, the first object to meet the eye of the wondering Esquimaux would
be the photograph of the Protestant missionary at Fort Resolution, which
David had been keeping among his small stock of treasures; it was a
photograph of a Church of England clergyman, in clerical costume, and
should certainly give the Esquimaux a favourable idea of the style of
man who had visited their camping-place. We also put in a note asking
anyone who might read it to let us know in what manner it had come to
hand, as it is uncertain whether these scattered bands of Esquimaux ever
visit the Hudson's Bay Company's summer trading-post on Marble Island,
which lies a great distance away at the mouth of Chesterfield Inlet, or
whether they only know of the white men by hearsay from other tribes
that trade annually with the Company. The kettle was carefully stowed in
one of the pits made for watching the swimming caribou, and a
canoe-pole, bearing a gaudy cotton handkerchief for a flag, planted
alongside to attract attention. Everybody tried their handiwork at
sketching our story with burnt sticks on the conspicuous flat rocks
close to the river: there was a picture of a canoe, with seven upright
black lines supposed to represent seven men; another of a Yellow Knife
and an Esquimau (though the artist could not say which was which)
shaking hands with the greatest affection; while David was certainly
entitled to the first prize for a bloodthirsty sketch of a misshapen
musk-ox, with a thin black line, again supposed to be a man, transfixed
on the point of his horn. When we thought we had represented everything
to perfection, we turned our backs on the land of the Esquimaux and
plodded away up stream, tracking and portaging in the river-stretches,
and paddling through the lakes which are always a great help in mounting
a stream.

We now came in for a spell of really bad weather, which made the uphill
work very laborious. A heavy unceasing downpour of rain, and sometimes
sleet, continued day after day, accompanied by strong winds. The men all
worked well and without much grumbling, although we were never dry and
in many places the tracking had to be done waist-deep in water; at night
we slept in our wet clothes, on the wet ground, rolled up in our sopping
blankets. This is the killing weather, and one needs perfect health to
resist its effects; the dry cold of a northern winter is child's play in
comparison. Saltatha, who had hurt himself by a nasty fall while
carrying a heavy load over a portage, broke down completely at this
time, and was unable to work during the rest of the trip. We could do
nothing for him, as there was no medicine of any kind in the outfit,
and he had to take his chance with the rest. I think he came very near
dying while we were running down Lockhart's River; he lost all strength
and was spitting blood freely for a fortnight, but ultimately recovered
in a miraculous manner. We worked long days tracking up-stream, but were
continually delayed by having to patch up the canoe every time she
touched a rock; it was just as well we did not go down to the mouth of
the river, for she would certainly not have stood another three weeks'
work of this kind. Another trouble was the scarcity of moccasins, which
were completely worn out by a single day's walk on the sharp rocks along
the river's bank.

In eight days we reached Musk-ox Lake, and, finding the wind too strong
to paddle against, we put ashore on the east side and took advantage of
a little sunshine to thoroughly dry all our belongings. From this camp
we saw the last musk-ox, and, crossing the bay with a canoe, went in
pursuit as our meat supply was short. Some of the guns were posted, and
others tried to drive the animals, but we made a mess of the hunt and
the whole band escaped; my last remembrance of the animals that I had
started out a year before on purpose to kill, being a stern view of a
grand old bull disappearing at a gallop over a ridge, and a puff of dust
just behind him, marking the spot where a badly aimed rifle-bullet had
struck the ground. A caribou, however, supplied us with meat, but we
had some trouble in picking him up, as he was killed in the water and it
was no easy matter to tow his carcass ashore against the gale of wind
that was raging. Mackinlay and myself for once got ahead of the
wolverines on this occasion. We saw three coming our way before they saw
us, and, lying behind a rock, bowled them all over; a right and left at
wolverines is seldom brought about in a lifetime, but it is very
satisfactory when one thinks of the stolen _caches_ and consequent hard
times that these wily brutes are responsible for.

From the south end of the lake I walked ahead with Mackinlay, starting
early in the morning, and at mid-day sighted three lodges on the Aylmer
Lake divide. We fired a signal-shot which brought everybody out, and we
were soon surrounded by Capot Blanc's brigade, and deluged with
questions as to what had happened and why we had come back alone; for
surely something evil had taken place in the country that always slopes
downhill. With our small command of the Yellow Knife language, and
plenty of signs, we made them understand that the canoe was by this time
at the first lake, and the water was so low in the river that it would
be necessary to portage the whole distance. All the available men and
women went to help our crew to carry the loads, and by sundown our lodge
was once more planted by the water that finds its way to the Great
Slave Lake and runs a course of a thousand miles before falling into
the Arctic Sea.

It took half a day to settle accounts with the Indians who had been
working for us on our way up to Musk-ox Lake, while the women were busy
gumming the canoe and getting her in order for the run down Lockhart's
River. A good proportion of the wages due were paid out of the remainder
of our trading-stock that had been intended for the Esquimaux if we had
met them. The box that contained this small supply of goods had been an
object of strife the whole time. The Indians had the strongest objection
to any of the products of the Grand Pays passing through their country
being given to strangers, and we had been careful not to let them see
the gaudy contents of the box, or we should have been troubled with the
constant begging that the Yellow Knives think will eventually gain them
the object they desire. Imagination had run high as to the contents of
the fairy casket, and there was a great rush when it was announced that
any of the men to whom wages were due might take what they fancied. They
had seen pressed bales of blankets landed at the fort on the arrival of
the yearly outfit from Winnipeg, and had been surprised at the number of
blankets that could be squeezed into a small space; there was an idea
prevalent that our box had been packed on the same principle, and might
contain an abundant supply of all the good things that only the white
men know how to make. Some disappointment was shown when it turned out
that we had only been speaking the truth in answering their petitions by
telling them we had such a small stock that nothing could be spared. The
trade went off to the satisfaction of both sides; the Indians obtained
the trinkets so dear to their vanity, and we lightened our load for the
numerous portages that lay between us and the Great Slave Lake. There
was some question as to what it was best to do with Saltatha; whether to
leave him here with his friends, or to let him take his chance of the
canoe journey to the fort, where medicine could possibly be obtained; at
his own request we decided on the latter course, and during the first
few days his health seemed to improve.

The route that we were now to take was the same that Back and Anderson
had both chosen, following the Lockhart's River down-stream through the
immense lakes that lie in its course, gradually bending to the
south-west, and avoiding the impassable obstructions in the lower part
of the river by portaging through a chain of lakes, the last of which is
only three miles distant from the north-east end of the Great Slave
Lake. The boat was to meet us on August 1st, and as it was already
several days past that date we determined to travel our best, although
there was a chance of getting windbound in any of the big lakes.


Late in the afternoon, with a great improvement in the weather, our
canoe was afloat on Aylmer Lake (known to the Indians as the Lake of the
Big Cliffs), over which she had been dragged on a dog-sleigh five weeks
before. The following evening we passed into the short stretch of river
that leaves its east end, and camped late on the south shore of Clinton
Golden Lake, or, as the Yellow Knives call it, the Lake where the
Caribou swim among the Ice. The vast body of water opened out before us
into apparently a perfect circle, and now for the first time we were in
doubt as to our course, for there was nothing to indicate the point at
which the river leaves the far end of the lake; the east shore was
invisible from the slight hill behind our camp, although it was a clear
bright morning. We had two maps with us, one, the latest issued under
the Dominion Government's directions, and the other, an old 1834 map of
Arrowsmith's which we had discovered at the fort; they offered very
divergent opinions as to the general lay of Lockhart's River, and it
says little for later geographical research that the older map should
have been by far the more accurate of the two.

We put out at three o'clock in the morning to take advantage of calm
weather to make the crossing of the lake, and after paddling about eight
miles went ashore on an island to cook breakfast and reconnoitre. From
here we could see the faint outline of land to the east, and made out
that what had appeared a circle consisted in reality of three enormous
bays, one heading east, one south-east, and the third south-west. Which
was the right one to take? An appeal to Saltatha and Noel, who were
supposed to have local knowledge, produced no results; Noel said he
thought the east bay was the right one, while Saltatha, pointing
south-west, said perhaps that was the correct course to follow. It ended
in our taking the middle bay, and, for the benefit of the next party
that crosses this lake, I may state that there is a peculiar conical
butte lying roughly twenty miles south-east from this island; it is just
visible above the horizon, and is a capital leading mark to bring a
canoe into a long narrow arm of the lake, which afterwards broadens
again into a huge round sheet of water, and here, by keeping close to
the east shore for five miles, the entrance to the river will be found.
It was in great uncertainty that we headed our frail vessel across the
broad traverse with a blanket set in front of a light fair wind; at noon
we again put ashore on an island, and, killing a caribou, made a long
halt for dinner. We climbed to the highest point of land but could make
nothing out of our survey, and continued coasting along the island till
we reached its south end, and then found ourselves in the channel I have
mentioned. No current was noticeable, and we pushed on through the
winding waterway, in fear that it might be a _cul de sac_ and we should
have to turn back and try our luck in some other direction. On landing,
however, we saw a sheet of water ahead of us, so broad that the far
shore was below the horizon, and, on passing out of the channel we had
been following, pitched camp on the east side of the lake, still
uncertain as to where the river lay. Very early in the morning we were
under way again, and followed the land to make sure that we did not pass
the opening of the river, if indeed we were anywhere near it. About six
o'clock there came a shout from the bowsman, that he saw a pole planted
among the rocks ashore, and the canoe at once began to feel the
influence of a slight current. Rounding a low point, a reach of strong
running water lay before us, and we landed to see what was the meaning
of the pole. A broken piece of _babiche_ hanging from it told the old
story of a rifled _cache_, another evidence of the wolverine's

Among the Indians who had come to the fort during the winter to trade
fur was a hunter generally known by the name of Pierre the Fool, though
it seems hard to understand how one of the most intelligent Indians in
the country of the Great Slave Lake had earned this _soubriquet_.
Pierre had been much interested in our expedition. Every summer he
pitched his lodge where the river leaves the lake in which the caribou
swim among the ice, to make dried meat to sell at the fort; his hunt
this year had been successful, and, when he broke up his camp, he had
faithfully kept his promise to leave us a _cache_ of pounded meat and
grease, but the wolverines had reaped the benefit. Just below the camp
we saw plain evidence of the slaughter he had made among the swimming
caribou; what we took at first for a bunch of remarkably big willow
sticks proved to be the horns of fifty or sixty bucks, lying in shallow
water at the edge of the stream; and enough meat to keep an Indian
family for a year, if properly cured, was rotting in the sun.

After a mile of strong running stream the river falls into another lake,
and immediately makes a sharp bend to the south-west, and, during the
rest of the descent, we travelled in that direction with little
variation till we reached the Great Slave Lake. Saltatha now began to
recognise the country, and there was no more doubt about the way; but
had we been left to our own judgment, we should have certainly gone
wrong in this first lake, as there is a promising bay heading in to the
south. None of the maps show this bend in the stream at all correctly,
nor do they take any notice of the next lake, the Indians' Ptarmigan
Lake, a large sheet of water fully twenty miles in length, which Pierre
the Fool afterwards told us lies within a short portage of the west bay
of Clinton Golden Lake.

We now fell in again with the big herds of caribou. For the last few
weeks we had only seen enough to provide us with meat, but here they
were in their thousands, and I am sorry to say that our crew did far too
much killing, during the short spell of bad weather which forced us to
camp on Ptarmigan Lake. The excuse was that the hides were now at their
best for coats and robes; but even so, far more were killed than could
be used for this purpose.

We made rather a risky passage down the lake in front of a strong wind
and heavy sea, and at the west end found an ugly rapid six hundred yards
in length: the cargo was portaged and the canoe run light in safety;
and, after crossing a short lake, another rapid was negotiated in the
same manner. In this second portage stood a solitary pine-tree, round
which we all crowded as in welcome of an old friend after our long
journey in a woodless country. Just below there was an impassable rapid,
the only real impediment to navigation from the head of Mackay Lake to
the foot of Artillery Lake, a distance of four hundred miles. Below the
portage we ran five or six miles down a steady swift current,
occasionally widening out into a small lake, with caribou continually
swimming across the river ahead of the canoe, and late at night camped
on the edge of a huge lake with a clear horizon to the west. This
proved to be Artillery Lake, and at four o'clock next morning we were
running down the south shore, in front of a gale of wind with our
smallest blanket set for a sail. The day was much colder, with a few
flakes of snow flying, and everybody was pleased to put ashore in a
clump of pine-trees at dinner-time; the wind moderated towards evening,
and, crossing to the north shore, we camped once again in the strong
woods. The timber line is much more clearly defined here than on the
other routes by which I approached the Barren Ground; the outlying
clumps of pines extend to a very short distance, and their growth ceases
entirely within seventy miles of the Great Slave Lake. If it should ever
again prove necessary to reach the Arctic Sea by way of the Great Fish
River, Artillery Lake would, in my opinion, be by far the best place at
which to build light boats for the voyage; the timber is quite large
enough, and only one portage has to be made to reach the Aylmer Lake

The next morning we reached the end of Artillery Lake, which we reckoned
roughly at forty-five miles in length, and passed into a narrow channel
with hardly any current. Towards midday a couple of small canoes
appeared ahead of us, and the usual formalities of saluting ensued. When
they came alongside the occupants were asked for the news, and they
informed us that the burnt Indian was drowned, that the caribou had
been passing more thickly than ever known before, and that the fort boat
had not yet arrived at the appointed meeting-place. The burnt Indian
seems to have been badly out of luck. He had rolled into his camp-fire
during a fit, and was found with his feet burnt off; after being
doctored by the missionary for many months, and cured as far as it was
possible to cure such a case, the cripple had left the fort with some of
his relations to get back among the caribou, but on the second day out
was drowned by capsizing his canoe. We could not account for the
non-arrival of the boat, as we ourselves were already a fortnight later
than the day agreed upon for meeting.

Round the next bend of the stream were six lodges, and the first
greeting we received was from old Syene, the Medicine Man. There was no
doubt that the caribou had been passing, as the children and dogs were
rolling fat, and an unmistakable air of plethora from much feasting hung
over the camp. Only four days before there had been one of those big
slaughters, which one would think could not fail in a short time to
exterminate the caribou. A large band had been seen to start from the
opposite bank, and was soon surrounded by seven hunting-canoes; the
spears were kept going as long as there was life to take, with the
result that three hundred and twenty-six carcasses were hauled ashore,
and fully two hundred of these left to rot in the shallow water. Every
lodge was full of meat and grease in various forms, and there would be a
cargo for the boat to take back to the fort. Pierre the Fool, who was
camped here, was in great form, and at once presented us with a bunch of
smoked tongues and a bladder of marrow grease. He gave us a great deal
of information about the country eastward of Clinton Golden Lake, and in
a much more intelligent manner than the usual Indian method of constant
repetition; he told us there were fewer lakes in that direction than in
any other part of the Barren Ground that he had visited, but he was
always obliged to take a small canoe with him, to cross a big stream
running in a southerly direction, three days' easy travel from Clinton
Golden Lake. Once, when he had pushed out farther than usual, he had
seen smoke in the distance, and came upon a camp that the Esquimaux from
Hudson's Bay had just left; they had been cutting wood for their sleighs
in a clump of well-grown pines, and Pierre, who shares the dread which
every Yellow Knife has of the Coast tribes, had been afraid to follow
them. From the fact of his having seen the pine-trees, which are said
not to extend far from the salt water of Hudson's Bay, he must have been
within a short distance of the coast.

On the day after our arrival in the encampment a general movement was
made; the lodges were thrown down, and the women and dogs received heavy
loads to carry to the Great Slave Lake. Lockhart's River on leaving
Artillery Lake becomes a wild torrent, falling several hundred feet in
twenty miles, and is quite useless for navigation, so we had to make use
of a chain of lakes, eight in number, lying to the south of the stream.
This is by far the prettiest part of the country that I saw in the
North, and it was looking its best under the bright sunshine that
continued till we reached the fort. Scattering timber, spruce and birch,
clothed the sloping banks down to the sandy shores of the lakes; berries
of many kinds grew in profusion; the portages were short and down hill;
and caribou were walking the ridges and swimming the lakes in every
direction. A perfect northern fairyland it was, and it seemed hard to
believe that winter and want could ever penetrate here; but on the shore
of a lovely blue lake Pierre the Fool pointed out a spot where the last
horrors of death and cannibalism had been enacted within his memory.
Sometimes a column of smoke would be seen ahead, and we paddled by a
lodge where the fat sleepy children were revelling in the abundance of
grease. Late on the second day a white object on the shore attracted
general attention: "It is a wolf, a white caribou; no, a man, a man in a
white shirt,--it must be one of the boat's crew"; and so it proved to
be. The white shirt was a libel, but the clean canvas jumper quite
deserved the admiration it had received, especially in contrast with our
own rags. The boat had arrived from Fort Resolution in charge of
François Mandeville, another brother of Michel the fort interpreter.
François had been alarmed at not finding us at the meeting-place, and
had immediately dispatched four of the crew in a large canoe, with a
supply of tea, tobacco, and flour, to ascend the river in hopes of
finding us. But the relief party had come across the fresh tracks of
caribou in the first portage; it was long since they had tasted meat, so
the canoe was put down in the woods, and the "big masters," who were
supposed to be lost in the Barren Ground, were forgotten. The man we met
had come on to see some relations who were camped among the lakes, and,
as he was discovered to be possessed of tobacco, we made him share up,
and sat on the beach enjoying the first smoke for many days, and hearing
the accounts of what little events had happened during a short summer on
the Great Slave Lake. But it was getting late, and we still had the
longest portage to make. At the end of the last lake we abandoned the
canoe that had done me such good service on two long journeys, and with
loads on our backs followed the well-worn trail that the Indians have
used from time immemorial as a route to their hunting-grounds. A natural
pass with a steep descent led between the rough broken hills on each
side, and a three-mile walk brought us within sight of the waters of the
big lake. Below us, close by the edge of the bay, there were already
several lodges planted, and over a white tent floated the old red
ensign bearing in the corner the letters H. B. C. so well known
throughout the whole dominion of Canada. A shot from the last ridge
aroused the encampment, and soon a general fusillade took place; a fleet
of canoes, running with blankets set to a fair wind far across the bay,
took up the firing and headed for the shore, while every Indian within
sound of gun-shot hurried to hear the news and join in the trading which
was sure to take place on our arrival.

Here we found everything that a man in the wilds longs for, flour,
bacon, tea, tobacco, sugar, a packet of letters from England written
many months before, and a bottle of brandy, the first "fire-water" that
had come our way for a year. Women and dogs heavily loaded with bales of
meat and bladders of grease kept dropping in from across the portage; a
dance was set on foot and kept up all night round the huge camp fires,
while the tall pine-trees looked down on a scene of feasting and revelry
such as had probably never been known on the shores of this pleasant

Poor Saltatha, who had been very bad for the last week, crawled into our
lodge late at night, and threw himself down on a blanket in a state of
utter exhaustion. In spite of the best law in Canada, which forbids a
white man to give an Indian any intoxicating drink, under penalty of a
$200 fine, I determined to try if brandy could do him any good.
Saltatha had never tasted the strong water, but had heard much of its
wonderful qualities, and made no objection to trying the cure. I gave
him a small dose, but it had a wonderful effect; his eyes became round
and big, and once again he started the dismal chant that he had been so
fond of during our musk-ox hunt last winter. He was hopelessly drunk,
and, when he was seized with a violent fit of coughing and his head fell
on the blanket like a dead man's, I thought I had made a sad mess of my
doctoring. Early in the morning I got up to see if he was dead, and was
relieved to find him much better and keen for some more brandy, which I
refused; he had had very pleasant dreams he said, and the pain had gone
from his chest to his head. From that time he improved in health, his
strength came back rapidly, and when I left the fort a week later, he
looked as well as ever.

Two days were spent in trading for the meat which kept coming in, and
during this time we sent out a hunting-party to kill fresh meat, which
we hoped would keep till we reached the fort if we made a good passage.
At Resolution times were very hard; few fish were being caught, and the
return of the boat was anxiously expected. Many caribou were killed, and
our ship was well loaded with fresh meat, besides over three thousand
pounds of dried meat, two hundred pounds of grease, bunches of tongues,
coils of _babiche_ and sinew, and a little fur that had been killed
during the spring.

The Indians all left on the evening of the second day, and early the
following morning we put to sea in a flat calm. Before leaving we went
through the ceremony of cutting a lop-stick, as is the fashion of the
North, to commemorate our expedition. A conspicuous pine was chosen, a
man sent aloft to lop off the lower branches, while Mackinlay and myself
cut our names on the trunk; then everybody discharged their guns at the
tree, and the performance was ended. Often in the lonely waterways of
the Northern country one sees a lop-stick showing far ahead on the bank,
and reads a name celebrated in the annals of the Hudson's Bay Company or
in the history of Arctic exploration. These lop-sticks are easily
distinguished landmarks, well known to the _voyageurs_, and many an
appointment has been kept at Campbell's, Macdougal's, or Macfarlane's
tree. In giving directions to a stranger it is hopeless to describe the
points and bends of a monotonous river highway, but a lop-stick does the
duty of a signpost and at once settles the question of locality.

Two hundred miles of the Great Slave Lake lay between us and the fort,
but a steady wind came from the north, and the shallow-draught York boat
ran in front of it so well that on the fourth night we camped on the
Mission Island within a couple of miles of Fort Resolution. A worse
boat for the navigation of the lake could hardly be imagined. A huge
square sail, set on a mast shipped right amidships, does good work so
long as the wind is abaft the beam; but when a head-wind springs up, too
strong to row against, it is a case of hauling ashore on the beach, as
no anchor is carried. Steep cliffs on a lee shore have to be carefully
avoided, for it is impossible to propel such a vessel to windward in a
heavy sea. On the present occasion, however, we were in great luck, and
I never remember a more pleasant voyage in a sailing-boat. A run up the
English Channel in a well-found yacht, with fair wind and sunshine, is
enjoyable enough; but there are seldom any blankets to lie about in on
deck, and there is always some stray peak or jib-halliard that wants
pulling on, besides continual threats of setting or stowing a topsail,
which prevents your settling down into a comfortable position. Here we
had nothing to worry us; the wind blew fair, and we lay in our blankets,
smoking and looking at the land, as the boat glided along the narrow
blue lanes, among islands that the foot of white man had never pressed.
Four times a day we put ashore to boil the kettle, and at night slept by
the side of a huge fire in the thick pine-woods; darkness lasted many
hours now, and prevented navigation among the countless islands and
outlying rocks. On the fourth day we crossed the Grand Traverse, and,
leaving the Ile de Pierre after nightfall, ran for Mission Island with
a strong wind blowing in from the open lake. Crossing the mouth of the
big river was rather risky work in the dark, as the sandy battures ran
far off to sea and the waves were breaking heavily in the shallow water;
the sounding-pole gave only four feet in one place, but we ran across
without touching, and at midnight camped at the back of Mission Island.

The sun was just rising on Sunday, August the 24th, when we ran the boat
on the beach in front of Fort Resolution, and a glance at the faces that
gathered round told us that living had been none too good, and that a
man is sometimes better off among the caribou than depending upon an
uncertain fishery for a livelihood. With all thanks to priest and
parson, Indian and half-breed, for the kind welcome they gave us, I
noticed many an eye glancing furtively at our rich cargo from the land
of plenty; and the rejoicings that day may be attributed equally to joy
at our safe arrival and to the influence of a feast of fresh meat after
many weeks of short allowance.

I could afford to make only a short stay at Resolution, as the season
was far advanced, and I had to start at once to avoid the chance of
being caught by the winter during my long journey. Of the three routes
that might enable me to do this I should have preferred the ascent of
the Liard River, which falls into the Mackenzie at Fort Simpson. From
its head-waters at Dease Lake, in the once celebrated mining district
of Cassiar, the Pacific Coast is reached at Fort Wrangel in Southern
Alaska without difficulty; but the Liard itself is full of terrors, even
for the hardy _voyageurs_ of the North, and although Mr. Camsell offered
every inducement to men to accompany me he was unable to get together a
crew. Formerly the Company had an establishment at Fort Halket on the
west branch of the Liard, but the difficulties of conveying supplies,
and the frequent occurrence of starvation, made it a hard post to
maintain; finally a boat's crew were drowned by a capsize in one of the
worst rapids, and the fort was abandoned. The Athabasca I had seen, and
not caring to go over old ground I decided on ascending the Peace River
to its head-waters in the neighbourhood of Macleod's Lake on the west
side of the Rocky Mountains, and, crossing the small divide, to run down
the Fraser River to Quesnelle a small town on the southern edge of the
Caribou Gold Fields of Northern British Columbia.

The _Wrigley_ had made her last up-stream voyage for the year, and was
daily expected from Fort Smith. I was thus obliged to depend on canoe
travelling to reach Chipeweyan on the Athabasca Lake, some three hundred
miles distant; if we had arrived at the fort ten days earlier I could
have saved much valuable time by making this part of my journey by

Taking advantage of frequent experience that it is better to leave a
fort overnight, even if camp be made within a couple of miles, than to
trust to an early start in the morning, it was after sundown on the 26th
when I said good-bye to Resolution, not without a feeling of regret, and
the hope of seeing at some future time the place where I had been so
well treated. There are few spots in the world in which one can live for
a year without making some friends, and when I left this lonely
trading-post there were many faces on the beach that I should like to
see again. Saltatha was the last man to shake hands with me as I stepped
into the canoe; he tried to extract a promise from me to come back the
next summer for another expedition in the Barren Ground, and was much
disappointed when I told him that I certainly could not return for two
years, and perhaps not even then. No need to feel pity for the people
left behind, although I was going to civilization and all the good
things that this word comprises. A man who has spent much time under the
influence of the charm which the North exercises over everybody wants
nothing better than to be allowed to finish his life in the peace and
quietness which reign by the shores of the Great Slave Lake. Ask the
priest, when you meet him struggling against a head-wind and driving
snow on his way to some Indian encampment, whether he ever sighs for his
sunny France. "No," he will tell you; "here I have everything I want and
nothing to distract my thoughts; I enjoy perfect health, and I feel no
desire to go back to the worries of the great world." So it is with the
fur-trader; the mysterious charm has a firm hold on him, and if he is in
charge of a post where provisions are fairly plentiful and the Indians
not troublesome he has a happy life indeed. I was sorry to have missed
seeing the Mackenzie River, La Grande Rivière en Bas, as they call it at
Fort Resolution, but to do this meant spending another winter and
another summer in the country, and I could not afford the time.

[Illustration: Starting Up the Peace River]

The first evening out from the fort we camped near the mouth of the
Slave River, on the same spot where I had spent a night with King
Beaulieu and his family more than a year before. My crew now consisted
of Murdo Mackay and three half-breeds, while Mackinlay, who had proved
such a trusty companion during our summer journey, was to accompany me
till we met the steamer. This happened the next morning, and after an
hour of hurried questions and answers, and farewells to men who seemed
more like old friends than comparative strangers whom I had met once the
year before, the _Wrigley_ put her head down-stream, and we continued
our voyage through the wilderness of pines, cotton-wood, and willow.

Pierre Beaulieu was captain and guide of the canoe, and a right good
traveller he proved to be; no lying snug in your blankets in the early
morning, but breakfast in black darkness, and the paddles or
tracking-line in full swing at the first sign of the coming day.
Sometimes he would put ashore and start us off through the woods, with
canoe and cargo on our backs, to drop on the river again at the end of
the portage, and find that we had saved many miles of laborious
up-stream work by cutting across a bend of the river. The tracking till
we reached Fort Smith was bad, as the banks were usually soft muddy
sand, while the land-slips had sent so many trees into the river that it
was often easier to paddle against the stream than to pass the line
round the obstruction. Ducks and geese were plentiful enough, but
Mackinlay had been liberal in the matter of provisions for our voyage,
so we only took the most tempting shots, but if it had been necessary we
could have made our own living without difficulty. Early on the sixth
day we came in sight of Fort Smith, and found Mr. Flett in charge, with
the house much improved and made fairly comfortable in readiness for the
winter; but there was no time to be spared, and the next day saw us
driving across the portage in a waggon to take a fresh crew to
Chipeweyan. No canoe was available, but José Beaulieu, another of King's
numerous brothers, lent us a skiff, which answered the purpose well
enough. Mr. Flett took the opportunity of going up to headquarters, and
enlivened the journey with many stories of over forty years' experience
in the North. Among the new crew was a deaf and dumb half-breed, a
capital worker and always good-tempered, in spite of the cold drenching
rain that continued till we reached Chipeweyan; some of his
conversations by signs were very amusing, and one could almost wish that
all these boatmen were deaf and dumb to avoid the constant chatter which
they keep up round the camp-fire when they know that you understand
them. One day we made a splendid run in front of a gale of north wind,
but nearly came to grief through our steersman's recklessness in trying
to force the boat over a rapid under canvas; she took a sheer in the
swirl of an eddy, and the sail jibbed with such violence that we were
within an inch of a capsize. Provisions ran short on the last day, but
just as we were talking of camping early and going after duck for supper
a little black bear turned up on the bank; I was lucky enough to kill
it, and we enjoyed a royal feast of fat bear's meat instead of a night's
starvation. On the fourth day we entered the Athabasca Lake, and forced
our way to the fort against a strong head-wind; it was another Sunday
arrival, and we did not show to advantage in comparison with the bright
dresses and gaudy belts and moccasins of the dwellers at the chief post
of the Athabasca district. A little snow was whitening the ground, the
goose-hunt was at its height, and the array of nets showed plainly
enough that it was time to make preparation for the Fall fishing. Dr.
Mackay was away inspecting Fort Vermillion on the Lower Peace River,
and would not be back for several days. An unexpected difficulty now
turned up; there was no crew forthcoming for the next part of my
journey, and everybody advised me to take the ordinary route by the
Athabasca River. However, two of my Fort Smith crew, José and Dummy,
finally agreed to go to Vermillion, although neither of them had been
there before, and Murdo, who was very anxious to accompany me across the
mountains, obtained leave to come with me till we should meet Dr. Mackay
on Peace River; if he could get extended leave from the head officer of
the District he was to come right through.


By this time it was well on in September, and eight hundred miles had to
be travelled to reach the Rocky Mountains and when these were sighted
there were still two hundred miles to MacLeod's Lake, the farthest point
I could reasonably hope to reach by open water. The first night we
camped in the Quatre Fourches, the channel connecting the lake with the
main stream of Peace River. The banks were thickly peopled with Indians
and half-breeds, drying whitefish which were being taken in marvellous
numbers; white and grey wavies and ducks of many kinds were flying
overhead in large flocks, and rising in front of the canoe at every bend
of the stream; plovers and other wading birds were screaming over the
marshes, and I noticed a good many snipe; but who would fire a charge of
ammunition at such a wretched little mouthful when geese were plentiful?
Without going out of our way to hunt, we could have loaded the canoe
with wild-fowl, but of course only killed as many as we required for

At the end of the Quatre Fourches we passed into the main stream of
Peace River, and, with a sharp westward turn, commenced our ascent of
the easiest of all the Northern waterways. From its junction with the
Slave River to the first range of the Rocky Mountains, with only the
obstruction of the shute some forty miles below Fort Vermillion, its
course is navigable throughout for a light-draught steamer, and, but for
this shute, would be an invaluable route for supplying the Hudson's Bay
Company's upper river-posts.

The lower reaches of the river present exactly the same appearance as
the country we had passed through in ascending the Slave River; a broad
stream with low sandy banks, densely timbered, with often a huge
sand-bar, the resting-place of many geese, stretching far out into the
stream. We were rather handicapped by not knowing the river and missing
the best tracking; an old hand would have known all the correct
crossings to take advantage of an easy bank to track from, or an eddy to
paddle in. Nor could we well risk the short cuts, as a promising channel
would often end in dry sand instead of running through into the
river, or turn out to be the mouth of a tributary stream. After our
usual halt for dinner on the third day we saw a canoe coming down
stream, and, crossing over, found that it was Dr. Mackay on his way from
Vermillion; both canoes put ashore and we had the usual cup of tea and
an hour's yarn together. The Doctor was anxious to get back to
Chipeweyan, to begin his Fall fishing and make every possible
preparation for keeping up the food-supply for the winter; I had no time
to spare either, and darkness must have found us camping many miles
apart. These stray meetings in the wilderness are always a pleasant
recollection, and on first returning to civilization one is surprised at
the manner in which people pass each other with a nod, till one realises
the fact that there are too many people about for a more lengthy salute.
Murdo obtained leave to come with me across the mountains, subject to
the condition that he was to return in the spring if he received orders
to that effect from headquarters at Winnipeg.

The same evening we hauled up an insignificant rapid, caused by a
contraction in the channel; a limestone formation, with many fossils,
shows up here for a few miles of the river's course, and is noticeable
again at the shutes and in several spots along the river. We broke the
canoe rather badly in mounting this rapid, and during the rest of our
journey to Vermillion had to bale out frequently. Day after day we
followed the winding course of the river, which bends and doubles on
itself through the flat country, and at last made out a landmark in the
Caribou Mountains, lying to the north and stretching in that direction
as far as we could see: an inviting range of hills, clear of timber on
the slope, and their round summits sparsely dotted with pines; a
favourite hunting-ground for the Indians of Vermillion, but none of the
white men of whom I made inquiry seemed to have any knowledge of the
extent or nature of this solitary range, rising so conspicuously from
the dead level of muskeg and pine forest.

Just as we were starting on the tenth morning a light puff of west wind
brought us the first sound of a distant roar that we knew must be caused
by the shute, and a couple of hours' tracking brought us to a small
Company's trading-post, known as Little Red River, from a stream bearing
that name which here joins the Peace River from the south. The
establishment was deserted, although it was to be kept open during the
winter; so we passed on and soon came in sight of a low white wall of
water extending across the whole width of the river. Dr. Mackay had told
me to make the portage close under the fall on the south side, or we
should have been at a loss to find the only place where it is possible
to take the canoe out of the water. In a strong running current, with
the spray falling over her bow, we put alongside a ledge of rock six
feet above us, and two men, standing on a submerged ledge, not without
difficulty passed everything up to the others above; the distance to
carry was very short, and we were soon afloat again above the fall. The
shute is not more than eight feet in height, but is of course a complete
barrier to navigation. I think the scene from the south bank is one of
the most beautiful in the whole course of the loveliest of rivers. It
was a bright afternoon when we made the portage, and the white broken
water of the cascade showed in strong contrast to the broad blue
stretches above and below; several rocky, pine-covered islands stand on
the brink of the overfall, as if to give a chance to any unlucky
traveller who may approach too near the danger; fully three-quarters of
a mile away on the far side stands the gloomy forest of black pines,
relieved by a glimpse of the open side-hills of the Caribou Mountains.
Another small portage was necessary a mile or two above; but from the
spot where we camped that night we never had to lift canoe or skiff out
of the water till we reached the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains.

The next day we passed a couple of Cree lodges, and finding moose-meat
plentiful made the most of our opportunity, as a gale of wind sprang up
right ahead and prevented travel.

It was not till sundown on the eleventh day from Chipeweyan that we
completed our journey of two hundred and eighty miles, and put ashore at
the Company's trading-post at Fort Vermillion. Here the appearance of
the country suddenly changes; stretches of open prairie dotted with
small poplars take the place of the pine-woods, and the sand-bars in the
river begin to give way to gravel, and the banks rise higher and higher
as one journeys up-stream. We reached Vermillion late in September, in
the full glory of the autumn; the sharp morning frosts had coloured the
poplar leaves with the brightest golden tints, and the blue haze of an
Indian summer hung over prairie and wood. Away on the Great Slave Lake a
half-breed had told me of the beauties of Vermillion as a farming
country, and had explained that all the good things of the world grew
there freely, so that I was prepared for the sight of wheat and barley
fields, which had this year produced a more abundant harvest than usual;
potatoes and other vegetables were growing luxuriously, cattle and
horses were fattening on the rich prairie grass, and it seemed that
there was little to be gained by leaving such a fertile spot in the face
of the winter that would soon be upon us.

Vermillion is also an important fur-post, and probably to-day the best
in the North for beaver and marten; but there are several free-traders
on the Peace River, and the Company have to carry on their business with
the extra difficulty of competition, which always raises the price of
fur. It is all very well to say that no Company should have the monopoly
of trading over so vast a territory, but after all the Indians are
little benefited by the appearance of the free-traders. The Hudson's Bay
Company have always treated the Indians fairly and leniently, taking the
greatest care only to import articles absolutely necessary to the
welfare of the natives. Guns, ammunition, blankets, capotes,
dress-stuff for the women, and tea and tobacco, have always been the
principal contents of the store; and these are sold at absurdly low
prices, when the cost of the long and risky transport is considered. The
Indians' love of gaudy colours was always indulged, but the goods were
of the best material. Then came the free-trader with a stock of bright
cheap clothing, a variety of dazzling tinsel, or perhaps a keg of
molasses, which attracted the eye and palate of the wily hunter, so that
he would give up his rich furs for the worthless trash, only to find
himself short of all the necessaries for maintaining life in the woods
when the snow began to fall again. No amount of experience enables him
to resist the temptation; but the long enduring Hudson's Bay Company
always listens to his tale of woe and helps him out of his difficulties,
accepting his promise, ever readily given and as readily broken, to hand
in his fur in the following spring to the officer in charge of the post.
Whenever the often-told story of a band of Indians caught by the horrors
of starvation reaches the fort, the Company sends to the rescue, and
every winter saves many a man from death, while the free-trader, having
taken as much fur as he can out of the country during a short summer's
trip, is living at ease on the confines of civilization. The days are
long gone by when a prime silver fox could be bought for a cotton
pocket-handkerchief, but still the rumours brought from this little
known Northern country attract the venturesome trader, usually to his
own loss, and always to the upsetting of the Company's wise system of
dealing with the Indians.

Vermillion has a comparatively large population, outside the numerous
_employés_ of the country. Both the Protestant and Roman Catholic
churches have missions here, and several half-breeds have taken up an
irregular method of stock-raising and small farming to help out the
uncertain living afforded by fur-trapping. Mr. Lawrence, a practical
hard-working farmer from Eastern Canada, has been successful with a farm
three miles above the fort; but for many years to come there is not the
slightest reason for that emigration of farmers to Peace River which
wild enthusiasts clamour for. So much talk about this scheme has lately
appeared in the Canadian newspapers, mostly, no doubt, as one of the
political cries which find such favour with the statesmen of Ottawa,
that I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without a word of warning
to any intending settler. I made careful inquiries and observations
along the whole length of Peace River, and I do not for a moment deny
that in some parts of its course crops of wheat and barley may be raised
in favourable seasons, as the well-managed farms of Mr. Lawrence, at
Vermillion, and Mr. Brick, higher up at Smoky River, fully attest; but
these farms, and all the spots in which grain ripens, are in close
proximity to the bed of the river, and here the amount of arable land
is limited. Climb the steep banks and take a glance over the millions of
fertile acres which the philanthropic politician wishes to see
cultivated; notice the frost on a summer's morning, and make the
attempt, as has often been made already, to raise a crop on this
elevated plateau. In ten years' time this may be a cattle-country,
although the hay-swamps are insufficient to ensure enough feed for the
long winter; but let us have an end of this talk of sending poor
settlers to starve in a land unable to supply food to the Indian, who is
accustomed to a life of continual struggle with a relentless nature.

Mr. Wilson entertained me royally at the fort, but here again was the
same trouble that I had found at Chipeweyan; no crew was procurable, and
there was a journey of three hundred and fifty miles to Dunvegan before
I had any chance of getting men. José and Dummy, who had both worked
right well up to now, considered they were far enough away from their
beloved Fort Smith; and José had an extra attraction in Dummy's sister,
who was waiting his return to make him happy for ever, but was not very
reliable in case of a more prepossessing admirer coming to the fore.
José made a touching speech at parting: "God made the mountains, the
lakes, and the big rivers," he said. "What is better than drifting down
Peace River singing hymns? You are going up-stream to cross the big
mountains back to your own country; I am going down-stream to marry
Dummy's sister; I shall think of you many times." Dummy smiled and
nodded affectionately, and the pair shot out into the river with my
canoe, leaving me on the bank with only Murdo for my crew and no means
of conveyance.

Now if I could have got a small dug-out wooden canoe, and pottered away
up-stream with Murdo, tracking in turns, we should have got on very
well; but unfortunately there was nothing but a large and somewhat
clumsy skiff available, and this we finally had to take. The evening
before we were to start I received a visit from a man whom I shall
allude to as John. Long before in merry England he had seen better
times, and was evidently intended by nature for a sedentary life, or any
other kind of life than the physical activity necessary to accomplish
quickly and successfully a boating-trip up a swift-running river; in
reality he was powerful enough, and but for his extraordinary laziness
might have earned a good living anywhere. John told me he wished to
leave Peace River and cross the mountains to Quesnelle, and would be
glad to render me every assistance in his power if I would let him take
advantage of this chance to get out of the country. In spite of the
warnings of Mr. Wilson and everybody else who knew John's character, I
went on the theory that when one is shorthanded any kind of a man is
better than no man, but was speedily disabused of this idea after
leaving the fort. He turned sulky when he found that I would stand no
shirking, and was painfully slow on the tracking-line, awkward in
letting go or tying a knot, and, although he had been five years at
boating, absolutely without knowledge of the duties of bowsman or
steersman. In addition to this he was just as useless in camp, and
conceived a violent hatred to Murdo, who fully reciprocated the feeling.
Once, on being heartily cursed while he was tracking, John threatened to
desert and go back to Vermillion, but when we ran the skiff ashore and
offered to help him build a raft and to give him a week's rations, he
hastily withdrew his proposition. I hoped to be able to leave him at
some fort _en route_, but I found John was too well known, and no one
would accept the horrible responsibility of keeping him for a winter on
any terms. A man like this takes all the pleasure out of a journey when
good temper is the almost invariable rule, and everybody takes his share
of the tracking and wading, the paddling and poling, as part of the
ordinary day's work.

At this time of year, when the water is at its lowest, tracking is a
comparatively easy matter, and taking half-hour spells at a sharp walk
we made good day's journeys, although we should have done much better
with a canoe. It was a hard time for moccasins, but we could get them at
every fort we passed; sometimes we found an Indian encampment on the
bank, and a small present of tea and tobacco to the women ensured neat
patches over the gaping holes in the moose-skin soles.

The fourth day out from Vermillion we reached the mouth of Battle River
coming in from the north, and found a small trading-post with a French
half-breed in charge. He told us that the Indians had been killing a
great many moose, and that he had already bought the dried meat of
sixteen as a start towards his winter stock of provisions; black bear
too were numerous on Battle River, and there were reports of grizzly
having been seen. This would probably be one of the best points from
which to enter the unknown country between Peace River and the Great
Slave Lake.

I never remember to have seen in any part of Canada such a fine autumn
as we enjoyed between Vermillion and the Rockies; there was hardly a
day's rain the whole time, and, although a sharp white frost usually
made a cold camp, the days were bright and at times almost too hot for
tracking. Often we saw the fresh tracks of moose and bear, but never
happened to see an animal of any kind, and as we could afford no time
for hunting did not fire a single shot at big game; geese and ducks we
could have killed every day if there had been any necessity for doing

[Illustration: Junction of the Peace and Smoky Rivers]

Fifteen days of continuous travel from Vermillion took us to the
junction of Smoky River, the principal tributary of the Peace, flowing
towards the south-west not far from some of the head-waters of the
Athabasca. This junction is rather an important point, as it is close to
the end of the waggon-road to the Lesser Slave Lake, lying seventy-five
miles to the south. Here the trading-goods brought overland are loaded
on to scows and boats, to be sent down-stream to Vermillion and
up-stream to Dunvegan, St. John's, and Hudson's Hope. A little above are
Mr. Brick's mission and the farm that I have already spoken of, besides
a settlement of half-breeds, more hunters than farmers, well known as
the laziest and most worthless gang on the whole length of Peace River.
Many efforts have been made to get these people to pay more attention to
their potato-patches as the game is getting killed out, but all in vain;
sometimes they will fence in a piece of ground and plant seed, but will
take no further trouble with the crop, and generally use their
fence-rails for firewood during the next winter. Luckily whitefish are
very plentiful in the Lesser Slave Lake within two days' journey, or
starvation would certainly play havoc at Smoky River.

I enjoyed a long talk with Mr. Brick in his pleasant home in the wilds,
where we spent a night; he kindly furnished me with supplies that I was
short of, and three days afterwards we arrived at Dunvegan, another
celebrated fur-post, situated on the north bank of the river at the
foot of a high bluff known as the Cap. Here again was abundant evidence
of the fertility of the soil in the crops harvested by the Company and
the missionaries. Across the river, twenty miles away, is the Company's
cattle-_ranche_, where the oxen used on the waggon-road are raised and a
fair amount of beef is annually killed. Some thoroughbred stock has been
imported and should prove successful, but of course there is no paying
market for a large amount of cattle, although there are plenty of hungry
people who would be glad of a chance to eat beef.

At Dunvegan, besides Mr. Round who was in charge of the fort, I met Mr.
Ewen Macdonald, the chief of Peace River District, with headquarters at
Lesser Slave Lake. He had just finished his inspection of the upper
river-posts, and had left Hudson's Hope, the last establishment east of
the mountains, a few days previously; he reported that the snow was
already low down on the foot-hills, and advised me strongly to give up
my attempt to cross the Rockies so late in the autumn. He told me,
however, that a free-trader was expected in from the west side of the
mountains, and if I was lucky enough to meet him I should probably be
able to secure the service of some of his crew who would be returning to

Above Dunvegan the valley of the river contracts, the banks rise for
several hundred feet in height, and the strength of the current
increases. The hundred and twenty miles to St. John's took us seven days
and a half to travel, and in many places we had to keep two men on the
line to stem the strong water; the tracking too was bad, as the banks
had fallen in several spots, and John, who had been up and down the
river three times before, proved a very poor pilot. The weather was
colder, and a sheet of ice formed over the back waters and close to the
bank out of the current.

At St. John's we found Mr. Gunn busy with a band of Indians who were
taking their winter supplies, and I had a chance of hearing their
accounts of the wilderness to the north in the direction of the Liard
River; they described it as a muskeg country abounding in game and fur,
but a hard district to reach, as the streams are too rapid for canoes
and the swamps too soft for horses to cross. They occasionally fall in
with a small band of buffalo, but have never seen them in large numbers.
Sometimes by ascending Half-way River, a stream adjoining Peace River
twenty-five miles above St. John's, they meet the Indians from Fort
Nelson on the south branch of the Liard.

We had now passed out of the Cree-speaking belt and the language became
that of the Beaver Indians, a far inferior language to Cree, resembling
in sound and in many of the words some of the dialects of the Chipeweyan
tongue. Mr. Gunn had learned to speak Beaver fluently, and was now
going up to Hudson's Hope to interpret; he was a great help to us both
as pilot and on the line, and with two men always tracking we took
little notice of the strong stream which we found throughout the fifty
miles to the next fort.

Snow was falling heavily when we left St. John's, and it looked as if
the winter had set in, but next day the ground was bare again, and a
west wind from across the mountains blew warm as a summer's breeze. We
camped for a night at the mouth of Half-way River, heading towards the
north through a wide open bay which seems to invite exploration. A
considerable quantity of gold dust has been taken out of some of the
gravel-bars along this part of Peace River, and Half-way River is
supposed to be a paradise for the miner and hunter, but I could not hear
of any white man having ever penetrated far up this valley. On the
afternoon of Sunday, October 26th, on rounding a bend in the river, we
caught our first glimpse of the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains that
I had travelled so far to reach; but the sublime is often mixed with the
ludicrous, and when John in his admiration of the scenery slipped off a
narrow ledge of shale along which he was tracking and fell with an oath
into the river, the snowy peaks were forgotten in the joy that always
greets other people's misfortunes in this sort of travelling.

A short distance below Hudson's Hope we passed a remarkable group of
high basaltic islands, differing entirely from anything in the
neighbourhood, and affording a strong contrast to the low gravelly
islands so numerous in the course of this river. In the afternoon of the
27th we unloaded the skiff and hauled her up on the beach in front of
the fort, to lie there till anybody might want to run her down-stream
the following spring.

Hudson's Hope is a small unpretentious establishment, standing on the
south side of Peace River, a mile below the wild cañon by which this
great stream forces its way through the most easterly range of the Rocky
Mountains. The Indians were all encamped in their moose-skin lodges on
the flat close to the fort waiting for the trade to begin, and I was
surprised to hear how few representatives of the once numerous tribe of
Beavers are left. It is the same at St. John's and Dunvegan, and the
total Indian population of the upper Peace River cannot exceed three
hundred, an immense falling off since Sir Alexander Mackenzie first
crossed the mountains by this route. The biggest lodge was occupied by
Baptiste Testerwich, a half-breed Iroquois, descended from the Iroquois
crew left here many years ago by Sir George Simpson, formerly Governor
of the Hudson's Bay Company. Baptiste had a house at Moberley's Lake
twelve miles to the south, and is well known as the most successful and
most enduring of moose-hunters. A remarkable point about the man is his
hardiness and indifference to cold; in the dead of winter he wears no
socks in his moccasins, which to any other man would mean a certainty of
frozen feet, and the Indians say that his feet are so hot that the snow
melts in his tracks in the coldest weather.

Once again arose the trouble about guides to take us to Macleod's Lake.
John had been there before, but I had already seen too much of his
piloting to trust myself in his hands, and was quite sure that he would
lose his way if there was the least possibility of doing so. The
free-trader from across the mountains had not yet arrived, and as it was
getting late in the year there was a chance of his being frozen in
before he reached Hudson's Hope. Besides the Peace River route there is
the Pine River Pass, farther to the southward, heading almost directly
to Macleod's Lake. A party of surveyors once came through this pass
several years ago, and the Indians use it habitually in the summer; but
none of the Beavers would volunteer to guide us through at this time of
the year, as a heavy snowfall might be expected immediately.

I decided to wait a few days for the trader, and we had a very festive
time at Hudson's Hope; a ball was given every night, and the
moose-dance, rabbit-dance, and duck-dance were kept up till the small
hours. A ball is not an expensive entertainment at an out-of-the-way
trading-post; no invitations are necessary, but a scrape of the fiddle
at the door of the master's house fills the ball-room in a few minutes.
If the master is in a liberal state of mind, a cup of tea is provided
for his guests, but in any case the river is close, and if anyone is
thirsty there is plenty of water. On the third night the ceremonies were
interrupted by the sound of a gunshot on the opposite bank, and an
Indian came across with the news that the trader had arrived at the west
end of the cañon with two small scows, and that some of his crew were
going back to Quesnelle.

Baptiste lent me a horse on the following day, and I rode over to
interview the new arrivals. A fair trail, twelve miles in length on the
north side of the river, leads to the navigable water above the cañon,
while the stream runs a circuitous course of probably thirty miles. I
could get little information as to the nature of this cañon; even the
Indians seem to avoid it, and, though accounts of it have been written,
nobody appears to have thoroughly explored this exceptionally rough
piece of country. I went down a few miles from the west end, but found
the bluffs so steep that I could seldom get a view of the water, and
could form no idea of the character of the rapids and waterfalls. There
is some quiet place in the middle of the cañon where the Indians cross
on the ice, but beyond this they could tell me little about it.

Right in the centre of the gap by which the trail crosses stands the
Bull's Head, a solitary mountain well known to travellers coming from
the west, as it can be seen many miles away, and in full view to the
south is a huge flat-topped mountain, covered with perpetual snow and
fit to rank with any of the giants of the main range. The trail reaches
a considerable elevation above the river level, and from the summit the
upper waters of the Peace are seen winding away to the west, through a
broad valley flanked by hills of ever increasing height, as far as the
eye can reach. Close to the river the slopes are open or thinly timbered
with pine and poplar, but the big mountains are clothed nearly to their
summits with the dense, almost impassable, forest growth which is such a
common feature in the scenery as the Pacific Coast is approached.

At the far end of the portage, on the bank of the river, stand a rough
shanty and trading-store. Here I made the acquaintance of Twelvefoot
Davis, who acquired this name, not from any peculiarity of stature, but
from a small though valuable mining claim of which he had been the lucky
possessor in the early days of British Columbia. A typical man of his
class is Davis, and his story is that of many a man who has spent his
life just in advance of civilization. Born in the Eastern States of
America, a 'Forty-niner in California, and a pioneer of the Caribou
Diggings discovered far up the Fraser River in 'Sixty-one, he had
eventually taken to fur-trading, which has ever such an attraction for
the wandering spirit of the miner. Here among the mountains and rivers
where formerly he sought the yellow dust he carries on his roaming life.
There is a strong kinship between the two enterprises; the same
uncertainty exists, and in each case the mythical stake is always just
ahead. No failure ever damps the ardour of miner or fur-trader, or puts
a stop to his pleasant dreams of monster nuggets and silver foxes.

Davis was making all possible haste in packing his cargo across the
portage with horses; an Indian and a half-breed were going back to
Quesnelle, and would gladly enter my service as guides. A small stock of
goods was to be left at the west end of the portage, and Thomas Barrow,
the only white man who had come down with Davis, was to remain in charge
of the trading-post during the winter.


On November 5th I camped at the head of the cañon with my crew, Murdo,
John, Charlie, a half-breed from Quesnelle, and Pat, a full-blooded
Siccanee from Fraser Lake ready to make a start up-stream the following
morning with a long narrow canoe dug out of a cotton-wood log. But in
the night the weather changed; snow fell heavily, a severe frost set in,
and ice was forming rapidly along the banks. Baptiste, the Iroquois, who
had come across the portage to see us off, had brought me a dozen pair
of the best moose-skin moccasins from his daughters, who were beyond
compare the _belles_ of Hudson's Hope. Baptiste had spent many years of
his life in this part of the country, and I was quite ready to listen to
his opinion on the chances of getting through to Macleod's Lake. He
would not hear of our starting with a canoe under the changed conditions
of weather: it was the winter; the ice would catch us in less than three
days, and we should be lucky if we could get back on foot through the
deep snow. His advice was to wait a fortnight till the river set fast,
and occupy ourselves in making hand-sleighs, while he would make us five
pairs of snow-shoes, and then we might walk the two hundred miles to
Macleod's Lake in comfort. Accordingly I gave orders for the lodge,
which we still had with us, to be pitched in a clump of poplars a short
distance above Barrow's house, and we busied ourselves with cutting
birch and bending sleighs in readiness for our trip.

The cold snap continued for several days, but very little ice was
running, although the eddies and backwaters were frozen up; then the
weather grew milder again, and I could see that we had missed our
chance. It was past the middle of November, and the river, by all
accounts, is usually frozen solid at this time of year; it seemed too
risky to start out so late to try and make a passage with open water.
Meantime we were taking things easily when, as it turned out, we should
have been travelling; there was not much to shoot beyond wood-grouse and
rabbits, but with these we could keep the pot going, and time went
pleasantly enough in short expeditions into the surrounding hills.

And now a warm Chinook wind came sweeping across from the Pacific, and
licked up the snow from the ground, while the ice broke away from the
banks and drifted down in little floes to be ground to pieces in the
cañon. I could bear the inactivity no longer, and, with a recklessness
that I had plenty of opportunity to repent later on, gave orders on
November 25th for the canoe to be got ready on the morrow to start
up-stream and take the chances of being caught by the ice in the main
range of the Rocky Mountains. I consulted Charlie and Pat about the
route, and they both said they could make no mistake in finding the way
to the Hudson's Bay Fort on Macleod's Lake, as they had just come down
the river, and Charlie had made the journey the year before; if we could
succeed in getting to the junction of the Findlay and Parsnip, just
beyond the big mountains, before the ice caught us, there could be no
difficulty in reaching the fort on foot in about four days' travel.

At the risk of being verbose and boring any reader who has struggled
thus far through the record of my wanderings in the North, I must now
enter somewhat fully into the details of travel, and describe minutely
the events that happened during the next month, in order to answer once
for all the numerous questions that I have been asked as to what took
place on that terrible winter journey in the Rocky Mountains. When I
reached civilization again, and found that part of the story had leaked
out, I received plenty of gratuitous advice as to what I should have
done and where I should have gone, from people who had never themselves
been in a like predicament, and had no further knowledge of hardship
than perhaps having had to pay a long price for a second-rate dinner. I
discovered that the easiest method of satisfying them was to let them
tell the tale of my adventures in their own way, and assent readily to
their convincing proofs that if they had been there all would have gone
well. I admit freely that it was a stupid act to leave a supply-post so
late in the year, unprovided as we were with the necessary outfit for
winter travelling; but think I was justified in trusting to the local
knowledge of my native guides to bring our party in safety to Macleod's
Lake after we were forced to abandon the canoe.

Walter Macdonald, a son of Mr. Ewen Macdonald of Lesser Slave Lake, and
Tom Barrow both gave me every assistance in their power to provision my
crew for what is usually an eight or nine days' journey. Meat was not to
be had, and there was little chance of finding big game along the course
of the river, but a hundred pounds of flour, a few pounds of beans and
rice, and a small sack of potatoes, besides plenty of tea and tobacco,
would surely last us this short journey, and, even if we found it
impossible to travel quickly, a few days of short rations could easily
be endured.

It was late in the afternoon of Wednesday, November 26th, when I started
the canoe off, and the sun was down before I had settled up accounts and
said good-bye to the friends whom I did not expect to meet again for
many a long day. The moon was full, and I had no difficulty in finding
my way six miles through the woods to an old miner's cabin at which we
had arranged to camp for the night. At the first streak of dawn we were
off again, travelling our best with two and sometimes three men on the
line; the current was strong, but the tracking on the gravel-bars
perfect. That night there was a heavy snowstorm, while the ground froze
hard and caused many a nasty fall on the slippery stones during the next
two days. On Saturday morning cakes of soft ice began to run, but we
found that most of them were brought down by a large tributary coming
from the north, and above its mouth the river was comparatively clear of
ice. The same afternoon we reached the entrance to the main range of
mountains, and under the first peak of the chain tracked up a strong
rush of water with a heavy sea at its foot, commonly known as the Polpar
Rapid, a curious corruption of _la Rapide qui ne parle pas_, so named by
the old _voyageurs_ from the absence of the roar of waters which usually
gives ample warning of the proximity of a rapid. Part of the cargo we
portaged to keep it dry, and above the strong water lay a quiet stretch
of river, winding away in the gloomy black chasm between the huge
mountains, which in many places takes the form of a sheer bluff hanging
over the stream.

We camped just above the Polpar, and another night's snow made the
tracking worse than ever; often it was necessary to put the line aboard
and take to the paddles, to struggle round some steep point upon which a
coating of frozen snow made it impossible to stand. Ice was running in
large pans and steering was difficult, but we got on fairly well, and
were far in the heart of the mountains when we camped on Sunday night
under one of the steepest and most forbidding peaks that I ever remember
to have seen in any part of the Rockies.

Monday was really cold, and our difficulties increased; the tow-line was
sheeted with ice and three times its ordinary weight, while the channel
was in many places almost blocked; poles and paddles had to be handled
with numbed fingers, and our moccasins from constant wading turned into
heavy lumps of ice; but we pushed on, and at nightfall had passed the
mountains and emerged into a more inviting country. It was evident,
however, that canoe-work was nearly over for the year, but we determined
to make one more attempt, as the junction of the Findlay and Parsnip was
not far ahead, and there was just a chance that the ice was coming from
the Findlay and we might find the Parsnip, up which our course lay,
clear enough for navigation. On Tuesday we made the most dangerous day's
travel that I ever experienced in a canoe; the river was far too full of
ice to handle even a "dug-out" with safety, and we had to make many
crossings in the swift current among the running floes. I made it a
point that everybody should keep on the same side of the river to assure
our all being together in case of accident, and we had several narrow
escapes from being nipped. At dinner-time we came in sight of the
broken water of the Findlay Rapid, and found the big eddy on the south
side of the river completely blocked with ice. We went through the risky
manoeuvre of skirting the edge of the eddy with the floes whirling round
us in the strong running water, and, finding a solid spot, hauled the
canoe over the ice to the shore, making a half-mile portage to the foot
of the rapid. A very close shave of capsizing filled the canoe with
water; but the second attempt at tracking through the swift current and
blocks of ice was more successful, and, as the short day was drawing to
its close, we were paddling under a high bluff which prevented our using
the tracking-line. Here darkness caught us, and our position was
perilous in the extreme; the current was so strong that our best pace
was required to stem it at all, and many times we had to drift back to
avoid collision with the ice that was grinding past us. A couple of
hours' hard work brought us to the first spot at which we could effect a
landing, but it was no easy matter to carry the cargo up the frozen
bank; we secured the canoe as well as we could, and found ourselves on a
small flat covered with willows and abundance of firewood. Towards
midnight the grinding of the ice became less noticeable and before
daylight ceased entirely; the river above us had set fast and further
water-travel was impossible. When morning broke we saw the Findlay
branch completely jambed with ice stretching away to the north-west,
and the Parsnip bending sharply to the south presented a similar

A glance at our position is not out of place, and a good map might have
saved us from the serious trouble we afterwards experienced.

Far away in the mountains of British Columbia, in a country little known
to the white man and at no great distance from the Pacific Ocean, the
Findlay River has its source, while the Parsnip rises close under the
Rocky Mountains on their west side, and, skirting the foot-hills, joins
the Findlay at the spot where we now encamped. Below the junction the
stream, already of considerable size and known as the Peace River, pours
through the black rent in the backbone of the North American continent
many thousands of feet below the summits of the mountains, and takes its
course towards the Arctic Ocean at the mouth of the great Mackenzie. The
most extraordinary feature in this reversion of the laws of Nature is
the extreme tranquillity of the stream in passing through the main
range, for with the exception of the Findlay and Polpar Rapid, one at
either end of the pass, there is no difficulty in navigating a canoe. In
passing the eastern range above Hudson's Hope the cañon is rough to the
last degree, and one would expect to find the same thing among the
higher mountains. A third branch, the Omineca, once a celebrated
mining-camp, joins the Findlay, but is a much smaller stream. To reach
Fort Macleod we had to follow the Parsnip and turn up a tributary branch
known as Macleod's River, draining Macleod's Lake into the Parsnip.

I had another long conversation with Charlie and Pat as to the best plan
of action, and pointed out to them that if there was the least doubt
about finding the lake we might still get back to Hudson's Hope, as by
the aid of a few portages over ice-jambs one can travel down-stream in
company with the floes long after it has become impossible to force a
passage against them, and when we reached the east end of the pass it
would be easy to walk through the level country. But both the guides
laughed at the idea of their getting lost, and again reminded me of the
fact that only a few weeks before they had come from Macleod. If we
could cross the Parsnip, they said, we had only to follow the west bank
till we came to the Little River, and then half a day would take us to
the fort; in four days from now, or five at the latest, we should reach
the end of our journey. The morning of December 4th was spent in making
a scaffold on which to store my rather bulky cargo, which of course had
to be left with the intention of returning from Fort Macleod with a
dog-sleigh. After dinner we started on foot, every man carrying his
blanket and a small load of provisions, kettles, and necessaries of
various kinds. I decided to take no gun, as I only had a dozen
shot-cartridges left, and a gun is always an impediment in walking
through the woods, although there is a good old saying in the North that
men should not part with their guns till the women throw away their

One thing that I thought might cause some trouble was the fact of our
having no snow-shoes, and the snow would soon be deep enough to require
them. We took all our beans and rice, but left about thirty pounds of
flour in a sack on the scaffold, thinking it needlessly heavy to carry,
and that it was better to run short for a day or two than overload
ourselves and prevent rapid travelling.

The ice was piled up high on the banks, and we began badly by climbing
over a steep hill covered with such heavy timber that the pace was slow,
and it was night when we came out on the bank of the Parsnip not more
than four miles from our last camp. The next day we did rather better,
but, getting among burnt timber and deep snow, had many heavy falls. In
the evening we found a jamb in the river, and, making rather a risky
crossing with the chance of our ice-bridge breaking up at any moment,
camped on the Macleod side, thinking that we were now surely safe
enough, and the worst thing that could happen might be a little
starvation before we reached the fort. Then came two days of fair
travelling, sometimes on the ice and sometimes in the woods, but the
latter were so thick that it was hard to get through them at all.

I have never seen a river freeze in the remarkable manner that the
Parsnip set fast this summer. The first jamb had probably taken place at
the junction of the Findlay; the water had backed up till it stood at a
higher level than the summer floods, and the gravel beach was deeply
submerged. There was no appearance of shore-ice, as the constant rise
and fall in the water prevented a gradual freezing; jambs would form and
break up again, and huge blocks of ice were forced on each other in
every conceivable position. Often too the ice was flooded, and it was
already cold enough to freeze wet feet; the backwaters were full, and
the ice on them usually under water or hanging from the banks without
support; the shores were fringed with a tangled mass of willows, heavily
laden with snow and their roots often standing in water, while behind,
rising to the summit of rough broken hills, was the dense pine-growth of
the great sub-Arctic forest.

John caused a good deal of delay by not keeping up, and I did not like
to leave him far behind, as he was clumsy on the ice, and there were
many treacherous spots where black running water showed in strong
contrast to the snow, and the gurgle of a swift current suggested an
unpleasant ending to the unlucky man who should break through. Everybody
carried an axe or a stick to sound the ice, and, excepting near the
banks where the water had fallen away from the ice, there were no
mishaps. Further delay was caused by our frequently having to light a
fire to dry moccasins and keep our feet from freezing.

On the fourth night after abandoning the canoe we camped close to a
coffin hung between two trees, as is the fashion of the Siccanees in
dealing with their dead; the guide recognised this coffin, and told me
we should certainly be at the fort in two days. Beans and rice were
finished, but we had flour enough left for another day, and this we
baked into bread to save trouble in cooking later on, and on the
following day made a fair journey considering the bad state of the ice.

The next morning, after eating our last bite of bread, we were going to
try for the fort, and to lighten our load left behind the kettles, for
which we had no more use, while some of us were rash enough to leave our
blankets; we expected to be back with the dog-sleigh in a few days, and
could then pick up everything.

The water had risen again in the night and the ice was useless for
travelling on, so on the guide's advice we left the river on the west
bank, and climbing the rough hills walked along the ridge in a
south-westerly direction, expecting every hour to fall upon the little
river running out of Macleod's Lake. When night caught us we were still
in the woods, and, although there was no supper and snow was falling
softly, a bright fire and the prospect of reaching the fort in the
morning kept us in good spirits enough. I was one of the unfortunates
without a blanket, and was glad to see daylight come again and with it a
cessation of the snowstorm. During the last few days rabbit-tracks had
been frequently seen in the snow and grouse were plentiful, but we had
no means of securing game of any kind.

To make as sure as possible of getting food the next day, I sent Murdo
and Charlie ahead without loads to make the best of their way to the
fort, while Pat and myself would stay by John, who was already in
difficulties, and carry the packs.

Starting without breakfast is the worst part of these starving times.
The walking for the first two hours was very hard, through a thick
growth of young pines rising among the blackened stumps and fallen logs
of a burnt forest, up and down steep gullies, with the snow from the
branches pouring down our necks, and our loads often bringing us up with
a sudden jerk as they stuck between two little trees. John soon gave up
his pack, and left it hanging on a bough, where it remains probably till
the present day. About mid-day we came to the end of the ridge and
looked up the wide valley of the Parsnip. Far below us we could trace
its windings, and branching away to the mountains in the west was a
stream that Pat instantly declared to be Macleod's River. Towards
sundown we lit a fire on a high bank above the stream, and John in a
fatuous manner remarked that he recognised the place where he had camped
with a boat's crew some years before. We followed the fresh tracks of
our advanced party, and turning our backs on the Parsnip walked on good
shore-ice till darkness compelled us to camp. I was rather surprised to
find that the river was not frozen up and had much more current than I
had expected, but, as both John and Pat were quite certain that all was
right, I had not the least doubt that we had at last reached Macleod's
River and should arrive at the fort in good time the next day.

Another sleepless night gave me plenty of time for reflection while John
was comfortably rolled up in a blanket that I had been carrying all day.
Four months had passed, and many a hundred miles of lake and river
travelled, since David had seen the first star on that summer's night
far away in the Barren Ground; now I thought my journey was nearly over,
for two hundred miles on snow-shoes from Fort Macleod to Quesnelle, and
three hundred miles of waggon-road from Quesnelle to the Canadian
Pacific Railway, counted as nothing. It was true that we had not tasted
food for two days, and rations had been short for some time past; but it
was by no means my first experience of starvation, and to-morrow
evening at the latest we should be in the midst of luxury once more. It
was satisfactory to think that we had succeeded in forcing our way
through the Rocky Mountains in the face of the winter, and were every
day approaching a country made temperate by the breezes of the Pacific;
already the cedars, to be found only on the west side of the main range,
were showing among the pines.

With the first grey light in the east I roused my companions, and we
started on shore-ice at a good pace with the prospect of breakfast
ahead. Pat broke through shortly after leaving camp, and, as he was
afraid of freezing his feet, we lit a fire to dry his moccasins, and the
sun was up when we set out again. A couple of hours later we saw a thin
blue column of smoke rising straight up into the sky, and a nearer
approach showed that it came from the chimney of a cabin hidden in the
woods; a cheering sight at first, but directly we reached the trail
leading up from the river I knew that something was wrong, and something
wrong at such a time meant something very wrong indeed.

I had spent too much of my life among the woods and mountains to be
unable to read the easy writing in the snow; two tracks leading up the
river late overnight, and the same two tracks quite fresh coming
down-stream and turning up the trail. Murdo and Charlie must be in the
cabin, and could not have reached the fort; if they had been coming
back with supplies they would never have put ashore with starving men so
close up. Pushing open the rough door we found them sitting one on each
side of a small fire of cedar-chips that were just crackling into a
blaze. "Have you been to the fort, Murdo?" I asked, needlessly enough.
"No." "Why not? What is the matter?" "Charlie says it is the wrong
river; we are lost, like d----d fools."

Murdo had described the situation concisely enough, and I fully realised
the awful position we were in; lost and starving in the mountains with
no guns to procure food, no snow-shoes with which to travel over the
increasing depth of snow, and no clothes to withstand the cold of
mid-winter which was already upon us.

There was still a hope, for Charlie was not quite ready to admit that he
was mistaken. Our advance party had turned back on seeing a rapid, and
even now could not give me any accurate description of this obstacle to
navigation; if it was so bad that a scow could not run down, it was
obvious that this could not be Macleod's River, for I knew that no
portage was necessary to reach the lake. Pat was still sure that he had
recognised many places this morning, but could not say anything about
the log-cabin; it stood back from the river, and there was a chance that
people, passing quickly down-stream, might have missed seeing it when
the foliage was thick on the willows. The best plan seemed to first
make sure about the rapid, so we started up-stream to inspect it. I was
very doubtful of any good result coming from this move, when I saw that
the strength of the current increased, and the mountains on each side of
the stream grew higher and steeper. Soon we passed a newly-built
beaver-house, which certainly was a strange object on the side of a
travelled river, and in a couple of hours reached the rapid. Surely this
was enough to make anyone turn back; a heavy shute of broken water down
which no scow could ever run without being smashed to pieces; even Pat
now acknowledged that he was hopelessly lost. A valuable day had been
wasted, and the sun was down before we came again to the cabin, where we
decided on spending the night. Three days we had been starving, and it
was fully time to take the first steps by which men in our desperate
position seek to maintain life as long as possible. A thorough search in
the shanty produced nothing of value but an old lard-tin which would
serve as a kettle; there were many empty boxes, labelled with enticing
names and pictures of canned fruit and of fat cattle that had been
converted into "Armour's Preserved Beef" at Kansas City, Missouri; a
large number of rotten sacks, marked "Oregon Flour Patent Roller
Process," showed that someone had spent a winter here, and an iron
bottle containing a little quicksilver proved that he had been a miner
by occupation. A board, with a notice in pencil that two men, whose
names I forget, had arrived here from Sandy Bar in a day and a half,
conveyed no meaning to us.

Among the necessary articles that we had been carrying was a large piece
of dressed moose-skin for mending moccasins, and this seemed the most
edible thing we could find; five small strips, three inches in length
and an inch broad, were cut off and put into the lard-tin to boil for
supper. We discovered Labrador tea growing in the woods, and made a brew
with the leaves as soon as we thought the moose-skin was soft enough to
eat. Rabbit-snares were made by unravelling a piece of string and set in
the runs, but after trying this plan on several nights not a rabbit was
caught, though we sometimes had the mortification of finding a broken
snare. After supper of moose-skin and Labrador tea we felt in better
spirits, and with a good fire and a pipe of tobacco discussed our
position seriously enough.

Euclid, when he found himself incapable of proving that any particular
angle or line was the exact size that he desired, had a habit of
supposing it to be of some other magnitude, and by enlarging upon the
absurdity of this supposition so completely puzzled the aspiring student
that he was glad to admit any statement that the inventor of the
proposition suggested. This does well enough on paper, but starving men
have no time to put this plan to the test of practice, and when they
find that a river is not the one they supposed it to be are at a loss
to tell what stream it really is.

Charlie, Pat, and John, who had all been to Macleod's Lake before, told
me frequently that they had never heard of any river coming into the
Parsnip on the west side between the Findlay and Macleod's River. Now,
in a boating journey the talk is always of points and rivers, and the
mouth of any tributary is always commented upon, so it seemed unlikely
that they should have passed by this large stream without noticing it;
nor had they heard of any miner's cabin, which must certainly have been
spoken of in a country where houses are scarce. There was a possibility
that we had come too far and missed the mouth of Macleod's River, for we
had sometimes travelled on the east side of the Parsnip to take
advantage of better ice or a thinner growth of timber, and I had heard
David say that the Little River was not easy for a stranger to find. In
any case it was better to retrace our steps to the mouth of the stream
that we had been following, to see if our guides could recognise any
landmark, for the hills were conspicuous and sometimes of remarkable

At daylight on December 10th we left the cabin and made tracks
down-stream, taking with us the lard-tin in which we had boiled more
moose-skin for breakfast. So far we had lost no strength and, with the
exception of John, who was always behind, were going strong and well.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached the river and once again
stood on the bank of the Parsnip. Across on the east side rose a
high-cut bank of yellow clay, a mark that any one should recognise who
had ever seen it before; but Charlie and Pat both put on a hopeless
blank expression when I asked them if they knew the place. No, they
said, they had never seen it before in their lives. Six weeks before
they had passed right under that cut bank in a scow, and less than forty
miles up-stream would have taken us to the fort if we had only known it.
These men were a half-breed and an Indian, supposed to be gifted with
that extraordinary instinct of finding their way in all circumstances
which is denied to the white man. John was just as much to blame,
although it was some years ago that he travelled down the Parsnip; long
afterwards, when all the trouble was over, he confided to me, as an
excuse for his ignorance, that he had been very drunk when he left
Macleod and was unable to make any accurate observations as to courses
and distances.

There was nothing to be done but turn down the Parsnip again and keep a
bright look-out for the mouth of the little river, in case we had passed
it. The ice was too much flooded to walk on, and we camped high up on
the mountain-side in heavy falling snow. Another misfortune befell us
here; the bottom of the lard-tin was burnt out during the process of
melting snow, and we had to give up the small comfort of moose-skin and
wild tea. Murdo and myself spent a wretched night cowering over the fire
with the snow falling down our backs, for we were still without
blankets; daylight saw us struggling through the thick growth of young
pines and an increased depth of snow, till at noon, when everybody was
thoroughly exhausted and John had nearly given up all hope, we found
ourselves stopped on the side-hill by a series of bluffs which no one
felt equal to scaling. Fifteen hundred feet below us lay the river, and
as a desperate alternative we descended the mountain, with many bruises
from stumbling over logs hidden by the snow, to find that the water had
fallen in the night, and the ice, though rough in the extreme, was dry
enough to travel on. After the night had closed down over the forest we
reached the place where the kettles and blankets had been left, and
things looked a little brighter with the prospect of tea and a night's
sleep; but we knew now that Fort Macleod must lie behind us, although
there was little inducement to make another attempt to reach it with
such untrustworthy guides. Our only chance of life was to reach the
entrance of the Peace River Pass, where thirty pounds of flour lay on a
rough scaffold exposed to the mercy of the wolverines!


Snow fell again in the night and increased our difficulties. For a day
and a half we forced our way, sometimes on rough ice and sometimes
through the thick willow bushes, with frequent rests as exhaustion
overtook us, till we again saw the Siccanee coffin hung in the trees.
Here we found the flour-sack that had been thrown away on our up-stream
journey, and scraped off perhaps half a pound of flour which had stuck
to the sack when wet. At the same time a mouse was caught in the snow,
and, with no further preparation than singeing off the hair, was cut
into strips and boiled with the flour into a thin soup. Every man
carried a tin cup in his belt, so a careful distribution of the precious
soup was made, and the last pipe of tobacco smoked; we certainly derived
a little strength from this unexpected supply, and our spirits improved
greatly for a short time.

The weather now turned colder and its increased severity told on us
heavily, for our clothes were torn to rags by pushing through the woods,
and a starving man through loss of flesh always feels the cold more
severely than a man in good condition. We often had to light a fire to
prevent our feet from freezing when wet from walking on flooded ice or
breaking through near the shore. The river was still open in places and
continually altering its level. John was always far behind, and I
expected to see him drop at any time; but he had the advantage of
starting fatter than the rest of us, and took good care of himself,
always hanging in the rear and coming into camp when the labour of
throwing out the snow and getting wood was accomplished. Never once
during the whole of this march did he go ahead to break a trail through
the snow, which is of course the most fatiguing work of all.

A little before sundown on December 17th, the tenth day without eating
anything but small scraps of moose-skin and the soup at the coffin-camp,
we staggered among huge blocks of ice, passed the junction of the
Findlay, and soon afterwards arrived at the _cache_. It was an anxious
moment as I crawled up the frozen bank and waded through the snow to the
scaffold; no wolverine tracks were to be seen, and the flour was lying
untouched. Camp was made, a kettle of thick paste boiled, and a cupful
eaten every half-hour to prevent any ill effects from straining the
weakened organs of the digestion.

But we were by no means out of our difficulties yet. Thirty pounds of
flour, without meat, is the ordinary amount that would be given to five
men for two days, without taking into account the fact that we had been
starving for a long time and were now reduced to skeletons. Before us
was the main range of the Rocky Mountains; the snow would be drifted
deep in the narrow pass, and travel would be slow, if indeed we got
through at all. Another serious trouble was the state of our moccasins;
as they wore out we had eaten them, and were now wearing rough apologies
for shoes which we had made out of the moose-skin that was quickly
getting very small under the constant demands made upon it for various

In the morning I measured the flour very carefully with a cup into
different loads, so that I might be able to keep account of the quantity
that was used, and, taking a gun and what few cartridges were left, we
started for Tom Barrow's cabin, which we hoped to be able to reach in
three or four days if the ice should prove good. In this we were
terribly disappointed, for at the end of the second day, after wading
through deep snow, and frequently putting ashore to light a fire on
account of the intense cold, we camped but a short distance below the
Findlay Rapid. John's feet were frozen already, and all of us were
touched in the face; there was always great difficulty in lighting a
match with numbed fingers, but birch-bark was plentiful, and being
readily inflammable was nearly sure to blaze up at once. Our only
remaining axe was almost useless from having been carelessly left for a
night in the fire. Much of the snow had drifted off the ice and was
lying three and four feet deep on the banks, increasing the labour of
making camp and picking up firewood, for we were too weak to do any
effectual chopping even if our axe had been in good condition. Without
snow-shoes it was impossible to walk through the forest in the hope of
finding grouse; and, after one or two efforts, the exertion of wading
waist-deep through snow that reached to the belt was found too great,
and the attempt was abandoned.

On the third day a blizzard swept through the pass, completely obscuring
the opposite bank of the river, which was here quite narrow. We
attempted to travel against it, but found our faces were frozen before
going a quarter of a mile. Murdo and myself had always to light the
matches, as the other men suffered more from the cold than we did; I
knew that my hands were already useless, and that if we continued to
force our way against the storm there would be little chance of starting
a fire further on. I gave orders to turn back for the camp, and we spent
the short day in keeping up the fire that was still burning. Besides the
drift, a gust of wind would often send down the masses of snow that had
gathered on the branches, putting out our little blaze and filling up
the hole that we had dug in the snow, while the boughs themselves often
fell dangerously close to the camp. The allowance of flour was cut down
to two cupfuls among five men, and this was eaten in the form of paste,
which we found more satisfying than bread. The Labrador tea was buried
deep under the snow, and from this time no more was obtained.

The shortening of rations produced grumbling in the camp, especially
from John, who declared that it was better to eat well while the little
flour lasted, to gain strength to take us to the trading-post. Murdo was
more sensible in this respect, but was beginning to lose the full use of
his head, and, besides the strong aversion he had always shown to John,
now developed a passionate hatred to Charlie and Pat, whom rightly
enough he held responsible for our position. This ill-feeling among the
various members of our party was increased tenfold by an episode which
took place on the following day. The morning was very cold but with less
wind, and, although our faces froze again, we pushed on for an hour or
two and then made a fire on the bank. Here we left the Indian and
half-breed drying their moccasins, and continued travelling down stream
to make a camp for the mid-day halt, knowing that the others could catch
us up easily with the advantage of our road through the snow; this they
did just as our fire was blazing up. I asked Charlie for his flour, as
so far we had not used any from his load, but when he produced it there
was not more than a cupful left in the bag. I had given him five pounds
of flour to carry, and at once knew that our guides, who had caused all
the trouble, had now been guilty of stealing food, when our lives
depended on the scanty store that we had picked up at the _cache_. For
this offence, at such a time, there is but one punishment: a man on the
point of starving to death cares little whether you cut off the dollar a
day that he is earning or not; a blow struck would have fired the train
of discontent that was ready to explode;--the only course open to me, if
the offenders were to be punished at all, was to put an end to them both
with the shot-gun that I carried. For a long time I debated this
question while a few spoonfuls of flour were boiled for dinner, and
finally decided to let matters take their course; there were still seven
or eight pounds of flour left, and by further reduction of rations we
might keep ourselves alive for a few more days; the weather might be
warmer, the ice less rough, and the snowfall lighter if we could reach
the far end of the pass, but at present things looked very black indeed.
Flesh and strength were failing rapidly; this loss of provisions would
tell heavily, and travelling through the gloomy pass under the high
mountains was more laborious than words can describe. It was no good
refusing to give the thieves their share of rations, as this might
induce them to strike a blow in the night, and deal us the death that
they themselves deserved; but the question might still have to be
decided, in case of a man dropping, whether his life should be
sacrificed and the offenders allowed to go free. If affairs came to the
point which everything seemed to indicate, there could now be no fair
drawing of lots to see who should die that the survivors might support
themselves by the last resource of all.

The weather continued cold, and frozen feet caused many delays; there
was no chance here to treat a frost-bite by the tender methods of
thawing with snow and rubbing with oil that are practised in
civilization, but feet were thrust into a blazing fire and allowed to
blister as they would. John and Charlie suffered greatly from this
cause, and their pain in walking was much increased. These delays were
serious, for although the Peace River Pass lies as far to the south as
the 56th parallel of latitude the days were at their shortest.

For three more days we continued wading through the snowdrifts, and
crawling over rough ice, continually changing our leader, till on
December 24th we were stopped by another blizzard, and forced to lie in
camp all day. Rations were by this time cut down to a spoonful of flour
in the morning and a strip of moose-skin at night for each man. Not more
than a pound of flour was left, and the storm, far too fierce for such
wretched skeletons to face, might continue for several days. Our
situation seemed utterly hopeless as we crouched over the fire that was
with difficulty maintained, and apparently the end had come. There was
none of the kindly sympathy for companions in misfortune which men who
share a common danger should have: a mutual distrust was prevalent;
hatred and the wolfish madness of hunger ruled the camp; and to this day
I cannot understand how it was that the fatal spark was never struck,
and no tragedy of murder and cannibalism enacted on the banks of that
ice-bound river without witnesses save the great silent mountains and
the God who made them.

Christmas Day brought rather better weather, although snow was still
falling quietly, and, finding open water in the river with shore-ice on
which the snow was not so deep as usual, there was a great improvement
in our case. An accident, however, occurred which nearly put an end to
two of the party. Charlie and Pat, who were leading at the time,
ventured too near the edge of the open water and broke through, not only
to the knees or waist, as had so often happened, but over their heads in
deep water with a strong current, and we had some trouble in pulling
them out. It was very important that we should make a fire at once, as
the temperature was many degrees below zero, and the men drenched to the
skin began to freeze directly. The accident had taken place under a long
steep bluff, and from where we stood no firewood was to be seen on our
side of the river within a couple of miles. By the greatest good
fortune, on turning a point we found a huge tree that had fallen over
the cliff and lay on the beach smashed up into firewood, as if it had
been prepared specially for our use. A blaze was soon started, and the
two half-drowned men left to dry themselves. The most unfortunate part
of the affair was the wetting of the matches which they carried. I had
divided these precious articles among the men in case of accidents of
this kind, for without fire we should have had no chance of saving our
lives; as it turned out we never ran short of matches and never once
missed making fire, although there was often trouble in procuring wood;
we were far too weak to handle a big log, but usually found a dead
cotton-wood tree, from which the bark is easily pulled and makes the
best of fires.

In the afternoon we passed the Polpar Rapid, which was completely frozen
up, and emerging from the pass caught the first sight of the sun, that
had been hidden from us for many days by the high mountains. The ice
below the rapid continued fairly good till nightfall, when we were
forced to camp, although the moon was full and we tried to travel by her
light. But although it was easy enough to see close ahead, it was
impossible to pick out the line of the best ice, and the labour of
travelling was increased by having to force our way through drifts and
piled-up ice that we might have avoided in daylight.

Soon after leaving camp on the following morning a grouse was killed,
and I think even this little nourishment helped us a great deal to
accomplish our task of reaching the trading-post; this was the only
grouse we had seen since we left the _cache_, although on the up-stream
journey birds had been plentiful enough. The ice was still rough at
times, but in some places the river was open and good shore-ice made the
walking easy; the weather was much warmer, with bright sunshine, and
there was no danger of freezing our feet. At dark camp was made within a
day's travel of Barrow's house, if only we had strength enough to reach

The long night passed away, and just before daylight we were staggering
among the blocks of ice in a scattered line. There was always difficulty
in starting from the camp, for there was a certain amount of comfort in
lying in our blankets, and nobody was anxious to try whether he could
still stand upright or not. Our inclination during the worst time was to
lie down and make no further effort, but after walking half an hour we
usually found ourselves in better spirits. Soon after coming out on the
ice, I looked back to see how John was travelling, and noticed that he
was down. Charlie, who had been behind with him, came up and said that
John could travel no longer and intended to stay where he was. I stopped
all the men, but Charlie tried to push by me and said that he would not
wait for anyone. For the first time I had to use threats to ensure my
orders being carried out, and taking the gun from my shoulder let
Charlie plainly see that I meant to shoot him if he did not obey. This
quickly brought him to his senses, and John came up very slowly. He
wanted someone to stay with him and trust to the others sending back
provisions, but I would not listen to this proposal. I told him that it
was only want of courage that prevented him making any further effort;
he was as strong as the rest of us, and, if he would try, could keep up
quite easily; if he would come on till we reached the place where we had
had dinner on the second day out with the canoe, we would make him a
camp and leave all our blankets, so that he might have a chance of
keeping himself alive till relief came. On rounding a point we saw open
water ahead, and John, although far behind, went far better on the
smooth ice, and eventually came in not more than an hour after us. At
noon the Bull's Head was in sight, and we could see the line of hills at
the foot of which Barrow's house lay. The pace was fast for men in our
condition, but we kept up a steady walk, leaving our blankets when there
seemed a certainty of reaching the house that night. The sun was down
when we passed the old shanty in which we had camped for a night on the
way up, and by moonlight we travelled on, following close to the edge of
the open water and taking little precaution to test the strength of the
ice. Soon the roar of the cañon was heard, and at seven o'clock we
crawled up the steep bank and stood in front of the cabin. I pushed open
the door, and shall never forget the expression of horror that came over
the faces of the occupants when they recognised us. We had become used
to the hungry eyes and wasted forms, as our misery had come on us
gradually, but to a man who had seen us starting out thirty-two days
before in full health the change in our appearance must have been
terrible. There was no doubt that we were very near the point of death.
For my own part I felt a dull aching in the left side of my head; I was
blind in the left eye and deaf in the left ear; there was a sharp pain
on each side just below the ribs; but my legs, though not well under
control, were still strong. We had all completely lost the use of our
voices, and suffered greatly from the cracking of the skin on hands and
feet, which always results from starving in cold weather; to say that we
were thin conveys no idea of our miserable condition. It is needless to
go into the details of our recovery; but under Barrow's careful nursing,
and restrictions as to the quantity of food allowed, we all came back to
health, although for some days our lives were hanging in the balance.

I can never sufficiently thank Tom Barrow for his kind behaviour on this
occasion. Of course, everybody is sorry for starving people; but it is
rather a strain on this sympathy to have to look after five men so near
to death in a small cabin among the Rocky Mountains, with such slender
supplies as had been left for a winter's rations for two people. Without
a murmur he shared his blankets and his provisions, although he knew
that there was a good chance of starving himself in the spring.

Barrow told us directly where we had made our mistake. The river we had
turned up was Nation River, and the log-cabin had been occupied some
years before by a party of miners, but very little gold had been taken
out. Some distance up Nation River was the old trail to the Omineca
mining-camp; but of course we should not have known what trail it was if
we had found it. The mouth of the Nation River and the yellow cut bank
Barrow remembered perfectly, and said there had been much talk about
these landmarks on the way down; it seems inexplicable that three men,
who had been over the route before, should have made the mistake that so
nearly cost us our lives. If we had followed up the Parsnip beyond the
mouth of Nation River we should have reached Macleod's Lake on December
12th at latest with only a few days' starvation, and avoided all the
misery that continued till the 27th of that month.

In a week communication was opened with Hudson's Hope, and Walter
Macdonald did everything he could to help us; but the same thing had
happened to him. A band of Beaver Indians had been caught by starvation
at the mouth of the Pine River Pass, and had suffered the same
experiences as ourselves. Many had been left by the way, but I think
there were no deaths, as provisions were sent out so soon as the news
reached Baptiste at Moberley's Lake.

At the end of a fortnight everybody was well enough to travel; and to
ease the strain on provisions I sent Murdo, John, and Charlie to Lesser
Slave Lake, where they could get fish to support them, and spare the
resources of the upper river posts. But even now these men could not
travel together, although they had full rations and nothing to quarrel
about. Murdo reached the Lesser Slave Lake alone, John arriving several
days later, and I found Charlie at Dunvegan, where he had already
distinguished himself by robbing from the priest's trading-store. A
thorough blackguard was Charlie, and it would have been little loss to
the world in general if he had left his bones under the snow in the
Peace River Pass; he had begun his voyage badly by stealing fifty
dollars from his mother at Quesnelle, and there were several other
offences for which the police had hunted him away from the borders of
civilization. Pat was to stay for the winter with Barrow, and as soon as
Baptiste had made us snow-shoes we pottered about in the woods together,
hunting grouse and rabbits, and had soon entirely recovered our

I have never heard any satisfactory explanation of the gradual increase
and sudden dying out of the rabbits and lynx, which takes place every
seven years throughout the North. Starting from the few survivors of the
last epidemic, the numbers increase slowly every season, till in the
sixth year the whole country is so over-run with them that a man can
travel anywhere with no further provision than shot-gun and snares. Then
the disease breaks out, dead bodies are found all through the woods, and
scarcely a living rabbit or lynx is to be seen. The autumn of 1885 I
spent on the head-waters of the Athabasca, at the east end of the Tête
Jaune Pass; the rabbits were then at their height and as plentiful as I
ever saw them in England. 1892 will be the next big rabbit-year; but
after that famine is sure to be rife on Peace River, as it is harder
every year to kill moose, and for the last two or three years the
rabbit-snares have kept many an Indian from starvation. This
rabbit-question is an important one to consider before starting on an
exploration trip in the Peace River country, as in the good seasons
there is no danger of running short of provisions.

One day, as we were setting snares together, Pat told me the story of
the stolen flour. They had stayed behind to dry their moccasins, and
Charlie had explained to Pat that I was keeping the flour for the use of
the white men, and that their only chance of getting any was to help
themselves; Pat had objected at first, but afterwards gave way when he
saw Charlie cooking the flour, and they had eaten about four pounds
between them. Judging from Charlie's character I am inclined to believe
the story, as Pat in all other respects had behaved well under the
pressure of hardship, and had always done more than his share of work in
making camp and breaking the trail.

While staying at Hudson's Hope, Macdonald and I walked over to
Moberley's Lake, twelve miles to the south, to pay old Baptiste a visit.
The house stands within view of the big peaks of the Rockies close to
the edge of the lake, but the appearance of the country is rather spoilt
by the abundant traces of forest fires that have taken place of late
years. The lake is a beautiful sheet of water, ten miles in length,
drained by the Pine River, which falls into the Peace a short distance
above Fort St. John. Baptiste has a fruitful potato-patch, and his women
were catching plenty of rabbits; there was moose-pemmican, too, and
dried meat, for the Fall hunt had been successful. The Iroquois gave me
a pair of snow-shoes ornamented with tassels of coloured wool, as well
as a pair of beaded moccasins which he made me promise not to eat, and
came with us to the fort to see us off.

[Illustration: Arrival of the Dog Train]


It was towards the end of January, 1891, that I left Hudson's Hope for
Edmonton, a distance of six hundred miles, giving up all further attempt
to reach Macleod's Lake. A son of Mr. Brick, of Smoky River, turned up
just before I started, and promised to go with Pat to my _cache_ at the
junction of the Findlay and Parsnip when the days grew long in spring.
The rough ice would then be covered with deep snow, and with snow-shoes
and hand-sleighs it would be easy to bring away the guns, journals, and
many other articles that I had been obliged to abandon.

Two days and a half took me to St. John's, and after a week's stay there
a dog-train, carrying the winter packet, arrived, and I took this chance
of getting to Dunvegan. Alick Kennedy, one of the very best half-breed
_voyageurs_ in Canada, was in charge of the packet. The distances this
man has been known to run in a day would hardly be credited in a land
where people travel by railways and steamboats: moreover, he is a
pleasant companion to travel with; his conversation is interesting, and
entirely free from the boasting which most of the half-breeds indulge
in. Alick was captain of a boat-brigade on the Nile; and if all the
Canadian contingent had been of his stamp instead of the Winnipeg
loafers, who were too worthless to get employment in their own country,
a different story might have been told of the behaviour of the
_voyageurs_ on the march to Khartoum.

Five days took us to Dunvegan, where I again met Mr. Macdonald, and
travelled with him to the Lesser Slave Lake. From Dunvegan we made the
portage straight to Smoky River, crossing a pretty prairie country and
camping a night at Old Wives' Lake, where Mr. Brick winters some of his
cattle. With a splendid track along the waggon-road, we made the ninety
miles to the Lesser Slave Lake in two days, and, judging from the number
of people and houses, we seemed to have reached civilization already.
Besides the Hudson's Bay establishment, the missions and the buildings
of the free-traders, many half-breeds have houses scattered along the
lake, and devote part of their attention to raising horses and cattle,
though of course whitefish are the main support of life. A favourite
haunt for wildfowl is this lake in spring and autumn, but big game and
fur have been nearly killed out by the large population, and most of the
Indian trade is done at the out-posts nearer to the hunting-grounds.

I spent several days at the fort, being well treated as usual, and
February was nearly finished when I started with Mr. Frank Hardistay on
my last journey with dogs. The Lesser Slave Lake is about seventy miles
in length, and covering this distance easily in two days we travelled
down the Little Slave River which leaves the east end of the lake. A
good deal of labour has been expended in blasting rocks out of the
channel of this river, to enable the steamer from the Athabasca landing
to reach the lake, and so avoid the expense of building boats and
engaging crews to transport the Peace River cargo, but so far these
efforts have proved unsuccessful.

I think we followed the course of this stream about twenty miles, then
dived into the thick pine-forest on the east bank, and making a
twelve-mile portage came out on the Athabasca River, seventy miles above
the landing at the end of the waggon-road from Edmonton. The Athabasca
has here the same monotonous look that one becomes so tired of in its
lower reaches. When a point was rounded another point exactly similar
showed three or four miles ahead, and this continued till we reached the
landing, in clear cold weather, on March 3rd; three days later our dogs,
bearing the smartest of dog-cloths and with sleigh-bells ringing
merrily, rattled into Edmonton, and the wild free life of the last
twenty months was over.

The excitement that the arrival of a stranger never fails to create at a
lonely Northern fort is rather apt to give that stranger an exaggerated
idea of his own importance; but when I reached Edmonton I at once
realised that there are many people in the world who have ideas beyond
musk-ox and caribou, dog-sleighs and snow-shoes. An election was at its
height to decide who should have the honour of representing the
territory of Alberta at Ottawa. Edmonton had been drinking, although it
is supposed to keep strictly to the rules of the Prohibition Act, and
before I had been an hour in the town I found myself in the midst of a
free fight. I was unfortunate in not knowing the names of the
candidates, or what policy they represented, and as I could give no
clear account as to what I had done with my vote, I was roughly used by
both sides and was glad to escape to the less boisterous hospitality of
the Hudson's Bay Fort.

There were still two hundred miles of snow-covered prairie to be crossed
to reach Calgary, but with horses to drag our sleigh, and a house to
sleep in every night, there could be little hardship in the journey. At
the crossing of the Red Deer we saw the iron rails that had already
pushed far out towards Edmonton, but work had ceased for the winter and
no trains were running. As we travelled south the snow became less every
day, till we were forced to change our runners for wheels when still
sixty miles from Calgary. Late in the evening of March 15th the whistle
of a locomotive told me, more plainly than anything I had yet heard,
that it was time to pull myself together and take up the common-place
life of civilization; a few more miles of level country, down a steep
pitch or two, across the frozen stream of the Elbow, and close ahead the
lights of Calgary were blinking over the prairie.

[Illustration: Edmonton]

       *       *       *       *       *

I am writing these concluding lines in a fashionable garret off St.
James's Street. Close at hand are all the luxuries that only
ultra-civilization can give, and these luxuries are to be obtained by
the simple method of handing over an adequate number of coins of the
realm; there is no necessity to shoulder your gun and tramp many weary
miles on snow-shoes before you get even a sight of your dinner in its
raw state. But surely we carry this civilization too far, and are in
danger of warping our natural instincts by too close observance of the
rules that some mysterious force obliges us to follow when we herd
together in big cities. Very emblematical of this warping process are
the shiny black boots into which we squeeze our feet when we throw away
the moccasin of freedom; as they gall and pinch the unaccustomed foot,
so does the dread of our friends' opinion gall and pinch our minds till
they become narrow, out of shape, and unable to discriminate between
reality and semblance. A dweller in cities is too wrapped up in the
works of man to have much respect left for the works of God, and to him
the loneliness of forest and mountain, lake and river, must ever appear
but a weary desolation. But there are many sportsmen who love to be
alone with Nature and the animals far from their fellow-men, and as this
book is intended solely for the sportsman, a few words of advice to
anyone who is anxious to hunt the musk-ox may not be out of place.

I am not quite sure that Fort Resolution is the best point to start
from. Fort Rae, on the north arm of the Great Slave Lake, lies nearer
the Barren Ground, and the Dog-Ribs are said to be more amenable to
reason than the Yellow Knives, while the distance to travel through a
woodless country is shorter. Fort Good Hope, on the Lower Mackenzie,
would be another good spot to make headquarters; but there is less
certainty of finding the caribou in that neighbourhood, and without the
caribou there is little chance of reaching the musk-ox. It is not the
slightest use starting from a post with the theory that musk-ox can be
killed in so many days, and that, by taking a load of provisions
sufficient to last for the same length of time, a successful hunt will
be made. The only plan is to work your way up slowly, to stay among the
caribou in the autumn, and kill and _cache_ meat whenever an opportunity
offers, ready for a rush on the first snow. Remember, too, when
provisions get scarce, as they certainly will at some time or other, the
country ahead is as big as the country behind, and the best chance lies
in pushing on. To turn back may prove fatal, when another day's travel
may put you in a land of plenty. It is possible to reach the
hunting-ground and return to Fort Resolution with a canoe in the summer,
but the robes are then worthless, and the whole sport savours too much
of covert-shooting in July. Make quite sure before you start that you
are determined to push on through everything, as even the Great Slave
Lake is far to go on an unsuccessful errand. Here, in London, in front
of a good fire at the club and under the influence of a good dinner, it
is easy enough to kill musk-ox and make long night-marches on snow-shoes
by the flashes of the Northern Lights; but the test of practice takes
off some of the enjoyment.

A year has slipped away since our winter journey through the Peace River
Pass. Young Brick kept his promise of getting the _cache_ right well,
and a couple of months ago my journals arrived in England, so that I
have been able to put together this rough record of my Northern travels.
On looking back one remembers only the good times, when meat was
plentiful and a huge fire lit up the snow on the spruce trees; misery
and starvation are forgotten as soon as they are over, and even now, in
the midst of the luxury of civilization, at times I have a longing to
pitch my lodge once more at the edge of the Barren Ground, to see the
musk-ox standing on the snowdrift and the fat caribou falling to the
crack of the rifle, to hear the ptarmigan crowing among the little pines
as the sun goes down over a frozen lake and the glory of an Arctic night

To the man who is not a lover of Nature in all her moods the Barren
Ground must always be a howling, desolate wilderness; but for my part, I
can understand the feeling that prompted Saltatha's answer to the worthy
priest, who was explaining to him the beauties of Heaven. "My father,
you have spoken well; you have told me that Heaven is very beautiful;
tell me now one thing more. Is it more beautiful than the country of the
musk-ox in summer, when sometimes the mist blows over the lakes, and
sometimes the water is blue, and the loons cry very often? That is
beautiful; and if Heaven is still more beautiful, my heart will be glad,
and I shall be content to rest there till I am very old."



I am much indebted to Professor Dawson, of the Dominion Geological
Survey Department, for his kind permission to publish the following
paper on the Unexplored Regions of Canada. It shows more plainly than
any words of mine could tell how much yet remains to be done before this
great portion of the British Empire is known as it ought to be.


(By G. M. DAWSON, D.S., Assoc. R.S.M., F.G.S., F.R.S.C.)

If on reading the title of the paper which I had promised to contribute
to the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club, any one should have supposed it
to be my intention to endeavour to describe or forecast the character of
the unexplored areas mentioned, I must, in the first place, disclaim any
such intention. The very existence of large regions of which little or
nothing is known, is of course stimulating to a fertile imagination,
ready to picture to itself undiscovered "golden cities a thousand
leagues deep in Cathay," but such unscientific use of the imagination is
far removed from the position of sober seriousness, in which I ask your
attention to the facts which I have to present.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, as we may happen to regard it, the
tendency of our time is all in the direction of laying bare to
inspection and open to exploitation all parts, however remote, of this
comparatively small world in which we live, and though the explorer
himself may be impelled by a certain romanticism in overcoming
difficulties or even dangers met with in the execution of his task, his
steps are surely and closely followed by the trader, the lumberer, or
the agriculturalist, and not long after these comes the builder of
railways with his iron road. It is, therefore, rather from the point of
view of practical utility than from any other, that an appeal must be
made to the public or to the Government for the further extension of
explorations, and my main purpose in addressing you to-night is to make
such an appeal, and to show cause, if possible, for the exploration of
such considerable portions of Canada as still remain almost or
altogether unmapped.

What I have to say, in fact, on this subject resolves itself chiefly
into remarks on the map exhibited here, upon which the unexplored areas
to which I am about to refer are clearly depicted in such a manner, I
believe, as almost to speak for themselves.

It is very commonly supposed, even in Canada, but to a greater extent
elsewhere, that all parts of the Dominion are now so well known that
exploration, in the true sense of the term, may be considered as a thing
of the past. This depends largely upon the fact that the maps of the
country generally examined are upon a very small scale, and that upon
such maps no vast areas yet remain upon which rivers, lakes, mountains,
or other features are not depicted. If, however, we take the trouble to
enquire more closely into this, and consult perhaps one of the
geographers whose maps we have examined, asking such awkward questions
as may occur to us on the sources of information for this region or
that, we may probably by him be referred to another and older map, and
so on till we find in the end that the whole topographical fabric of
large parts of all these maps rests upon information of the vaguest

Of most of the large areas marked upon the map here shown, this is
absolutely true, and the interests of knowledge with respect to these
would be better subserved if such areas were left entirely blank, or, at
least, if all the geographical features drawn upon them appeared in
broken lines, in such a way as to show that none of them are certain. In
other regions, the main geographical outlines, such as the courses of
the larger rivers, are indicated approximately, with such accuracy as
may be possible from accounts or itineraries derived from travellers or
from officers of the Hudson's Bay Company; or from the descriptions or
rough sketches of Indians or other persons by whom the region has been
traversed, but who have been unprovided with instruments of any kind and
whose knowledge of the country has been incidentally obtained.

There is, in the case of such partially explored regions, more excuse
for the delineation of the main features on our maps, as these may be
useful in imparting general information of a more or less inexact kind.
We can scarcely, however, admit that such regions have been explored in
any true sense of that term, while they are certainly unsurveyed, and
very little confidence can be placed in maps of this kind as guides in
travel. When, ten years ago, I struck across from Fort Macleod, on the
west side of the Rocky Mountains, with the purpose of reaching Fort
Dunvegan on the Peace, through a country densely forested and without
trails or tracks of any kind, I had so much confidence in the existing
maps of that region as to assume that Dunvegan was at least
approximately correct in position on them. As often as possible I took
observations for latitude, and each night worked out our position by
latitude and departure, till at a certain point I was about to turn off
to the north of the line previously followed with the confident
anticipation of finding Dunvegan. Just here, very fortunately, we fell
in with some Indians, and though our means of communicating with them
were very imperfect, we gathered enough to lead us to accept the
guidance of one of them, who promised to lead us to the fort, but took
an entirely different direction from that I had proposed taking. He was
right, but Dunvegan proved to be, as shown on the maps, nearly forty
miles west of its real position. Fortunately no very great importance
attached to our reaching Dunvegan on a given day, but none the less,
this practical experience proved to me very conclusively the
desirability of showing features in broken lines, or otherwise
indicating their uncertainty when they have not been properly fixed.

It must be confessed, however, that most of the travellers ordinarily to
be found in these unexplored regions, being Indians or hunters, traders
and others travelling under the guidance of Indians, do not depend on
the latitudes and longitudes of places, or on the respective bearings of
one place from another. The Indians follow routes with which they have
been familiar since childhood, or, when beyond the boundaries of their
own particular region of country, go by landmarks, such as mountains,
lakes, and rivers, which have been described to them by their
neighbours. Their memory in this respect is remarkable; but it must be
remembered that among their principal subjects of conversation when
sitting about the camp-fire are the distances in day's journeys from
place to place, the routes which they have followed or have known others
to follow, the difficulties to be encountered on these, the points at
which food of different kinds may be obtained, and the features which
strike them as being remarkable in the country traversed. Returning,
however, from this digression, which began with the statement that
accurate maps of such regions as are at present merely traversed by
traders and Indians, are not imperative from the point of view of such
travellers, it may with confidence be affirmed that such maps and
explorations upon which they are based are absolutely essential to
civilized society, to show in the first place what the natural resources
of these regions are and how they may be utilized, in the second by what
highways such regions may be most easily reached.

A glance at the map will show, that while many of the larger unexplored
areas may be affirmed to lie to the north of the limit of profitable
agriculture, considerable regions situated to the south of this limit
still await examination. Large districts, again, in which no farmer will
ever voluntarily settle, may afford timber which the world will be glad
to get when the white pine of our nearer forests shall become more
nearly exhausted, while, with respect to mineral resources, it is
probable that in the grand aggregate the value of those which exist in
the unexplored regions will be found, area for area, to be equal to
those of the known regions, comparing each particular geological
formation with its nearest representative. On the grounds alone,
therefore, of geographical knowledge, and of the discovery and
definition of the reserves of the country in timber and minerals, the
exploration of all these unknown or little-known regions may be amply

Taking a line drawn north and south in the longitude of the Red River
Valley, which is, as nearly as may be, the centre of Canada from east to
west, it may confidently be stated that by far the larger part of the
country in which agricultural settlement is possible lies to the west,
while the great bulk of the actual population lies to the east of this
line. Looking to this grand fundamental fact, I believe it may safely be
affirmed that some members of this audience will live to see the day
when these conditions with respect to population will be boldly
reversed, and in which the greater number of our representatives in
Parliament gathering here will come from this great western region.

This disposition of the cultivable land depends partly upon the physical
characteristics of the country, and in part on its climatic conditions.
Beyond Winnipeg, and stretching therefrom to the west and north-west, is
the great area of prairie, plain, and plateau, which, wider near the
forty-ninth parallel than elsewhere on the continent, runs on in one
form or other, though with diminishing width, to the Arctic Ocean. This
is, generally speaking, an alluvial region, and one of fertile soils.
Very fortunately, and as though by a beneficent provision of nature, the
climatic features favour the utilization of this belt. The summer
isothermals, which carry with them the possibility of ripening crops,
trend far to the north.

Let us trace, for example, and as a rough and ready index of the
northern limit of practicable agriculture of any kind, that isothermal
line which represents a mean temperature of 60° Fahrenheit in the month
of July. Passing through the southern part of Newfoundland and touching
the island of Anticosti, this line runs to the north end of Mistassini
Lake, and thence crosses Hudson's Bay, striking the west shore a short
distance north of York Factory. Thence it runs westward, skirting the
north end of Reindeer Lake, and then bending to the north-west, crosses
Great Slave Lake, and touches the southern extremity of Great Bear Lake.
From this point it resumes a westward course and crosses the Yukon River
a considerable distance to the north of the confluence of the Pelly and
the Lewes, turning south again almost on the east line of Alaska. We
need not, however, further follow its course, as owing to peculiar
climatic conditions on the West Coast, it ceases there to be any
criterion as to the conditions of agriculture.

The character of much of the western interior country is such that its
exploration and survey is comparatively easy, and it will be observed
that here the larger unknown regions are to be found only far to the
northward, leaving in the more rugged and inhospitable eastern region
vast islands of unexplored country in much more southern latitudes.

It may be said, in fact, that comparatively little of the region
capable, so far as climate goes, of producing wheat is now altogether
unknown; but it may be added, that increasing as the world now is in
population, its people cannot much longer expect to find wheat-growing
lands unoccupied in large blocks. The time is within measurable distance
when lands with a fertile soil though more or less rigorous climate, in
which only barley, oats, hemp, flax, and other hardy crops can be
matured, will be in demand, and we are far from having acquired even a
good general knowledge of these lands in Canada.

For many of the unexplored regions marked upon this map, however, we can
in reason appeal only to their possible or presumable mineral wealth as
an incentive to their exploration, and if some of them should prove
wholly or in great part barren when such exploration shall have been
carried out, it will not be without utility to acquire even this
negative information, and write upon them in characters as large as need
be, "No thoroughfare."

I will now ask your further attention for a few moments while I run over
and make some remarks in detail on the various unexplored areas as
indicated on the map. It must first, however, be explained in what
manner the unexplored areas referred to have been outlined. All lines,
such as those of rivers, chains of lakes, or other travelled routes,
along which reasonably satisfactory explorations have been made and of
which fairly accurate route-maps are in existence, are given an
approximate average width of about fifty miles, or twenty-five miles on
each side of the explorer's or surveyor's track. The known lines are
thus arbitrarily assumed to be wide belts of explored country, and that
which is referred to as unexplored comprises merely the intervening
tracts. By this mode of definition the unexplored regions are reduced to
minimum dimensions. Neither are any comparatively small tracts of
country lying between explored routes included in my enumeration, in
which the least area mentioned is one of 7500 square miles; nor are the
Arctic islands, lying to the north of the continent, referred to.
Because of the empirical mode in which the unexplored areas have thus
been delineated, it has not been attempted to estimate with more than
approximate accuracy the number of square miles contained in each, my
purpose being merely to render apparent the great dimensions of these

In enumerating these areas, I shall not refer to the various
explorations and lines of survey by which they are defined and separated
one from another, as this would involve mention of nearly all the
explorers who have traversed the northern part of the continent. I
shall, however, note such excursions as have been made into or across
the regions which are characterized as unexplored.

Beginning, then, in the extreme north-west of the Dominion, we find
these areas to be as follows:--

    1. Area between the eastern boundary of Alaska, the Porcupine
    River and the Arctic Coast, 9500 square miles, or somewhat
    smaller than Belgium. This area lies entirely within the Arctic

    2. Area west of the Lewes and Yukon Rivers and extending to the
    boundary of Alaska, 32,000 square miles, or somewhat larger than
    Ireland. This country includes the head-waters of the White and
    probably of the Tanana Rivers, and, being comparatively low and
    sheltered from the sea by one of the highest mountain-ranges on
    the continent, the St. Elias Alps, doubtless possesses some
    remarkable peculiarities of climate.

    3. Area between the Lewes, Pelly, and Stikine Rivers and to the
    east of the Coast Ranges, 27,000 square miles, or nearly as
    large as Scotland. This has been penetrated only by a few
    "prospectors," from whom, and from Indians, the courses of
    rivers shown on my maps published in connection with the Yukon
    Expedition Report are derived. It lies on the direct line of the
    metalliferous belt of the Cordillera, and its low lands are
    capable of producing hardy crops.

    4. Area between the Pelly and Mackenzie Rivers, 100,000 square
    miles, or about twice the size of England. This belongs partly
    to the Yukon Basin and partly to that of the Mackenzie, and
    includes nearly 600 miles in length of the main Rocky Mountain
    Range. Many years ago, Mr. A. K. Isbister penetrated the
    northern part of this area for some distance on the line of the
    Peel River,[1] but owing to the manner in which he had to
    travel, but little accuracy can be attributed to his sketch of
    that river. Abbé Petitot also made a short journey into its
    northern part from the Mackenzie River side, but, with these
    exceptions, no published information exists respecting it.

    5. Area between Great Bear Lake and the Arctic Coast, 50,000
    square miles, or about equal to England in size. Nearly all to
    the north of the Arctic Circle.

    6. Area between Great Bear Lake, the Mackenzie, and the western
    part of Great Slave Lake, 35,000 square miles, or larger than
    Portugal. With respect to this region and that last mentioned,
    it must be explained that I have felt some doubt whether they
    should be characterised as unexplored on the basis previously
    explained as that which is generally applied. Between 1857 and
    1865, Mr. R. Macfarlane, of the Hudson's Bay Company, carried
    out an intelligent and valuable examination of part of the
    region north of Great Bear Lake, some results of which have
    lately been published,[2] and in both of these areas, between
    1864 and 1871, the indefatigable missionary, Abbé Petitot, made
    numerous journeys, of which he subsequently published an
    account.[3] As Petitot's instruments consisted merely of a
    compass, and a watch which he rated by the meridian passage of
    the sun, it must be assumed that his mapping of the country does
    not possess any great accuracy. His work, however, considering
    the difficulties under which it was performed, is deserving of
    all praise, and his several descriptions of the character of
    the country traversed are most valuable. It does not appear from
    his account of these regions that they are likely to prove of
    great utility to civilized man, except as fur-preserves, or
    possibly from the minerals which they may contain. He writes:
    "Ce pays est composé de contrées silencieuses comme le tombeau,
    des plaines vastes comme des départements, des steppes glacés
    plus affreux que ceux de la Sibérie, de forêts chétives,
    rabougries comme on n'en voit que dans le voisinage des glaciers
    du Nord."

    7. Area between Stikine and Liard Rivers to the north and Skeena
    and Peace Rivers to the south, 81,000 square miles, or more than
    twice as large as Newfoundland. This includes a portion of the
    western Cordillera, and, between the Liard and Peace Rivers, a
    large tract of the interior plateau region of the continent,
    parts of which, there is reason to believe, consist of good
    agricultural land. Its western extremity was crossed in 1866 and
    1867 by the exploratory survey of the Western Union or Collins'
    Telegraph Company, then engaged in an attempt to connect the
    North American and European telegraph systems through Asia. No
    details of this part of their exploration have, however, been
    published, and if we may judge from other parts of their line,
    since checked, the survey made was of too rough a character to
    possess much geographical value.

    8. Area between Peace, Athabasca, and Loon Rivers, 7500 square
    miles, or about half as large as Switzerland.

    9. Area south-east of Athabasca Lake, 35,000 square miles. This
    may be compared in extent to Portugal.

    10. Area east of the Coppermine River and west of Bathurst
    Inlet, 7,500 square miles. This again may be compared to half
    the area of Switzerland.

    11. Area between the Arctic Coast and Back's River, 31,000
    square miles, or about equal to Ireland.

    12. Area surrounded by Back's River, Great Slave Lake, Athabasca
    Lake, Hatchet and Reindeer Lakes, Churchill River, and the west
    coast of Hudson's Bay, 178,000 square miles. Much larger than
    Great Britain and Ireland, and somewhat larger than Sweden. The
    lakes and rivers shown in this great region depend entirely on
    the result of the three journeys made by Hearne in 1769-1772.[4]
    Hearne really wandered through parts of this region in company
    with Indians whom he was unable to control, his ultimate object
    (which he at length accomplished) being to reach the Coppermine
    River, in order to ascertain for the Hudson's Bay Company
    whether it was possible to utilize the native copper found
    there. Not even roughly approximate accuracy can be assigned to
    his geographical work. Referring to the position of the mouth of
    the Coppermine, he writes:--"The latitude may be depended upon
    to within 20 miles at the utmost." In reality it afterwards
    proved to be 200 miles too far north. This country includes the
    great "barren grounds" of the continent, and is the principal
    winter resort of the musk-ox as well as of great herds of
    caribou. Hearne's general characterization of it is not very
    encouraging, but certainly we shall know more about it. He
    writes:--"The land throughout the whole tract of country is
    scarcely anything but one solid mass of rocks and stones, and in
    most parts very hilly, particularly to the westward, among the
    woods." The north-eastern extremity of this region was also
    crossed by Lieut. Schwatka in the course of his remarkable
    journey to King-William Land, but his geographical results
    possess little value.[5]

    13. Area between Severn and Attawapishkat Rivers and the coast
    of Hudson's Bay, 22,000 square miles, or larger than Nova
    Scotia. Several lakes and rivers are shown upon the maps in this
    region in practically identical form since Arrowsmith's map of
    1850, but I have been unable to ascertain the origin of the

    14. Area between Trout Lake, Lac Seul, and the Albany River,
    15,000 square miles, or about half the size of Scotland.

    15. Area to the south and east of James Bay, 35,000 square
    miles, which also may be compared to the area of Portugal. This
    region is the nearest of those which still remain unexplored to
    large centres of population. It is probable that much of it
    consists of low land which may afford merchantable timber.

    16. Area comprising almost the entire interior of the Labrador
    peninsula or North-east Territory, 289,000 square miles. This is
    more than equal to twice the area of Great Britain and Ireland,
    with an added area equal to that of Newfoundland. Several lines
    of exploration and survey have been carried for a certain
    distance into the interior of this great peninsula, among which
    may be mentioned those of Professor Hind, Mr. A. P. Low, and Mr.
    R. F. Holme.[6] The limits of the unexplored area have been
    drawn so as to exclude all these. The area regarded as still
    unexplored has, however, it is true, been traversed in several
    directions at different times by officers of the Hudson's Bay
    Company, particularly on routes leading from the vicinity of
    Mingan on the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the head of Hamilton
    Inlet, and thence to Ungava Bay. These routes have also,
    according to Mr. Holme, been travelled by a missionary, Père
    Lacasse; but the only published information which I have been
    able to find is contained in a book written by J. McLean,[7] and
    in a brief account of a journey by Rev. E. J. Peck.[8] Mr.
    McLean made several journeys and established trading-posts
    between Ungava and Hamilton Inlet in the years 1838-1841, while
    Mr. Peck crossed from Little Whale River, on Hudson Bay, to
    Ungava in 1884. Something may be gathered as to the general
    nature of the country along certain lines from the accounts
    given by these gentlemen, but there is little of a really
    satisfactory character, while neither has made any attempt to
    fix positions or delineate the features of the region on the
    map. In all probability this entire region consists of a rocky
    plateau or hilly tract of rounded archæan rocks, highest on the
    north-east side and to the south, and sloping gradually down to
    low land towards Ungava Bay. It is known to be more or less
    wooded, and in some places with timber of fair growth; but if it
    should be possessed of any real value, this may probably lie in
    its metalliferous deposits. In this tract of country
    particularly there is reason to hope that ores like those of
    Tilt Cove, in Newfoundland, or those of Sudbury, in Ontario, may

    To sum up briefly, in conclusion, what has been said as to the
    larger unexplored areas of Canada, it may be stated that, while
    the entire area of the Dominion as computed at 3,470,257 square
    miles, about 954,000 square miles of the continent alone,
    exclusive of the inhospitable detached Arctic portions, is for
    all practical purposes entirely unknown. In this estimate the
    area of the unexplored country is reduced to a minimum by the
    mode of definition employed. Probably we should be much nearer
    the mark in assuming it as about one million square miles, or
    between one-third and one-fourth of the whole. Till this great
    aggregate of unknown territory shall have been subjected to
    examination, or at least till it has been broken up and
    traversed in many directions by exploratory and survey lines, we
    must all feel that it stands as a certain reproach to our want
    of enterprise and of a justifiable curiosity. In order, however,
    to properly ascertain and make known the natural resources of
    the great tracts lying beyond the borders of civilization, such
    explorations and surveys as are undertaken must be of a truly
    scientific character. The explorer or surveyor must possess some
    knowledge of geology and botany, as well as such scientific
    training as may enable him to make intelligent and accurate
    observations of any natural features or phenomena with which he
    may come in contact. He must not consider that his duty consists
    merely in the perfunctory measuring of lines and the delineation
    of rivers, lakes, and mountains. An explorer or surveyor
    properly equipped for his work need never return empty-handed.
    Should he be obliged to report that some particular district
    possesses no economic value whatever, besides that of serving as
    a receiver of rain and a reservoir to feed certain
    river-systems, his notes should contain scientific observations
    on geology, botany, climatology, and similar subjects, which may
    alone be sufficient to justify the expenditure incurred.


[1] _Some account of Peel River, North America_, by A. K. Isbister,
Journ. Roy. Geog. Soc., vol. xv, 1845, p. 332.

[2] _Canadian Record of Science_, Jan., 1890.

[3] _Bulletin de la Société de Géographie_, Tom. x, 1875.

[4] _A Journey from Prince of Wales Fort, in Hudson's Bay, to the
Northern Ocean_, 1796.

[5] _Schwatka's Search_, by H. W. Gilder.

[6] _Explorations in Labrador_, 1863; Annual Report Geol. Surv. Can.,
1887-88, Part. J; Proc. Royal Geog. Soc., 1888; Ott. Nat., Vol. iv.

[7] _Notes of a Twenty-five Years' Service in the Hudson's Bay
Territory_. London, 1849.

[8] _Church Missionary Intelligencer_, June, 1886; Proc. Roy. Geog.
Soc., 1887, p. 192.


I have to thank the authorities at Kew for the following list of a small
collection of flowering plants that I found growing in the Barren
Ground, chiefly in the neighbourhood of the head-waters of the Great
Fish River.

    _Draba nivalis_, Liljebl.?
    _Oxytropis campestris_, L. (yellow and purple varieties).
    _Potentilla nivea_, L.
    _Dryas integrifolia_, L.
    _Saxifraga tricuspidata_, Retz.
    _Epilobium latifolium_, L.
    _Arnica angustifolia_, Vahl.
    _Taraxacum palustre_, DC.
    _Vaccinium uliginosum_, L.
    _Cassiope tetragona_, L.
    _Andromeda polifolia_, L.
    _Phyllodoce taxifolia_, Salisb. (_Menziesia cærulea_, Wahl.).
    _Ledum palustre_, L.
    _Loiseleuria procumbens_, Desv.
    _Rhododendron lapponicum_, L.
    _Kalmia glauca_, L.
    _Diapensia lapponica_, L.
    _Pedicularis hirsuta_, L.
    _Pedicularis lapponica_, L.


    Alaska, Southern, 231.

    Alberta, its prairies remembered, 196;
      an election of its representative, 298.

    America, the Eastern States of, 256.

    Anderson, Mr., his route referred to, vi, 36, 63, 151, 152, 171,
    185, 196, 215.

    Arnavatn, in Iceland, 42.

    Arctic exploration, its records, 47.

    Arctic flowers, 187.

    Arctic fox, shot at, 40.

    Arctic hare, described, 68.

    Arctic Ocean or Sea, v, 4, 12, 20, 63, 64, 65, 178, 205, 214, 265;
      the best route to, 221.

    Arctic regions, no extraordinary thickness of clothes required in
      them, 104.

    Arrowsmith's map, compared with that issued by the Dominion
      Government, 216.

    Artillery Lake, 220, 221, 224.

    Athabasca district, 63, 235;
      its limits, 12.

    Athabasca Lake, 15, 16, 68, 231, 235;
      reached by Mr. Pike, 13;
      its produce, 13, 14.

    Athabasca River, v, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, 17, 36, 231, 293;
      the landing, 4, 297.

    Aylmer Lake, or the Lake of the Big Cliffs, 64, 178, 179, 180, 191,
      213, 216, 221.

    Back, Sir George, vi, 36, 151, 180, 185, 215;
      his map, 200.

    Back's, or the Great Fish, River, _see_ Great Fish River.

    Baptiste, little, _see_ Beaulieu, Baptiste.

    Baptiste Testerwich, a half-breed Iroquois, 253, 255, 258, 292, 294;
      his daughters, the "belles" of Hudson's Hope, 258.

    Barren Ground, The, v, vi, 14, 15, 19, 23, 35, 48, 54, 55, 58, 63,
        65, 75, 80, 84, 88, 89, 90, 91, 94, 96, 97, 99, 102, 110, 116,
        122, 126, 130, 137, 143, 168, 174, 176, 177, 196, 209, 221, 225,
        232, 271, 300, 302;
      Mr. Pike's various expeditions to it, 19-77, 99-128, 164-228;
      Mr. Pike's advice to future travellers there, 24;
      its mosses and lichens, 42;
      it produces one species of _Cervidæ_, 47;
      its birds, 175;
      exploration in it is ceasing, 185;
      its animals, 198, 199;
      Mr. Pike longs to return to it, 301;
      a list of its flowers, 320.

    Barrow, Thomas, 257, 261, 290, 291, 292;
      his house or cabin, 259, 281, 288, 289.

    Bathurst Inlet, 120, 191, 197, 204, 208.

    Battle River reached, 248.

    Beaulieu, Baptiste, a son of King Beaulieu, 33, 89.

    Beaulieu, François, a son of King Beaulieu, 22, 39, 43, 61, 79, 93,
      97, 135, 136, 137, 139, 141.

    Beaulieu, José, brother of King Beaulieu, 234.

    Beaulieu, José, a son of King Beaulieu, 22, 61, 91, 92, 136, 137,
      his love-affairs, 245.

    Beaulieu, King, a French half-breed and guide, 19, 32, 38, 41, 61,
        66, 71, 72, 81, 82, 83, 90, 94, 95, 97, 101, 102, 128, 135,
        166, 233;
      his character, 19, 23, 24;
      his father and sons, 22, 23;
      he calls the snow _le couvert du bon Dieu_, 62;
      a lake is called after him, 62;
      his cleverness, 73;
      his opinions and anecdotes, 83-88;
      he refuses to join the second musk-ox hunt, 97.

    Beaulieu, Paul, a son of King Beaulieu, 22, 39, 43, 61, 70, 79, 92,
      93, 97, 101, 103, 108, 111, 118, 130.

    Beaulieu, Pierre, a brother of King Beaulieu, 148, 149, 233.

    Beaulieus, the, 33, 64, 77, 134, 136, 138;
      their character, 23;
      they are not agreeable to live with, 126;
      the final settlement with them, 147;
      they apparently try to damage Mr. Pike's chances of success, 168.

    Beaulieus, the young, the sons of King Beaulieu, 22, 38.

    Beaver tribe dying out, 253.

    Beavers, their actions mould geography, 155;
      an account of the other animals found in their country, 156, 157.

    Beaver Indians, their language, 251.

    Beechey Lake, 190, 204, 205.

    Biche, Lake La, 6.

    Big Lake, 131.

    Big River, the usual native name for the Slave River, 26.

    Blackfeet, the, 3, 132.

    Blue hills in the distance tempt one to push on, 207.

    Bloody Falls, the, 152.

    Boiler Rapid, the, 9.

    Boiling, the favourite method of cooking, 55.

    British Columbia, _see_ Columbia.

    Brick, Mr., a farmer of Smoky River, 244, 296;
      his mission, 249;
      his son, 295, 301.

    Buffalo bands, 156;
      a hunt for, 154-159.

    Bull-dogs, "a cross between a bee and a blue-bottle," an annoyance
      to the horses, 3.

    Bull's Head, the, 256, 289.

    Calgary, ix, 2, 3, 11, 298, 299;
      left in June, 1889, 1.

    California, 256.

    Camp, a good, 40, 126.

    Campbell, Mr., 228.

    Camsell Lake, 43, 46, 61, 76, 80, 128.

    Camsell, Mr., in charge of the Mackenzie River district, 20, 22, 231.

    Canada, Eastern, 13.

    Cannicannick Berry used for tobacco, 31.

    Canoe, a birch-bark, is a "pretty poetical thing," 197.

    Cap, the, 250.

    Capot Blanc, an Indian, 140, 168, 171, 172, 176, 181, 182, 185, 187,
      188, 191, 213.

    Carcajou, the, is a cunning beast, 57.

    Caribou, the, sometimes found near the Fond du Lac, 14;
      Mr. Pike's prospect of finding it, 32;
      he finds some bands, 43, 64, 72, 76, 89, 108;
      _Et-then, Et-then!_ the cry on the sight of it, 44;
      the methods of cooking it, 44-46;
      it is the one specimen of _Cervidæ_ found in the Barren Ground,
      its different species described, 47, 48;
      killed by Esquimaux, 56;
      some details of its appearance and habits, 48-60;
      the methods of freezing it, 67;
      it is killed by women and boys, 76;
      the cry, _La Foule, La Foule!_ when a band is in sight, 89;
      the most remarkable passage of caribou seen by Mr. Pike, 91.

    Caribou diggings, 256.

    Caribou-eaters, 19.

    Caribou gold-fields, 231.

    Caribou mountains, 239, 241.

    Carquoss, an Indian, 190, 197.

    Cassiar mining district, 231.

    Catholics, all half-breeds are, 41.

    Charlie, a half-breed from Quesnelle, 258, 260, 266, 270, 272, 273,
        276, 277, 283, 285, 286, 288, 289, 293, 294;
      his character, 292.

    Chesterfield Inlet, 210.

    Chinook wind, the, 259.

    Chipeweyan Fort, the head-post of the Athabasca district, 5, 12,
        150, 163, 231, 234, 235, 238, 241, 245;
      its history and present life, 13-15;
      trout-lines may be worked there, 14;
      the appearance of the country changes on leaving it, 16.

    Chipeweyan language, 26, 251.

    Christie's Bay, 30.

    Civilisation is degenerating, 299.

    Clark, Mr., arrives as Mr. Mackinlay's substitute, 163, 164.

    Clearwater River, the main route to the North, 11, 12.

    Clinton Golden Lake, or the Lake where the caribou swim among
        the ice, 216, 220, 223;
      described, 217, 218.

    Columbia, British, 231, 265.

    Company, the, _see_ Hudson's Bay Company.

    Cooking, the favourite method is boiling, 55.

    Cooper, Fenimore, 129.

    Coppermine River, 64, 65, 67, 72, 108, 110, 152;
      the Bloody Falls of, 152.

    Corbeau, Lac du, 43.

    Country, the, its nature between Calgary and Edmonton, 1, 2;
      and after leaving Chipeweyan, 16, 17.

    Crees, the, 3, 132;
      their language the medium of conversation on the Athabasca, 11;
      their lodges passed, 241.

    Cree-speaking belt, 26;
      left by Mr. Pike, 251.

    Cries: that on the sight of caribou, _Et-then, Et-then!_, 44;
      on the sight of a band of caribou, _La Foule, La Foule!_, 89;
      to awake a camp, _He lève, lève, il faut partir!_, 122;
      that of _Hi hi he, Ho hi he_, to bring out the stars, 123.

    Dakota blizzard, brought to Mr. Pike's mind by his experience of
      wind, 88.

    David, the Esquimaux, 162, 206, 210, 211, 271, 276;
      falls in love with the daughter of King Beaulieu, 168;
      a keen hunter, 180;
      his first summer outside the Arctic circle, 207.

    Davis, Twelvefoot, 256, 257.

    Dease Lake, 230.

    Deluge, King Beaulieu's story of the, 85-88.

    Dog-rib tribes, the, 32, 53, 60, 85, 90, 95, 195;
      a spot on their history, 72;
      they gamble with the Yellow-knives, 167;
      they are more amenable than the Yellow-knives, 300.

    Dogs are a trouble in winter travelling from their need of much
      food, 149.

    Dominion Day, a Canadian anniversary, 182.

    Dominion government's map, 216.

    Dunvegan, 245, 249, 250, 253, 292, 295, 296.

    Dupire, Father, in charge of the Catholic mission at Fort
      Resolution, 144, 149.

    Edmonton, 2, 295, 297, 298;
      the starting point for the territory of Hudson's Bay Company, 1;
      an election at, 298.

    Enemy, the, 81, 187.

    Enemy, the Lake of the, 80, 127.

    English is little spoken in the north, 11.

    English Channel, the, 229.

    Enterprise Fort, 65.

    Esquimaux, the, 186, 192, 195, 196, 204, 208, 211;
      they also kill the caribou, 56;
      they are dreaded by the Indians, 151, 152;
      presents for them, 164, 167, 209;
      signs of their camp, 201-205.

    Etitchula, the Indian, 135, 136.

    _Et-then, Et-then!_ the cry on the sight of the caribou, 44.

    Euclid's methods, 275.

    Expedition, the object of Mr. Pike's, v, vi, 70;
      the ceremony of commemorating one, 228.

    Fat, Antoine, a blind Indian, 176.

    Fat, Pierre, a blind Indian, 176;
      he appreciates scenery, 178.

    Findlay River, 260, 263, 265, 268, 276, 280, 295;
      its rapids, 264, 265, 281;
      its source, 265.

    Flett, Mr., and his family, passengers down the Athabasca, 5;
      in charge of Fort Smith, 234.

    Fond du Lac, 12, 14, 15, 28, 31, 32, 38, 40, 57, 61, 62, 79, 91,
        92, 93, 96, 97, 101, 104, 120, 130, 134, 135, 136, 137, 139,
        141, 144, 148, 163, 164, 166, 167, 168, 171, 176;
      described, 32;
      women and children left there, 33.

    Fogs, effect of, 108.

    Forest fires, 1.

    France is not sighed for by the priest of an Indian encampment, 232.

    François, _see_ Beaulieu, François.

    François the little, conducts a buffalo hunt, 154-160;
      his wife, 161.

    Franklin, Sir John, vi, 36, 77, 185, 205; his expedition, 63;
      his wintering-place, 65.

    Fraser Lake, 258.

    Fraser River, 231, 256.

    French-Canadians, their _chansons_ dying out, 10.

    French patois of the Red River and the North, 11, 26.

    Gold-dust is to be found by the Peace River, 252.

    Good Hope, Fort, 300.

    Government, motherly, defied, 3.

    _Grahame_, the steamer, 12, 16.

    _Grand Pays_, the half-breeds' name for the outside world, 82, 150.

    Grand Traverse, the, 141, 142.

    Grand Rapids, not reached by the steamer, 5;
      reached by Mr. Pike, 7;
      a description of the channel and its passage, 8-11.

    Gras, Lac de, 64, 70, 108, 109, 121, 175.

    Grease longed for in the cold, 55.

    Great Bear Lake, 68.

    Great Fish or Back's River, 36, 64, 115, 151, 152, 162, 164, 168,
      171, 180, 184, 185, 188, 204, 205, 221.

    Great Slave Lake, _see_ Slave Lake.

    Great Slave River, _see_ Slave River.

    Gros Cap, 148.

    Gunn, Mr., of St. John's, 251;
      he knew Beaver Indian tongue, 252.

    Half-breeds are all Catholics, 41.

    Half-way River, 251.

    Halket Fort, 231.

    Hanging Rock, the Lake of, 93.

    Hardistay, Mr. Frank, 296.

    Hay River, 156.

    Hearne, Mr., vi, 36, 152;
      his _Journey to the Northern Ocean_, 50.

    _Hi hi he, Ho hi he!_ the cry for the stars, 123.

    _Ho lève, lève, il faut partir!_ the cry for arousing a camp, 122.

    Hood, vi.

    Hospitality is in inverse proportion to a man's means, 143.

    Hudson's Bay, 48, 50, 223.

    Hudson's Bay Company, or The Company, v, 1, 3, 14, 50, 52, 82, 83,
        84, 99, 131, 156, 197, 210, 226, 228, 231, 238, 240, 250,
        253, 296;
      Mr. Pike's gratitude to the officers of, for their hospitality,
        viii, 142, 143;
      one of their early trading posts, 2;
      their steamers are well-managed, 17;
      they bring a certain amount of civilisation, 25;
      their duffel _capotes_, 52;
      their compressed tea not good to smoke, 136;
      they are fair to the Indians, 242, 243.

    Hudson's Bay Fort on Macleod's Lake, 260.

    Hudson's Hope, 249, 250, 252, 265, 291, 294, 295;
      visited, 253-257.

    Iceland, 42.

    Inconnu, a fish found only in the Mackenzie River, 29.

    "Indian, the burnt," his bad luck, 221, 222.

    Indians, the great northern territory is their hunting-ground, 1;
      they are more easily managed than the half-breeds, 7;
      they are sent from Locheaux to man the "inland boats," 7;
      they cannot find their way in snow, 122;
      they are very improvident, 131, seq.;
      they are peaceable by nature, 145;
      they dread the Esquimaux, 152;
      their women quarrel, 172;
      they imitate birds very well, 172;
      some of them show themselves much interested in the skin of a
        seal, an animal they had never seen, 202;
      they have a stupid love of killing, 209;
      intoxicating drink may not be given to them, 226.

    Inland boats described, 6.

    John, 258, 268, 270, 271, 276, 277, 278, 280, 281, 283, 285, 288,
      he visits Mr. Pike, 246-254;
      his character, 246, 247.

    John, Saint, _see_ Saint John.

    José, _see_ Beaulieu, José.

    José, the brother-in-law of Zinto, 171, 173.

    Kennedy, Alick, a good _voyageur_, 295.

    Khartoum, 296.

    King, _see_ Beaulieu, King.

    King Lake, 62, 127.

    Labrador tea, 41, 194, 275, 283.

    _La Foule, la Foule!_ the cry on the sight of a caribou band, 89.

    Languages, those of the North, 11;
      those beyond the Cree-speaking belt on the Mackenzie, 26.

    Lard, Lac du, 36.

    Lawrence, Mr., a farmer of Vermillion, 244.

    Lesser Slave Lake, 4, 6, 249, 250, 261, 292, 296, 297.

    Liard River, 155, 156, 230, 231, 251.

    Little Buffalo River, 145, 158;
      it is impregnated with sulphur, 158.

    Little Red River, in Athabasca district, 12;
      its beautiful scenery, 240.

    Little River, 266, 276.

    Little Slave River, 145, 297.

    Locheaux language, 26.

    Lockhart's house, 164.

    Lockhart's or Outram River, 63, 64, 70, 178, 179, 212, 214, 215,
      different opinions of its route, 216.

    Lockhart, Pierre, a guide, 164, 171.

    Lower Peace River, 235.

    Lynx and rabbits, their periodic dying out, 293.

    Macdonald, Ewen, the chief of the Peace River district, 250.

    Macdonald, Walter, son of Ewen MacDonald, 261, 291, 294, 296.

    Macdougall, 228.

    Macfarlane, 228.

    Mackay, Dr., in charge of the Athabasca district, 12, 17, 18, 63,
      a visit from him, 150, 151;
      he sends presents, 163;
      he is absent, 235;
      he is met by Mr. Pike, 238.

    Mackay, Lake, or the Lake of the Hanging Rock, 63, 64, 70, 72, 75,
        80, 89, 92, 99, 106, 125, 178, 179, 220;
      described, 63.

    Mackay, Mr., a Company's clerk, 7, 8.

    Mackay, Murdo, a servant at Fort Resolution who accompanies
      Mr. Pike, 146, 151, 162, 206, 233, 236, 239, 246, 247, 258, 270,
      273, 278, 282, 283, 292.

    Mackenzie, Sir Alex., 13, 253.

    Mackenzie River, or _La Grande Rivière en Bas_, v, 4, 10, 18, 19,
        20, 36, 48, 50, 60, 142, 180, 230, 233, 265, 300;
      its origin, 16;
      the languages spoken along its banks, 26.

    Mackinlay, Mr., in charge of Fort Resolution, 22, 144, 148, 162,
        189, 193, 197, 206, 209, 213, 228, 233, 234;
      joins Mr. Pike in expedition to the Barren Ground, 151.

    Mackinlay, Mrs., 144.

    Macleod, Fort, 266, 271, 277, 278.

    Macleod's Lake, 231, 237, 254, 258, 259, 261, 266, 276, 291, 295;
      Hudson's Bay Fort on it, 260.

    Macleod's River, 266, 271, 273, 276.

    MacMurray, Fort, 7;
      Mr. Pike starts for it, 9;
      reaches it, 11;
      it is the most southerly post of the Athabasca district, 12;
      it is near some natural tar deposits, 13.

    Mandeville, François, the brother of Michel Mandeville, 225.

    Mandeville, Michel, the interpreter at Fort Resolution, 146, 148,

    Mandeville, Moise, the brother of Michel Mandeville, who joins
        Mr. Pike, 151, 162, 168, 179, 183, 197;
      is a good steersman, 198.

    Maps, those of Mr. Pike are not very accurate, vii.

    Marble Island, 210.

    Marlo, the brother of Zinto, 97, 102, 111, 114, 116, 134, 139, 168,
      181, 190, 197.

    Michel, a son-in-law of King Beaulieu, 33, 46, 61, 92, 93, 97, 104,
      110, 130, 134, 139.

    Misère, Point de, 67, 72, 78, 108.

    Mission Island, 144, 228, 229, 230.

    Moberley's Lake, 292, 294.

    Moise, _see_ Mandeville, Moise.

    Montaignais dialect of Chipeweyan language, 26.

    Moose Island, 144.

    Mort, Lac de, 37, 92, 134.

    Mouse chased for a caribou, 107.

    Murdo, _see_ Mackay, Murdo.

    Muskeg country ends at the Point of Rocks, 27.

    Musk-ox, 69, 70;
      the object of Mr. Pike's journey, v, vi;
      to be sought on the Barren Ground, 23;
      the first killed, 69;
      birds seen during the hunt for them, 68;
      an expedition in search of them, 61 seq.;
      a band of them, 113;
      the method of slaughtering them is unpleasant, 116;
      their horns described, 119;
      a description of a hunt for them, 181-183;
      they are said to understand the Yellow-knife language, 183;
      advice to hunters of them, 300, 301.

    Musk-ox, the giant, 81.

    Musk-ox Lake, 185, 186, 187, 188, 194, 212, 214.

    Musk-ox Mountain, 188;
      it is the limit of the Yellow-knives' hunting-ground, 186.

    Nation River, 291.

    Nelson Fort, 156, 251.

    New Year's Day, an occasion of trade, 139, 146.

    Nile, the, 296.

    Noel, an Indian, who joins Mr. Pike's expedition, 97, 111, 112, 115,
      181, 190, 197, 205, 217.

    Northern Packet, the, 150.

    North-West Company, the, 14.

    Old Wives' Lake, 296.

    Omineca, 265, 291.

    Orkney Island, 5.

    Ottawa, 13, 244, 298.

    Outram River, _see_ Lockhart's River.

    Pacific, Canadian Railway, 11, 271.

    Pacific Coast, 209;
      routes to, 231.

    Pacific Ocean, 265.

    Paradox gun, its uses, 137, 138.

    Parsnip River, 260, 263, 266, 267, 270, 271, 276, 277, 291, 295;
      its source, 265;
      its method of freezing, 268.

    Pat, a Sicannee, 258, 260, 266, 271, 272, 273, 274, 276, 277, 283,
      286, 292, 293, 294, 295.

    Paul, _see_ Beaulieu, Paul.

    Peace River, 4, 16, 155, 156, 209, 231, 237, 240, 242, 244, 245,
        246, 248, 249, 251, 252, 253, 256, 265, 293, 294, 297;
      one of the easiest northern waterways, 238;
      farmers should not be tempted to it, 244-246;
      gold-dust is found on its banks, 252.

    Peace River, the Lower, 236.

    Peace River Pass, 278, 285, 301.

    Peel's River, a tributary of the Mackenzie, 20, 162.

    Peel's River Fort, 208.

    Peter, an Indian, who joined Mr. Pike's expedition, 97, 111, 115,

    Pike, Mr. Warburton: the object of his journey is to see the
        musk-ox, v, vi;
      his conveyance and outfit, 1;
      he starts from Calgary for Edmonton, the entrance of the Hudson's
        Bay Company's territory, 1;
      his French half-breed driver, 2, 3;
      he reaches Athabasca Landing and starts down the river, 4;
      he reaches the island at the head of the Grand Rapids, 7;
      he starts for MacMurray Fort, 9, and reaches it, 11;
      he reaches Athabasca Lake, 13;
      he starts for Fort Smith, on the Great Slave Lake, 16, and
        reaches it, 18;
      he makes preparations for the actual journey to the Barren Ground,
        and engages the Beaulieu family as guides and servants, 19;
      he leaves the Company's main route at Fort Resolution, 24;
      he takes too few provisions, 25;
      the details of his outfit, his fleet, and his companions, 25, 26;
      he picks up a little of the Montaignais dialect, 26;
      he encamps in the delta of the Slave River, 26, 27;
      he reaches Fond du Lac, 31, where the women, children, and as much
        baggage as possible are left behind, 33;
      he leaves the Great Slave Lake, and contemplates the country
        he has just left and that towards which he is journeying, 35;
      he takes a new route and names new lakes, 36;
      a good caribou hunt, 43 seq.;
      he approaches the genuine Barren Ground, 46;
      a chapter on the caribou, 47-60;
      he makes an expedition from Lake Camsell in search of the musk-ox,
      he shoots his first musk-ox, 69, 70;
      he concludes that it would be reckless to push further North,
        and turns back, 71;
      he reaches Lake Camsell again, 76;
      plans for the next musk-ox hunt, 79;
      King Beaulieu's theories and anecdotes, 81-88;
      a remarkable passage of the caribou, 89-91;
      a visit of the chief Zinto and his followers, 93;
      arrangements for the second musk-ox hunt, 96, 97;
      he starts, 99;
      his first winter camp in the Barren Ground, 101-104;
      a description of the country, 105-110;
      he is in difficulties for food, 110;
      the musk-ox come in sight and are killed, 112-116;
      the land of the musk-ox, 117;
      another band of musk-ox killed, 118;
      their horns described, 119;
      the return road is lost in the snow, 122, but found the next
        morning, 123;
      he reaches Lake Camsell again and goes on towards Fond du Lac,
      he visits Zinto's camp, 129 seq.;
      he sleeps at Fond du Lac on his road to the Great Slave Lake, 139;
      he is joined by more Indians, 140, 141;
      he reaches Fort Resolution and comparative civilisation, 143;
      some account of the Fort, 143-147;
      he makes a small expedition for caribou with Mackinlay, 148;
      he makes plans for a summer trip to the Barren Ground, 150 seq.;
      he goes on a short buffalo hunt with Mackinlay, 154-162;
      the difficulties in starting for the Barren Ground, 162, 163;
      he leaves Fort Resolution,164;
      he leaves the great Slave Lake with Mackinlay and some of the
        Indians, 174;
      a new method of hunting the musk-ox, 181;
      he makes little expeditions, one with Capot Blanc, 187 seq.;
      a division of the party before going further down the Great
        Fish River, 190;
      Syene, the medicine man, prophesies, 191 seq.;
      two of the Indians desert, 197;
      he turns up-stream, 204;
      he explores a new tributary, 205-208;
      he leaves presents in a deserted Esquimaux camp, 209;
      the return journey, 216-230;
      he cannot stay long at Fort Resolution, and makes plans for
        his journey up-stream, to cross the Rocky Mountains,
        and if possible reach the Pacific, 231;
      he decides between the routes and starts, 232;
      he enters Athabasca Lake, 235;
      he camps at Quatre Fourches, 237;
      he turns westward up the Peace River, 238;
      he reaches Vermillion Fort, 241;
      his difficulties in getting a crew, 245 seq.;
      he reaches Dunvegan, 249, and St. John's, 251;
      he leaves the Cree-speaking belt and enters that of the
        Beaver Indians, 251;
      his first glimpse of the Rockies, 252;
      he reaches Hudson's Hope, 253;
      he camps at the head of the Cañon, 258;
      a change in the wind prevents his making use of sleighs, 259;
      he begins a more detailed account of his winter in the Rockies,
      a dangerous journey to the Findlay Rapids, 263, 264;
      a glance at his geographical position, 265;
      he discovers that the road is lost, 272 seq.;
      a search for food, 274;
      he begins to retrace his way, 276;
      his decision concerning the Indians who steal the rations, 284,
      he reaches Tom Barrow's house, 290;
      he leaves Hudson's Hope for Edmonton, 295,
        which he reaches during an election, 298;
      he writes the last words in St. James's Street, giving advice
        to musk-ox hunters and longing for the Barren Ground, 299 seq.

    Pierre, _see_ Beaulieu, Pierre.

    Pierre, Blind, _see_ Fat, Pierre.

    Pierre the Fool, 218, 219, 223, 224;
      his description of the country east of Clinton Golden Lake, 223.

    Pierre, an Indian boy, the son of little François, 159.

    Pierre, Ile de, 141, 142, 166, 229;
      a good spot for fishing, 27.

    Pine River, 294.

    Pine River Pass, 292.

    Poplar Rapid, 262, 265, 287.

    Portage, the Long, 12;
      the work of portaging described, 17, 18.

    "Prairie, the bald-headed," a term of the cattlemen, 2.

    Proverb of the North, a, 267.

    Ptarmigan plentiful, 44.

    Ptarmigan Lake, 219.

    Quatre Fourches, 16, 237.

    Quesnelle, 231, 246, 250, 258, 271, 292.

    Rabbit and lynx, their periodic decease, 293.

    Rae, Dr., vi.

    Rae, Fort, 95, 148, 167,
      a good starting-point for the Barren Ground, 299.

    Raven, a superstition concerning the, 66.

    Red-deer, the stream of, 2.

    Reid, Mr., of Fort Province, told King Beaulieu that the earth went
      round the sun, 83.

    Resolution, Fort, on the Great Slave Lake, the northern limit of
        the Athabasca district, 12, 22, 24, 50, 59, 97, 130, 150, 154,
        163, 167, 185, 210, 225, 227, 228, 230, 232, 233;
      Mr. Pike returns to it, 143;
      its history and present life, 144, 145;
      it is not perhaps the best starting-point for the Barren Ground,

    Richardson, vi.

    Riel, Louis, his rebellion, 83.

    Rocher, Lac du, 38, 39, 63, 73, 91, 128;
      it is a haunt of the caribou, 39;
      trout are caught in it, 39;
      its products and geological structure, 41, 42;
      it is like the desert of Arnavatn in Iceland, 42.

    Rocks, Point of, the end of the Muskeg country, 27.

    Rocky Mountains, the, v, ix, 1, 143, 155, 209, 231, 237, 238, 241,
        248, 250, 260, 265, 272, 281, 291, 294;
      the first glimpse of, 252, 253;
      Mr. Pike's attempt to cross them, 232-272.

    Round, Mr., in charge of Dunvegan, 250.

    Saint James's Street, 299.

    Saint John, Fort, often called St. John's, 156, 249, 251, 252, 253,
      294, 295.

    Salt River, 19, 21.

    Saltatha, an Indian who joins Mr. Pike's expedition, 97, 109, 111,
        112, 114, 115, 120, 122, 123, 168, 171, 172, 193, 195, 197, 202,
        203, 208, 217, 219, 226;
      his energy, 105, 190;
      his character, 115;
      his illness and its cure by brandy, 211, 227;
      his friendly parting with Mr. Pike, 232;
      his answer to the priest concerning the beauties of heaven, 302.

    Sandy Bay, 180, 275.

    Saskatchewan River, 2, 4.

    Shooting etiquette must be abandoned among the Indians, 159.

    Sicannee fashion of burying, 269, 279.

    Simpson, Fort, 230.

    Simpson, Mr. Scott, in charge of river transport, 6.

    Simpson, Sir G., 253.

    Simpson's group of islands, 28.

    Slave or Great Slave Lake, vii, 13, 15, 16, 20, 21, 25, 36, 40, 41,
        42, 44, 48, 50, 63, 68, 84, 85, 88, 131, 148, 155, 156, 172,
        176, 178, 191, 213, 215, 218, 219, 221, 223, 225, 228, 242, 248,
        300, 301;
      Mr. Pike's journey on, finished, 34;
      his last view of, 35;
      the vegetation on its banks, 30, 31;
      it is a charming place to live on, 232.
      [There is a Lesser Slave Lake, _see_ "Lesser."]

    Slave or Big River, 16, 26, 48, 142, 233, 238;
      its rapids, 12;
      described, 21;
      its wild-fowl, 27.
      [There is also a Little Slave River, _see_ "Little."]

    Slavi language, 26.

    Sleighs of the North described, 99-101.

    Smith, Fort, in Athabasca district, 12, 21, 29, 48, 145, 156, 158,
        161, 163, 231, 234, 236, 245;
      Mr. Pike starts for it, 16;
      the game near it, 18;
      described, 18.

    Smoking, the Company's compressed tea not recommended, 136.

    Smoky River, a tributary of the Peace, 249, 295, 296.

    Snow, called _le couvert du bon Dieu_ by Beaulieu, 62;
      prevents the Indians from finding their way, 122.

    Snow-blindness, its cause and cures, 175.

    Stars, supposed to be brought out by the cry _Hi hi he, Ho hi he_,

    Stewart, Mr., vi, 36, 63, 171, 184, 195.

    Sunday wash, the, 79.

    Superstitions, concerning the caribou, 59;
      and miracles, 133.

    Syene, an Indian medicine man, 152, 168, 222;
      he prophesies, 191, 192.

    Syene, Mrs., assists at the prophesying, 191.

    Tête Jaune Pass, 293.

    Tête Noire's House, 166.

    Thomas, an Indian, the brother of Zinto, 141;
      he is a good guide, 142.

    Tobacco, is missed more than tea, 120, 121;
      the various kinds in use among the Indians, 31;
      it may be made from Cannicannick berry, 31.

    Vermillion, Fort, in Athabasca district, 12, 156, 236, 238, 240,
        241, 242, 247, 248, 249;
      described, 241-244.

    Walls of meat, as in a fairy tale, 76, 77.

    Whisky Jack, the ways of the, 134, 135.

    William, an Indian who joined Mr. Pike's expedition, 97, 111,
      112, 114.

    Willows pulled up for firewood, 121.

    Wilson, Mr., of Vermillion Fort, 245, 246.

    Winnipeg, vii, 11, 144, 214, 296.

    Wolves and wolverines, 57, 89;
      their ways of stealing, 45, 128;
      they hunt the caribou, 56, 57.

    Women, given the heaviest loads, 38;
      their hard work and usefulness, 81;
      they are treated better by half-breeds than by Indians, 82.

    Wood, Mr., in charge of the Athabasca landing, 5.

    Wrangel Fort, 231.

    _Wrigley_, the, a steamer on the Mackenzie, 10, 19, 231, 233;
      her make and work, 20.

    Yellow-knife river, 36, 63.

    Yellow-knife tribe, 32, 37, 48, 53, 60, 66, 72, 85, 86, 92, 95, 96,
        115, 152, 195, 202, 211, 214;
      their etiquette in hunts, 111;
      their encampment, 131 seq.;
      the kind of husband most desired among them, 133;
      their dancing, 147, 148;
      their gambling with the Dog-Ribs, 167;
      their stupidity and cowardice outside their own country, 197;
      their language, 213;
      they are less amenable than the Dog-Ribs, 300.

    York Boat, its peculiarities, 228, 229.

    York factory, 50.

    Zinto, a chief of the Yellow-knives, 96, 97, 129, 130;
      his visit to Mr. Pike and his speech, 93-95;
      his camp and people, 129-134;
      he makes promises of help, 152, 153;
      but does not fulfil them, 163, 164, 167.


    Alaska, 309.

    Anticosti, 309.

    Areas in the Dominion of Canada unexplored, 311-319.

    Canada, 310.

    Dunvegan, 306.

    Exploration still possible and useful, 304.

    Great Bear Lake, 309.

    Great Slave Lake, 309.

    Hudson's Bay, 309.

    Hudson's Bay Company, 305.

    Lewes, 309.

    Macleod Fort, 306.

    Maps proved wrong, 306.

    Mistassini, 309.

    Newfoundland, 309.

    Pelly, 309.

    Red River Valley, 308.

    Reindeer Lake, 309.

    Rocky Mountains, the, 306.

    Winnipeg, 308.

    York Factory, 309.

    Yukon River, 309.

       *       *       *       *       *


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Transcriber's note:

Obvious punctuation errors were corrected.

Hyphen added: birch[-]bark (p. 38), foot[-]hills (p. ix), mid[-]day (p.
3), north[-]east (p. 65), sand[-]bars (p. 13), snow[-]shoes (pp. 82,
92), south[-]east (p. 30), up[-]stream (p. 209).

Hyphen removed: back[-]bone (p. 53), cattle[-]men (p. 331), land[-]marks
(p. 307), medicine[-]man (pp. 330, 332), over[-]land (p. 7), pin[-]tail
(p. 175).

The following words appear both with and without hyphens and have not
been changed: deer[-]skin(s), gun[-]shot, half[-]way, snow[-]drift(s),
snow[-]time, Store[-]room, touch[-]wood, wild[-]fowl, wind[-]bound.

P. 23: "prosspect" changed to "prospect" (the prospect of finding the

P. 41: "buerre" changed to "beurre" (le pain avec le beurre).

P. 67: "afternon" changed to "afternoon" (well on in the next

P. 94: "suppose" changed to "supposed" (but supposed there was
some good reason).

P. 104: "let" changed to "left" (have left us houseless).

P. 124: "feul" changed to "fuel" (fuel was rapidly vanishing).

P. 130: "abtruse" changed to "abstruse" (more abstruse subjects).

P. 131: "scare" changed to "scarce" (when the caribou are scarce).

P. 142: "sankbanks" changed to "sandbanks" (mostly inside sandbanks).

P. 143: "semed" changed to "seemed" (How strange it seemed).

P. 151: "winter" changed to "water" (to descend the Great Fish River
with the first open water).

P. 187: "debateable" changed to "debatable" (there was a debatable

P. 191: "tighty" changed to "tightly" (tightly-stretched deer-skin).

P. 216: "was" changed to "we" (we passed into the short stretch of

P. 221: "roughtly" changed to "roughly" (we reckoned roughly).

P. 226: "given" changed to "give" (forbids a white man to give an

P. 238: "and" deleted (end in dry sand [and] instead of running).

P. 244: "hgher" changed to "higher" (higher up at Smoky River).

P. 249: "Lukily" changed to "Luckily" (Luckily whitefish are very

P. 321: "Baptiste Testerwick" changed to "Baptiste Testerwich".

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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.