Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America, effected by the Officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the years 1836—39/Chapter VIII
Return of the Expedition from Boat Extreme to the Mackenzie.—Ascent of that river.—Boisterous passage of Great Bear Lake.—Arrival at Winter-quarters.
August 6. —Shortly after noon, the expedition, now happily reunited, commenced its return to Mackenzie River. Being favoured by a light wind, and a comparatively clear sea, we steered straight across Smith Bay. In Boat Creek, behind Point M'Pherson, which we entered to sup, we found abundance of drift wood and traces of Esquimaux. Re-embarking, we continued our course all night, under easy sail, along the land.
At 11 next day we reached Cape Halkett, where we breakfasted, and halted for some time. The weather was unsettled, and several smart showers of rain fell. The wind was light, and now right ahead for crossing Harrison Bay, which, however, we resolved to attempt. After proceeding eleven miles in a direct course for Point Berens, the rapid driving of the clouds seemed to indicate an approaching gale off the land. We were at this time "spelling it," as Voyageurs say, under the lee of an iceberg close to the great body of the ice. The depth here was three fathoms, on sand; being the greatest met with in the whole range of our western discoveries. To avoid the risk of being blown too far out, we shaped our course more into the bay, and had scarcely got sight of the land, whose continuity I was now fully able to trace, when a westerly gale sprang up, before which we ran all night under close-reefed sails. The boats shipped a great deal of water, particularly in crossing the flats off Colvile River, but proved themselves worthy of our good opinion; and, drenched and shivering though we were, all hands were overjoyed in the prospect of a rapid return. I must not omit to mention, that, during this stormy run, we fell in with a small island, about a league from the main shore, and not seen on the outward voyage. On landing upon it, we found numerous vestiges of Esquimaux, and a quantity of drift wood brought down by the Colvile, from which it is twelve miles distant. The water between Esquimaux Island, as it was called, and the mainland, was fresh. The actual mouth of the Colvile appeared fully two miles wide; and with such force does its powerful stream issue, that Mr. Dease's boat, in crossing it, four miles out in the bay, became almost unmanageable. From these circumstances, and its relative position to Return Reef, it is evident that this is the opening described to Augustus, Sir John Franklin's interpreter, by his countrymen in 1826, and of which Franklin himself remarks, "I am inclined to think that it is the estuary of a large river, flowing to the west of the Rocky Mountains, obstructed by sandbanks, like the mouth of the Mackenzie." This is another proof of the accurate information to be obtained from the Esquimaux; and we could only regret that we were precluded, by the want of an interpreter, from acquiring some knowledge of the internal communication between Harrison Bay and Cook's Inlet, which the Colvile probably affords.
The party with whom we spent some time in Camden Bay were in possession of iron kettles, which they said they procured from the westward for two skins of the wolverene or glutton. Captain Beechey's officers saw only copper kettles beyond Point Barrow, where the trade is probably conducted in a different manner. The Colvile separates the Franklin and Pelly Mountains, the last seen by us; and probably flows in a long course through a rich fur country, and unknown tribes, on the west side of the grand Rocky Mountain chain, the melting of whose accumulated causes the extraordinary increase and agitation of the waters spoken of by the Esquimaux. It was a subject of unavailing regret that the great distance of our wintering ground rendered it impossible to spare a few days for the examination of this interesting and magnificent stream. Mr. Robert Campbell has been lately employed by the Company—as successor to that enterprising traveller, Chief Trader John M'Leod,—to establish a post among the stupendous fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains, on the sources of the impetuous Liard River, in lat. 57° or 58° and to explore the streams flowing thence towards the Pacific. This young and active traveller met, on the banks of a river called the Stikine, discovered by his predecessor in 1834, a great concourse of Nahanie Indians assembled round a party of Russians. The latter ascend the river in boats to a cataract far within the British lines, at the foot of which there is a splendid salmon fishery. There were a number of men, commanded by four ragged, drunken officers, who spoke a few broken words of English. Campbell afterwards received accounts from the natives of a much larger river, that also takes its rise on the west side of the mountains in a great lake to the northward of the Stikine. From the description I sent him of the Colvile, he thinks that it must be the same; an opinion which corroborates my own preconceived ideas. Should this conjecture prove correct, this river traverses, in its course to the Frozen Ocean, about twenty degrees of longitude and more than twelve of latitude; and the distance of its mouth from its source exceeds one thousand English miles.
After clearing Harrison Bay, the violence of the gale increased. Under treble-reefed sails, and protected by Jones Islands, our little vessels flew through the foaming waves, which often broke over them from stem to stern. At 3 p. m. on the 8th we saw Return Reef, and ran safely into a cove scooped out by a small river in the contiguous mainland. The wind shifted to the north-west, and blew intensely cold. A large herd of deer appeared in the vicinity of our encampment, and one of our half-breed lads, enveloped in a deer-skin robe, approached close to them, but from over-eagerness missed his mark. In the evening a little fawn came to the tents, and was suffered to retreat unmolested; an incident that furnished a name for the streamlet.
9th.—With the morning the weather mitigated, the sun shone out, and the cargoes were exposed to dry. Some good observations were obtained, which placed Fawn River in lat. 70° 25′ 3″ N., long. 148° 24′ 45″ W. Return Reef bore E. N. E. about two miles distant. From this it would appear that my latitude agrees exactly with Sir John Franklin's, but that the longitude is about half a degree or ten miles more to the east; a difference for which I am at a loss to account, as the longitudes of my extreme points of comparison—Tent Island, at the mouth of the Mackenzie, and Point Barrow,—perfectly correspond with the prior determinations of Franklin and Elson. We resumed our route early in the afternoon; and, it having fallen nearly calm, we made slow progress compared with yesterday's boisterous career. The reefs were denuded of the ice from which we had incurred so many risks before; and the water on the shallows was but slightly brackish, in consequence either of the melting of so large a body of ice, or, what is more probable, from the influx of a river of some magnitude in Yarborough Inlet. At a quarter to 10, just as the sun was sinking below the horizon, we landed near Point Anxiety. Numerous boulders of granite strewed the beach. On the level of the plain the ground was rent into enormous fissures by the frost, and large portions of the banks seemed to be constantly falling into the sea and adding to the shallows. Two large buck deer galloped past us, looking in the twilight, with their huge antlers, like goblin huntsmen on horseback. A westerly breeze opportunely springing up, we set our sails, and pursued our voyage all night.
10th.—The wind increased, and we ran along rapidly; passing outside the Lion and Reliance Reefs, and inside of Flaxman Island, where we again encountered the ice. At 11 we landed to breakfast on a reef opposite Mount Coplestone, where the lat. 70° 9′ 8″ was observed. The Romanzoff Mountains were visible in all their grandeur, the loftier peaks being freshly wrapped in snow. We next shaped our course across Camden Bay, steering among the ice under reefed foresails only, till we had passed the scene of our former adventures, when, finding a clearer sea, we set the mainsails, and scudded along at the rate of seven knots an hour. The wind still augmented, a sprinkling of snow fell, and it was bitterly cold. The setting sun glared through angry clouds as we landed on Barter Island, where we regaled ourselves before immense fires of drift timber. Before midnight we re-embarked, and, steering within the reefs for some time, enjoyed a smooth run.
We had no sooner lost the shelter of the reefs than we became exposed to a huge rolling sea, and, as we shot from the crests of the waves into the trough beneath, the gallant little consorts fairly lost sight of each other, till they rose again bounding over the billows.
At 7 in the morning of the 11th we reached Beaufort Bay, where we regained the protection of the seaward ice. It was piercingly cold; the water froze in the kegs; several light snowshowers fell, and the British range of mountains had assumed the livery of another winter. We passed a small camp of Esquimaux without noticing the signals they made us from the tops of their wooden huts; but, while at breakfast at Demarcation Point, five of the men joined us. After advancing about two hours longer, a heavy body of ice, which came driving eastward with great velocity, made us seek the shore and encamp. I strolled for several miles upon the grassy plains stretching to the base of the mountains, but saw no objects of natural history worth collecting, except some great snowy owls, that, perched with half-closed eyes upon little knolls, were too wary to allow of my approach within gunshot. After some time, the men we had seen at Demarcation Point, and several others, among whom were our handsome acquaintances of Camden Bay, arrived with their families, and, pitching their tents near us, pestered us as usual with their trade. We learned from them that they had concluded their barter with the Western Esquimaux and Mountain Indians; and they shewed us the iron kettles, knives, and other things obtained through these channels from the distant Kabloonan, or white men. They knew at once that we had been among the far west Esquimaux from the boots we wore, which were of a wider and clumsier shape than their own. It is easy to account for not meeting on our return with the people of the large camp in Staines' River, as we travelled daring the night, and often out of sight of land, and they were perhaps dispersed along the lakes and inlets, to hunt the reindeer, after ending the trade with their eastern brethren. In the evening the Esquimaux had a leaping-match with our people, in which one of the former bore away the palm. A guard was set during the night. It was high-water about 4 o'clock, both p. m. and a. m.; rise of the tide six inches
The wind having fallen and the ice relaxed in the forenoon of the 12th, we pushed out through it to gain clear water. The day was bright and fine. The mountains stood forth in all the rugged boldness of their outline, displaying their naked rocky peaks and steep descents with such marvellous distinctness that they seemed to touch the coast of which they form the bulwarks. The swell being with us, as long as the calm continued we made some progress with the oars; but a northerly breeze springing up raised such a cross sea that we were in imminent danger of foundering, when we providentially discovered an opening through the ice, leading into the mouth of a small stream—between Backhouse and Malcolm rivers—flowing from an inner basin, where we found a secure and pleasant harbour. It was now 3 p. m.; and, incited by the beauty of the weather, I ascended the nearest hill, six or seven miles distant, whence I enjoyed a truly sublime prospect. On either hand arose the British and Buckland Mountains, exhibiting an infinite diversity of shade and form; in front lay the blue boundless ocean strongly contrasted with its broad glittering girdle of ice; beneath yawned ravines a thousand feet in depth, through which brawled and sparkled the clear alpine streams; while the sun, still high in the west, shed his softened beams through a rich veil of saffron-coloured clouds that overcanopied the gorgeous scene. Bands of reindeer, browsing on the rich pasture in the valleys and along the brooks, imparted life and animation to the picture. Reluctantly I returned to the camp at sunset.
We were detained next day by the ice and a contrary wind. The latitude 69° 35′ 29″ was observed, and the thermometer rose to 48°. The sun set brightly at a quarter past 9.
The 14th was likewise fine, but the east-wind blew too strongly, and the ice was in too violent motion for the prosecution of our voyage. We made the most of the detention by rambling about the skirt of the mountains, where two fine does were shot; and I almost envied the Indians and Esquimaux, who, dispersed along the rivers and in the valleys, were now enjoying the brief season with that zest which perfect freedom alone can give. A few stars were visible tonight; the aurora also made its first appearance.
15th.—The wind fell, and at 5 a. m. we embarked. It was one of those glorious mornings whose enlivening power all nature acknowledges. A copious dew had fallen, the air breathed light and balmy, and the deer bounded across the plains. As we advanced, the mirage played some strange antics on the water, which it elevated on the north and west sides into the similitude of two highly inclined planes, garnished with innumerable icebergs, apparently ready to topple over upon us as we rowed through this mimic valley.
The high land of Herschel Island assumed distorted and varying shapes, and it was not till 5 in the afternoon that we reached the strait separating it from the main shore. After passing this channel, we encountered a rolling swell that much retarded our progress. A good many natives were seen as we coasted along, some of whom came alongside, welcomed us back from afar (awānk), inquired about the last camps of their countrymen we had seen, and were no less delighted than astonished when we read the names of some of them from our note-books. At 10 p. m. the moon, now at the full, and seen for the first time since our leaving Athabasca, arose, and, after lowly circling over the eminences next the coast, set again long before the reappearance of the sun.
At 1 next morning we reached Point Stokes, where we supped, and were soon visited by the women and junior branches of several Esquimaux families, who told us that the men were all hunting in the interior. We asked one or two of the young lads to accompany us, with a view of training them as interpreters for the eastern voyage; but they peremptorily refused. Resuming our route, we at 6 reached Point Kay, where we halted till the afternoon to rest and refresh our wearied men. During this interval the thermometer ascended to 54°, and a sea-bath was a real luxury.
Several native families visited us. They confirmed what the remarkable clearness of the atmosphere had discovered to us; that the Babbage is at this time of year an insignificant stream, but swells into a torrent in the spring when the mountain snows dissolve. This great reduction in the volume of water discharged into the sea accounts for the fact, that some deep channels in the reefs, through which our boats entered on the outward voyage, were now completely filled up. Among the gravel two pieces of pitch-coal were found. One of the young half-breeds killed a brace of ducks at a shot, much to the amazement of the Esquimaux, who begged for the birds as a great curiosity. As the twilight drew on, numerous fires blazed along the beach, round which groups of natives were collected, many of whom came off to us. Near Point King we had eleven fathoms' water, with a clear sandy bottom, and four small whales were seen in the offing. At midnight we once more landed on Shingle Point, where we were much harassed, during the few hours we stayed, by a large and motley party of Esquimaux. While the men slept in the boats, Mr. Dease and I kept guard on the beach, but had the utmost difficulty in preventing pilfering, though we had made our unwelcome visitants the usual presents. One hideous dwarfish creature was particularly troublesome, and, in spite of our precautions, a frying-pan was missing out of the bow of my boat in the morning. Upon my demanding restitution, the offender was pointed out; and I was in the act of going up to him, when he drew his long knife upon me, and at the same moment M'Kay called out that one of his accomplices was bending his bow to transfix me through the back. I turned round in time to prevent the treacherous design, and, as our people were prepared to support us, the Esquimaux were glad to submit; and an old man produced the bone of contention from under a pile of drift wood. I may here remark, that, except at Point Barrow, we invariably found the arrogance of the natives to increase in due proportion with their numbers. The moderation and forbearance o the whites are, in their savage minds, ascribed to weakness or pusillanimity; while the fierceness of the Loucheux and Mountain Indians inspires terror. Notwithstanding the deceitful good-humour of the Esquimaux, I have no hesitation in asserting, that, were they in possession of fire-arms, it would require a stronger force than ours to navigate their coasts.
We gladly re-embarked at 5 in the morning of the 17th. The weather was delightful, but the wind adverse, and our progress consequently slow. The hills still clothed in verdure charmed the eye, and indicated our near approach to the milder climate of the Mackenzie. After several hours' labour in passing the flats of Shoalwater Bay, with the ebbing evening tide, we entered the western mouth of the riyer, and there encamped. With the telescope we discovered that the village on Tent Island was abandoned; from which we inferred that a narration about guns and cutting of throats, with which some of the Esquimaux had entertained us as we came along to-day, referred to an actual or apprehended attack of the Loucheux to avenge their slaughtered friends, and not to a scheme of the Mountain Indians to waylay us, as we at the time imagined. I here had the satisfaction of obtaining a set of lunar distances, which gave for the longitude 136° 36′ 45″ W.; the latitude, by the moon's meridian altitude, being 68° 49′ 23″ N. The longitudes assigned to the various points in our discoveries have been corrected and reduced back from hence by the watch; and the results are highly satisfactory, our expeditious return in thirteen days from Point Barrow yielding indeed little scope for error. Mr. Dease and I watched while the men slept. The night was serene, and not a sound broke upon the solemn stillness, save the occasional notes of swans and geese calling to their mates, and the early crowing of the willow partridge, as the soft twilight melted into the blush of dawn.
Our ascent of the Mackenzie was performed almost exclusively by towing, at the rate of from thirty to forty miles a day. The crews were divided into two parties, who relieved each other every hour, and were thus spared all unnecessary fatigue. The weather continued calm and fine; the sultry heats of the short summer were past; the nights were cool, and no musquitoes disturbed our rest, or assailed us in our woodland rambles. The waters were considerably abated, and large portions of the high mud-banks, undermined by their action, were constantly tumbling down, with a crash that, in the silence of evening, was heard for miles.
Up to Point Separation, where we encamped on the 21st, moose-deer were numerous, for there were neither Esquimaux nor Indians to disturb their favourite haunts. Next day we fell in with several parties of Loucheux, whose unobtrusive manners were pleasingly contrasted with the importunate and annoying behaviour of the Esquimaux. We were glad to learn that their tribe had had no hostile meeting with the latter during our absence. In the evening there arose a sudden storm of wind and rain. During the two following days we continued to meet the Loucheux, on their return from Port Good Hope. The women, children, and baggage were descending the stream, on rafts formed of two large logs joined by a cross bar thus, A. On the fore part rested a raised platform, where the passengers sat; and the men escorted these primitive vessels in their bark canoes, which, when they choose, are conveniently secured between the projecting arms of the after-part of the rafts. Among these people was the lame man whom Franklin saw in Peel River. From the course of the latter stream through the rich beaver country that borders on the mountains, it appeared to us well worthy of the Company's attention, and was three years after settled by Mr. Bell.
The sun disappeared on the 23rd for about eight hours, a rapid change from constant day!
On the 24th we encamped a mile above old Fort Good Hope, on the opposite side of the river, under a high cliff of crumbling slaty rock, strongly impregnated with iron, and containing a great deal of sulphur. There was some thunder with lightning and rain during the night. The navigation became more obstructed by shoals and sandbanks as we ascended. One of the boats struck, and half filled with water, which caused the loss of part of a day to dry the soaked cargo and repair the damage. We saw a good many Hare Indians, who supplied us with fresh fish; and a couple of Loucheux, on their way to Fort Good Hope, kept company with us for two days, at the end of which they fell behind, being unable to bear the fatigue of our long hours—from 4 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night.
On the evening of the 26th there was a brilliant display of the aurora, which our Loucheux companions called "saung." Ursa major they denominated "eutyæ," and told us that its Esquimaux appellation is "bellic." They mimicked the manners and address of that race to the life. Upon the beach was found the body of a female child about five years old, who, we afterwards learned, had been abandoned by the outer Hare Indians. The poor child had lost both parents, and, having no other relatives to take care of it, was cruelly left to its fate. Our chancing to pass beyond the limit of the traders' travels disclosed a circumstance which these people thought would have remained secret; for they have been so severely taken to task by the Company's officers for similar acts of barbarity, that they are now comparatively rare, and in general carefully concealed. The practice of mothers casting away their own female children, which is common at this day in China, Madagascar, Hindostan, and other countries more blessed by nature than Mackenzie River, was frequent here, as it was in all parts of America before the settlement of the whites, and is still among a tribe far to the westward of Fort Norman, who only descend for a short time from their mountains every second or third year, and have therefore not become humanized by intercourse with the establishments. Yet why should we judge harshly of these poor people? Let the philanthropist weigh the following passage in Gibbon, before the savages of the New World are pronounced a reproach to the human species: "The exposition of children was the prevailing and stubborn vice of antiquity. It was sometimes proscribed, often permitted, almost always practised with impunty by the nations who never entertained the Roman ideas of paternal power; and the dramatic poets, who appeal to the human heart, represent with indifference a popular custom which was palliated by the motives of œconomy and compassion." And immediately afterwards: "The lessons of jurisprudence and Christianity had been insufficient to eradicate this inhuman practice, till their gentle influence was fortified by the terrors of capital punishment."  The candid inquirer will also do well to reflect what would probably have been the fate of many of the youthful inmates of the European Foundling Hospitals, had such institutions been unknown. And when he considers, moreover, that these last are generally the offspring of guilt, the pride of national superiority ought to die within him. Though the Company's posts in the Mackenzie River can barely subsist, the officers do all in their power to maintain poor objects and forsaken children. Were they to give unlimited indulgence to the natives, half the population would be left on their hands, general starvation must ensue, and the surviving whites would have to abandon the country. The following are Sir John Franklin's remarks on this painful subject: "Infanticide is mentioned by Heame as a common crime amongst the Northern Indians, but this was the first instance that came under our notice, and I understand it is now very rare amongst the Chipewyan tribes; an improvement in their moral character which may be fairly attributed to the influence of the traders resident among them."
At 9 in the morning of the 28th we reached Fort Good Hope, where we found Mr. Bell and all the inmates well, but labouring under a scarcity of provisions occasioned by the failure of their summer fishery. We had our wet pemican bags immediately ripped up and laid out to dry, for even the dogs reject this invaluable aliment when it has become mouldy.
On the 29th there fell some light showers, but the weather continued mild, the temperature being steady at about 60° Seyeral Loucheux brought in furs to trade, and were very anxious to obtain, in exchange, the shells called "eyeaquaws," a sort of cowries, which in the Columbia and New Caledonia form the native currency. This foolish fancy originated in their having seen some of these shells with one of the half-breed women; and the use to which they intended to apply them was to thrust them through the septum of the nose—an ornament of a very grotesque description. These people prefer such trivial articles to the cloth and blankets with which the stores are furnished. Their real wants being limited to arms, ammunition, kettles, ironwork, and cutlery, their furs are cheaply purchased. The spoils of the moose and reindeer furnish them with meat, clothing, and tents. This day was allowed our men for rest, and in the evening they celebrated their return from the sea by a dance.
Having completed our arrangements, we took our departure the following afternoon; our party being now increased by Mr. Dease's wife, niece, and grand-daughter. The weather was occasionally cloudy, with some smart showers of rain, while the loftier mountains appeared newly covered with snow.
On the evening of the 3rd September we crossed the confluence of the transparent waters of Bear Lake River, and encamped on its southern side. Here we deposited our cargoes, and placed them under the charge of two men, with the intention of proceeding unencumbered to Fort Norman, there to meet our outfit and despatches. A meridian altitude of a Aquilæ placed us in lat. 64° 54′ 48″ N.
4th.—A cold frosty night was succeeded by a lovely day. We took an early breakfast at the burning banks, and lighted our fire with coals of nature's kindling. In the woods that crown this vast hot-bed we found a great profusion of very fine raspberries and gooseberries, which afforded us a rich treat. The beautiful river and mountain scenery of this part of the Mackenzie is already well-known, and at this period the many-tinted foliage of autumn highly embellished the prospect. In the afternoon a very large black bear made his appearance on the opposite side of the river. After reconnoitering us for a while, with a look of great stupidity, he took the water. Sinclair and I then ran to the end of the island, along which we were tracking, in order to shoot him as he landed; but, on seeing us, he sheered out again, and the signal was given to M'Kay, who immediately pursued with his boat, and dispatched him in the stream. His flesh proved excellent. At 6 P.M. we reached Fort Norman, to the utter amazement of the person in charge, who imagined us still on the coast. The boats from Portage la Loche, carrying the goods and provisions for our second campaign,—if I may be allowed the term,—were not yet arrived, but made their appearance on the 8th, when we had the happiness to receive tidings from many dear and distant friends. The season had now fairly broken up, and on the 9th it rained very heavily. We closed our despatches to the Company, and got everything in readiness for our departure to winter-quarters.
The 10th was ushered in by a severe snow-storm and hard frost. At 7 in the morning our express, carried by Taylor and young Wentzel in a small canoe, started for Fort Resolution, and at the same moment we set out for Great Bear Lake. So strongly did it blow from the northward, that we had to tow the boats down the current; and it was late when we reached Bear Lake River. For the three following days we continued ascending its clear and rapid stream. Everything wore a wintry aspect; a good deal of snow fell, large masses of old ice lay undissolved on the beach, and the still parts of the river were newly frozen over.
On the 12th we saw some Hare Indians below the rapids. The path there led along the almost perpendicular face of loose rocky cliffs, and often on the edge of the rapids, where a single false step would have been fatal. It was the most dangerous tracking I had yet seen; but we all passed without accident. Indeed, throughout the fur countries, since the introduction of boats, deaths by drowning are of rare occurrence: during the old canoe system they were but too frequent; though I question whether they ever equalled the proportion of casualties among sailors, fishermen, Canada raftsmen, and various other hazardous professions.
On the 13th we encamped within eight miles of Great Bear Lake. When we came in view of that magnificent sheet of water the following morning, it was violently agitated by an easterly wind. It occupied us two hours to reach the ruins of Fort Franklin; and, after a cold ducking from the waves, we found a snug harbour in the "little lake," where the officers of the former expedition made their experiments in acoustics. The bateaux, which had been despatched ahead from Fort Norman, were waiting for us here, and we encamped together. Several nets were set, with which we soon drew a good supply of trout, pike, white-fish, grayling, inconnu, and salmon-herring. In the evening I obtained a set of lunar distances; the longitude resulting from which was 123° 13′ 0″ W., being sixteen seconds westward of the position previously assigned to Fort Franklin. This difference, equal to two hundred yards, might be about our actual distance from the site of the buildings; and, though such perfect agreement on a single trial is, of course, accidental, it strengthened my confidence in the exactness of which the lunar method is susceptible, when the distances are carefully taken, and rigorously computed.
It continued to blow from the east till near noon on the 15th, when, the wind moderating, we embarked, and it soon afterwards fell calm. The afternoon, though cold, was serenely beautiful. Almost at the moment of sunset the moon appeared, and, while rising, assumed successively the most singular shapes, shewing the great power of the terrestrial refraction.
Next day we made good progress with the oars. The immediate borders of the lake are low; and the face of the country is mossy and barren, or poorly wooded with spruce-fir. I sounded in thirty-four fathoms about half a league from the shore; but there are in Great Bear Lake far greater depths than this—descending below the level of the ocean. When we encamped at dusk, a long rolling swell threatened the approach of a gale.
On the 17th we started at 6; the weather dark and squally, with a short cross sea, and the wind close. At noon, when within two miles of the eastern side of "the Bay of the Deer-pass," we were alarmed by a cry of distress from Mr. Dease's boat, which had sprung a plank, and was rapidly filling. Providentially, one of the bateaux was within reach, with whose aid we took out the people and the drenched cargo, and towed the injured boat to land, which we gained after a tough pull, for it blew dead off shore. The remainder of the day was employed in repairing the damage. The evening was very boisterous, and snow fell during the night. We pulled under the lee of the land on the 15th, to the Cape of the "Scented-grass Mountain," where the strength of the north wind obliged us to put back a mile or two, to seek shelter in a little bay. At noon the thermometer stood at the freezing point, and one or two reindeer were seen.
During the four succeeding days we were detained at the same spot by severe winter weather, and the country was permanently covered with snow. Our canvass tents affording no protection from the rigour of the cold in so exposed a situation, we constructed a leather lodge, in which we Indianized comfortably enough. The nights were extremely dark; and ice, an inch thick, formed in the kettles. Our hunters killed three fine reindeer, one of which—a superb buck—must have weighed from two to three hundred pounds. From the top of the hills I had the good-fortune to catch a glimpse of the high land behind Cape M'Donell, bearing north-east, on the opposite side of the lake. All the small lakes in the hollows of the mountain were firmly frozen. Alarmed at the near approach of winter, the Indians, who formed half the crew of the two bateaux, wished to leave us; but we resolved to prevent their desertion, by seizing the first practicable moment to attempt the grand traverse to Cape M'Donell, instead of the safer but more circuitous route by Smith's Bay.
23rd.—The wind moderated, and changed from north to east; the temperature of the air was 26°; the clouds were black and threatening; and there was a heavy swell. We determined to make a push; and, after an early breakfast, stood out for Cape M'Donell, guided by the compass. I led the way in the small boats; and, to encourage the people, Mr. Dease followed with the bateaux. The change of wind having raised a dangerous cross sea, we were rather roughly handled. We had to sail within four points of the wind; the boats and rigging soon became one mass of ice; and five hours elapsed before we got sight of the opposite land, greatly to the relief of the men, who all imagined that I was steering a wrong course. The wind again freshened; but the sea, though it ran still higher, became more regular, and in three hours more we safely reached Cape M'Donell. At sunset we found a few dwarf pines in a little bay, where we encamped. The bateaux did not make their appearance, having lost sight of us, and pulled in for the wrong side of the cape. Had it not been for Mr. Dease's presence, they would assuredly have gone up M'Tavish Bay to look for the establishment; as it was, they had hard work to reach the shore. In the snow around our encampment the tracks of Alpine hares were numerous.
Being joined by our consorts in the forenoon of the 24th, we alternately sailed and rowed among the islands and bays that abound on the east side of this large arm of the lake. A great deal of young ice had formed along the shores; the weather was snowy, squally, and excessiyely cold. A herd of reindeer, and many large flocks of partridges, now perfectly white, were seen in the course of the day. We passed, near the Narrakazzæ Islands, huge lumps of rock, that rise out of the water to the height of a hundred feet. This I ascertained by climbing the highest of them the following spring, whence I had a commanding view of the whole group, and of the frozen lake around.
On the 25th the weather was rather milder. A solitary Canada goose, the very last straggler of the rear-guard, flew past to the southward. Several loons, and some flocks of small diving ducks, still lingered in the open water. As we passed through the strait where we afterwards established our principal fishery, a ravenous trout seized the steersman's oar, and was almost drawn out of the water before relinquishing its hold. We made for the mouth of Dease River, where we were met by an old Indian, who directed us to our future residence, about three miles to the westward. We reached it at 4 P.M., and had the satisfaction of finding our comrades safe and well. Our greetings were cordial indeed; and, with feelings of sincere gratitude to an Almighty Protector, we bestowed upon our infant establishment the name of Fort Confidence.
- Subsequently to this (in April 1839), Campbell's post was plundered and destroyed by a band of about a hundred Nahanies, who, painted in the most horrid manner, and uttering frightful yells, fired into the houses, and would have instantly massacred Campbell and his comrades, already greatly reduced by starvation, had not the grand chieftainess interposed to save their lives; but, with a refinement in ferocity, these savages would not permit a few friendly Indians to relieve their famine. Three men perished; and, after incredible sufferings, Campbell, with the few survivors, escaped to Fort Halkett, several hundred miles down the river. An arrangement entered into by Governor Simpson with Baron Wrangel, to lease the whole Russian line of American coast as far north as Cape Spencer, will, it is to be hoped, prevent a repetition of such dreadful scenes as the above, which there is too much reason to suspect was instigated by the jealousy of the Russian traders on the Stikine. All the principal men among the Nahanies have a number of slaves, who act as beasts of burden, and are treated by their inhuman masters in the most brutal manner. The new arrangement will, I have no doubt, effect a gradual improvement in the condition of these unhappy beings.
- M'Kay afterwards told me that he thrice had his finger on the trigger of his gun, to be beforehand with the fellow who was taking aim at me behind.
- In a conversation with the Dog-ribs, we afterwards learned that these Mountain Indians are cannibals, and, immediately upon any scarcity arising, cast lots for victims. Their fierce manners have been circumstantially described by an old man, who, while yet a stripling, fled from the tribe, and joined himself to the Dog-ribs, in consequence of his finding his mother, on his return from a successful day's hunting, employed in roasting the body of her own child, his youngest brother.
- "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," vol. viii. page 56.
- Second Expedition, page 64.
- They are more stationary in winter than other tribes; and their dwellings are partly under ground, like those of the Samoidea of Northern Siberia.
- In the Appendix of Franklin's Journal, these islands are stated to be seven hundred feet high.