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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 XIII

< 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


Transactions at Fort Confidence, Winter 18S8-89.—Murder and Distress among the Indians.—Relief afforded them.

We had the satisfaction to find the people in perfect health, and eyerything in good order, on our arrival. The buildings had been rendered more comfortable during the summer; and Ritch had not only purchased a considerable quantity of dried yenison from the Indians, but had also prepared in the same manner several thousand trout and white-fish, taken by his fishermen on either side of the island. A serious misunderstanding with the natives had, however, nearly arisen from a very trivial cause. A person at the house caught a little water-insect, bearing, like the root of the mandrake, some faint resemblance to the human form, and afterwards threw it back into the lake. Out of this incident a story was manufactured and circulated, that the whites had caught and murdered an Indian and cast his body into the water; nor were the natives convinced of their foolish credulity till after our return. Supposing, from the stock of provisions on hand, that we might safely dispense with the further services of our Chipewyan hunters, we sent them back to their own country by a boat which came with our supplies from Mackenzie River. After being liberally recompensed for all the meat they had furnished us, and amply provided for their journey, they received a present of two hundred beaver-skins payable on their arrival at Athabasca. As it was their intention to hunt a rich fur country on their way from Fort Simpson thither, if they have learned foresight and economy from the whites who brought them so far from their own lands, they may, with such means untouched before them, be among the most independent of savages. Four men of our own, and some dogs, were despatched by the same conveyance to Mackenzie River and Great Slave Lake, to meet the expected expresses, and bring back some articles of clothing, &c. required by our people, which had been kindly forwarded from Norway House by Chief Trader Ross.

On the 18th of September an annular eclipse of the sun took place. Its beginning was invisible, from clouds; and the Indians at the house looked on with surprise when they saw me place myself at the telescope. But, before noon, the heavens cleared, the sun shone out, shorn of half his beams, and the natives were struck with amazement when I pointed out to them the moon-like form of the more glorious luminary. Then their chief conjuror, Zāedhi, confessed that he was but a child in knowledge. This reminds me of a singular coincidence in a prediction of that same personage, at Fort Confidence, regarding us, during our absence on the coast. After working himself up to the prophetic pitch with the aid of his drum and other mysteries, he suddenly exclaimed, in presence of the inmates, "I am afraid, I am afraid—I see Esquimaux dogs in their camp," &c. He afterwards assured his wondering auditory that he had been with us "in the spirit," and exhibited some balls belonging to my percussion gun, the first of that sort he had ever seen, which he pretended to have taken out of my pocket while asleep, though he had in reality abstracted them from my apartment, probably for this express purpose. The more horrible parts of his prediction were disproved by our safe return; but his single hit, regarding the dogs, was amply sufficient to secure him an enduring reputation among his credulous countrymen. The professions of conjuror and physician are among all savage nations united. or rather synonymous, for ignorance is the parent of superstition. As the young men who assisted us to Kendall River, and who carried my little wolves to the establishment, were on their way thither, they stopped at the hunting-camp, where they found the blind old man, already spoken of, at the point of death. The singular thought instantly occurred to the conjuring doctor that the skin of one of the poor little animals, taken off and applied, yet warm with the vital heat, to the breast of the expiring man, would reanimate him and restore his vigour. The experiment was tried, but I need not add in vain.

This aged man's was the only natural death that occurred within our knowledge during the summer, for the natives enjoyed abundance, and were happily free from all sickness; but, on the 20th of October, we received the distressing news of the murder of two young Dog-rib girls in the direction of the Coppermine, a few days after our return from that river. They had gone out to a little distance from the camp, in order to carry home venison, when they were assailed by some dastardly lurking wretch, who despatched the poor defenceless creatures with a knife. Many and various were the opinions respecting the perpetrators of this detestable crime; even the Esquimaux were accused; but for some time suspicion rested upon the Copper Indians. The Dog-ribs and Hare Indians long groaned under cruel injuries from the latter licentious tribe, who termed them "slaves," and, whenever they met, used to rob them of their women and their most valuable efects. But the "slaves," though to a stranger they appear a mild race, are yet exceedingly treacherous; a quality which their cowardice serves but to augment, for what they dare not attempt openly they effect through stratagem and cunning. Thus, in 1823, they fell upon their persecutors by surprise, and cut off a considerable party, including The Hook and Long Legs, who figure in Sir John Franklin's first journey. The terror of this act of retribution is undoubtedly the cause why we were visited by no Copper Indians during our long residence at Fort Confidence. The present suspicion arose from the recent death of Akaitcho, the old chief of that tribe, so honourably mentioned by Franklin and Back, and a reported declaration of his followers, that their grief and despair could only be consoled by making war upon their unoffending neighbours. At length, however, the suspicion attached to the Copper Indians was discarded, and the guilt fixed by the natives upon an individual of their own camp, named Edahadelly (my quondam hunting companion), who had all but avowed the commission of a former act of blood. I shall give the reasons which led to this conclusion, as they furnish a favourable specimen of Indian logic; though it is but fair to add that they were the fruit of the united wisdom of the whole camp, extracted by slow degrees, and matured in many long and smoky conferences. Edahadelly, on his return to the camp on the day of the murder, reported that he had seen at a distance two suspicious-looking strangers, who were never heard of afterwards, nor were even their tracks seen by the other hunters, who were out in various directions the same day. On one of the bodies being brought in by those who went to look for the missing girls, he set about conjuring, which he pretended revealed to him the place where the other corpse lay, and its position; also that, after being mortally wounded, the poor little girl had applied a piece of leather to her side to stop the effusion of blood. All these particulars were verified; Edahadelly himself leading the way to the fatal spot, and afterwards taking upon him the duty of interring the body, in order, the Indians said, to entitle him, without confessing the deed, to assume certain marks upon the wrists and neck—the same which, by their superstition, a murderer wears.

Whoever was the real assassin, the alarm occasioned by this atrocious action had well-nigh brought upon our Indians, and upon ourselves, still greater calamities. The natives abandoned their hunting grounds, and flocked for protection to the establishment, where it was afterwards asserted by the female inmates that a plot was actually hatching against us by the relatives of the deceased, the very people who shared most liberally in our bounty; "because," said they, "if the fort had not been on our lands, we should not have been where we were when the misfortune happened!" Be this as it may, many of the Indians must have perished from hunger, had it not been for the prompt and extensive relief we afforded them, not merely while they remained with us, but comprehending provisions to take them to places where they might procure their own subsistence. This was done at our own imminent risk; for, though fall-fisheries were established immediately after our return from the coast, they were unproductive, and the winter fisheries yielded still less than those of the previous season. During the remainder of the year 1838 the natives were a grievous burthen upon us, and rendered us little or no assistance; for the deer had deserted the peninsula, where they were so numerous the former winter, and retired to the southward of Great Bear Lake, and along the woody borders of the Coppermine Riven Most fortunately for all, the present winter was less inclement than the long and terrible one of 1837-8.

Finding our resources falling very low, Sinclair was placed, with our two active coast-hunters, Larocque and Maccaconce, who with their brothers formed a little party, at the head of M'Tavish Bay. Animals being very scarce, the supply of meat we received from them in the beginning of 1839 was extremely small: matters, however, might have improved, had not a most exaggerated rumour of their success reached the ears of a number of elderly people and children who were scattered at the various fishing points in our vicinity. Some of these came to the house and received a supply of provisions from Mr. Dease, under promise of returning to their fishing-places, and remaining quiet till we heard certain news from the hunters; instead of which they all collected, and with the very means furnished them clandestinely set out to join those poor fellows, though not less than sixty miles off. This they regarded as a master-stroke of cunning, but it had well-nigh cost them dear; for in February Sinclair returned in a very reduced state, having, in common with the whole camp, been for some time subsisting on scraps of skin and roasted leather. The able hunters, he informed us, had been obliged to separate from the old people who brought this misery upon them, and proceed south-eastward to the Coppermine River; while the unfortunate dupes of their own folly, about twenty in number, were left in a pitiable condition at the head of M'Tavish Bay. We lost no time in sending them a large bag of pounded meat, reserved for making pemican in the spring, which saved them from absolute starvation; and, with Sinclair's assistance, they rejoined our hunters near the Coppermine, whose services were consequently lost to us for the remainder of the season. Independent of frequent passing relief we had, in the same month, the satisfaction of saving the lives of two old women and two little girls at the establishment. The latter especially, when brought in, were so weak as to be scarcely able to stand; but by care and kindness they recruited fast, and all remained with us till late in the spring. In short, the winter was one continued term of anxiety on our part for the natives around us; while our stock of food at the fort was, by the opening of March, almost entirely expended, our men having to perform journeys of two and three weeks' duration to the southward, where alone reindeer were to be found. The only persons who actually perished during this miserable winter were an elderly woman and a new-born child, which the starving mother cast away. Far be it from us, however, to arrogate any merit for our exertions in preserving the lives of our fellow-creatures. It is a duty conscientiously fulfilled by every officer in the service when the occasion arrives, and was this very winter performed with equal effect by our next neighbour, Chief Trader M'Pherson of Mackenzie River.

The cause which leads to the occasional abandonment of the old and decrepit in the northern districts has never been thoroughly explained.[1] When a party determine upon proceeding to some distant hunting-ground, they usually leave the refuse of the camp at some known fishery, where they can easily subsist during the absence of the active and the robust. The old folks, however, who are in general noted as grumblers and haters of fish diet, are not always satisfied with this arrangement; and, in spite of remonstrance, will hobble after the hunting-camp, often reaching it long past nightfall. They act as a dead weight upon the able hunters, who are by Indian law—a law founded on the two great principles of reciprocity and necessity—obliged to share their success with all present; and, when the scarcity occasioned by their own obstinacy ensues, these elderly people are, of course, the first to sink under it. In this very way were the twenty, whom Sinclair rescued from inevitable death, exposed to the last extremities, as already described. No people so soon get tired of any particular diet as Indians; and their longings for change, even amidst the best cheer, are often truly ridiculous. The flexibility of their stomachs is no less surprising. At one time they will gorge themselves with food, and are then prepared to go without any for several days, if necessary. Enter their tents; sit there, if you can, for a whole day, and not for an instant will you find the fire unoccupied by persons of all ages cooking. When not hunting or travelling, they are, in fact, always eating. Now, it is a little roast, a partridge or rabbit perhaps; now, a tid-bit broiled under the ashes; anon, a portly kettle, well filled with venison, swings over the fire; then comes a choice dish of curdled blood, followed by the sinews and marrow-bones of deer's legs singed on the embers. And so the grand business of life goes unceasingly round, interrupted only by sleep! Another physical singularity of the northern tribes is, that though capable of resisting, with great fortitude, the most intense cold, they are wonderfully fond of fire. At an establishment, even when the weather is mild and pleasant out of doors, they are to be seen heaping on fuel in the house, and actually sitting cross-legged on the hearth, where a white man would speedily be roasted. I have, however, remarked, that the invariable effect of the North American climate is to render even Europeans more chilly than on their first arrival; from which we must infer that there is something debilitating in the climate or mode of life.

During ten days in March I was absent on an excursion, with two servants and two natives, for the carcases of a couple of deer placed "en cache" by the latter to the southward of Great Bear Lake. When we reached the place, we found that the deposit had been wantonly opened for the purpose of purloining part of the meat, which was already paid for. The consequence was, that the ravenous wolverenes had obtained free ingress, and left us little more than the bones. The camp having removed still farther southward, I dismissed the Indians, and with my two companions returned, on short commons, to the establishment. I regretted this disappointment the more, as it prevented me from exploring the remaining ramifications of the south-east corner or angle of M'Tavish Bay, which terminates this magnificent inland sea. These slender but numerous arms are concealed by the large island where Dr. Richardson and Lieut. Kendall's survey in 1826, and mine in 1838, met. Some of them I passed through on the way to our rifled cache; but our couriers to and from Port Simpson, by way of Marten Lake, travelled a good day's journey farther southward, among numberless channels and islands, which I soon found it would be an endless business to examine. At a very short distance the shore appears uniform, though rugged; but, on approaching closer, and turning a rocky point or looking in behind an islet, a cove or creek is seen, ending apparently within gunshot, when, on advancing to make "assurance doubly sure," the wanderer is astonished to find a narrow winding channel, which, after a mile or two, expands into a wide arm, running away to an unknown distance among the hills and precipices of naked rock that form this truly primitive country. Crossing one of these branches on the way out, I asked my native guide how far it led. He, apprehending my desire of exploring it, replied, "Ten days' journey," pointing to the north-east, "without a tree to make fire." On my telling him that such a distance was impossible, from the situation of the Coppermine River, and requesting him to make a chart of the inlet on the snow, as our slender supply of provisions did not admit of penetrating farther into it, he drew the figure copied in the map (which I have reduced to the modest estimate of twenty miles), with this essential difference from his prior statement, that I could encamp half-way the first night—at a mountain of the shape of the white men's houses, containing a cave wherein the Indians practise their most solemn necromancy. The country south-eastward of M'Tavish Bay is very hilly, with granite rocks protruding through the snow, but becomes better wooded the farther we recede from Great Bear Lake. Birch here begins to mingle with the pines; and at Leg Lake, where we slept, I found the wood close enough to afford some shelter against the piercing winds, for the first time during all my winter journeys from Fort Confidence. Widely different, indeed, are the hardships of such travelling in the barren lands, from those endured in the well-wooded countries of Athabasca and Mackenzie River. During the day our road lies over bare mountains, or on the no less unsheltered and stormy lake—one traverse of which, thirty miles wide, I now crossed for the third time. The snow too is very rough and granulated, yielding, indeed, superior water to the soft snow of the woody districts, but tearing the sledges, and lacerating the feet both of men and dogs; while the cold endured on the journey, especially during the night in the open, exposed encampment, is excessive, and trying to the stoutest constitution.[2]

On my return to the establishment, I found that it had been visited by a party of eleven Hare Indians from a remote camp to the westward, who brought a most acceptable supply of half-dried ribs of venison. They reported the snow to be very deep, and reindeer unusually numerous in their quarter; which we were afterwards glad to find confirmed by letters from Mr. Bell, at Fort Good Hope. About this time also Le Babillard and a small hunting-party, three or four days' journey to the eastward, fell in most opportunely with a drove of musk-cattle, in whose spoils we participated. While thus living from hand to mouth, we experienced the utmost inquietude on account of M'Kay, Sinclair, and a young half-breed, who were absent with the party already mentioned, near the Coppermine River, for six-and-thirty days, without our receiving the least tidings of them. At last they made their appearance on the 15th of April, having till then barely subsisted among the large party, whose main support were our own two paid coast-hunters, without being able to collect any provisions for the establishment. Had it not been for another visit from the distant Hare Indians, accompanied this time by several of their wives, we should have been ill off indeed. In the latter part of April our baggage was forwarded over the snow to the Coppermine, accompanied by Ritch, who carried with him, from the south branch of Dease River, planks for repairing the little sea-boats, when the weather became sufficiently mild for that work, in the middle of May. The mice had penetrated into our cache there, and revelled all winter upon our flour, besides cutting holes in the sails, &c.; but, upon the whole, they might have done us more damage, had they been maliciously inclined.

On the 1st of November we had sent to see if all was safe; at which time the impetuous Coppermine was already frozen to the thickness of half a foot.

In the course of the winter we received from London, by way of Canada, a dipping-needle, made by Jones, and had to regret the destruction of a mountain barometer, applied for by me in 1836. The friendly attentions of Chief Trader Ross supplied us with an assortment of periodicals, which served to beguile the almost unsupportable tedium of a second Polar winter. This season, as I have already remarked, was less severe than its predecessor; and, as if it were a consequence of the difference, the aurora was more brilliant, displaying on several occasions the prismatic hues; but the same arched form, from north-west to south-east, predominated. Every clear night, when not eclipsed by the moon, it was to be seen; but was brightest and most active in the mornings, some time before daylight. At a quarter to 4 A.M., on the 5th of March, Ritch witnessed a most brilliant exhibition. It formed a quadrant, issuing from west-north-west, and extending to the zenith. There it doubled on itself, and terminated in a semi-elliptical figure, apparently very near the earth, in rapid motion, and tinged with red, purple, and green. The half ellipse seemed to descend and ascend, accompanied by an audible sound resembling the rustling of silk. This lasted for about ten minutes, when the whole phenomenon suddenly rose upwards, and its splendour was gone. Ritch is an intelligent and credible person; and, on questioning him closely, he assured me that he had perfectly distinguished the sound of the aurora from that produced by the congelation of his breath—for the temperature at the time was 44 degrees below zero. I can, therefore, no longer entertain any doubt of a fact uniformly asserted by the natives, and insisted on by Hearne, by my friend Mr. Dease, and by many of the oldest residents in the fur countries; though I have not had the good fortune to hear it myself.

The winds in the early part of the winter were less violent, and blew less constantly from the eastward than in the preceding year; but with February the weather became boisterous and stormy, and continued so throughout the greater part of the season. North and south winds are of rare occurrence at any time at Fort Confidence. The east and west are the standard points; the former, as already remarked, being by much the coldest, though less decidedly so this winter than last. As for quantity, I have never known a country so windy as Great Bear Lake; a calm day scarcely happens once a month.

I had almost forgotten to say anything about my young wolves. At our return, the three survivors were already grown large lank animals, gentle, timid, crouching to and fawning upon everybody. They were particularly anxious to ingratiate themselves with the dogs, but always met a repulse; and were not unfrequently pursued into the woods, where their fleetness saved them from being worried. They themselves soon learned to chase the white partridge; but, as the snow grew deep, they wandered less and became more domestic. Their appetite was voracious, and they growled in true savage style over their food. Sometimes the dogs brought them to bay in a corner; but, when thus pressed, the wolves shewed such formidable grinders, and gnashed them so fiercely, that their persecutors were fain to stand aloof. When I happened to relieve them from this situation, the poor things would lick my hand, as if grateful for my protection. To save themselves from nocturnal attacks, they had the sagacity to take up their quarters on the top of the wood pile, whence their long melancholy howl arose at night above the clamorous serenade with which the canine species delight to entertain the residents at the trading posts. When any of the dogs followed me in my rambles, the wolves were sure to keep out of the way; but, when they perceived me alone, they soon bounded up, seized my coat or gloves, and nothing delighted them more than a roll with them in the snow. I began early to break them in to the sledge. Moscow—the male—was very strong, and at first tolerably willing: one of the females was all fire; but the other,—the tamest of the three,—when tackled, threw herself obstinately down upon the snow, and suffered herself to be dragged for miles in that state by the dogs before she would condescend to haul like them. At last Moscow, finding his own strength, grew so vicious that we were reluctantly obliged to destroy him. After devouring their brother, the two females betook themselves to the fishery on the south side of the island, where one of them got lamed by an Indian, with whose net she was taking undue liberties.

From that time, poor Noma, the solitary survivor, was usually kept chained at the house. She continued gentle, though very timorous; but a most arrant thief when let loose: having on one occasion filched a shoulder of venison off a sledge coming to the house; on another, snatched a goose out of the hands of one of the women while plucking it; carried off several baited lines set through holes in the ice to catch trout; and played various other tricks of the same kind, especially to the Indians. From the unconquerable aversion of the dogs to my unlucky pet, I was disappointed in obtaining from her a cross breed, said to have been famous in some parts of the North. As I believe that such details of the habits of wild animals are interesting to naturalists, I shall offer no apology for inserting them here.

The expedition received an important accession, this spring, in the person of Ooligbuck—one of Sir John Franklin's Esquimaux interpreters. This man had, in 1836, been written for by Chief Factor Charles, then in charge of York Factory, to the Company's establishment of Ungava, in Labrador; and, having at length reached Red River settlement, was forwarded with extraordinary diligence by Chief Factor Christie, and the gentlemen along the route,—the whole journey from the latter place occupying only three months, less eight days.

We had hoped that our difficulties would have terminated with April, but in this we were sadly disappointed. In the beginning of May, about thirty natives, from various parts along the borders of the lake, came in half-starved, and located themselves alongside the establishment. We assisted them as far as our means permitted; but it may well be supposed that a party double our own number, and too indolent even to look out for their own subsistence, soon became an intolerable burden. They expected to be indulged with as much ammunition as they chose to ask for, as soon as the wild fowl should make their appearance in the middle of the month; a vain resource, for neither did any number of fowl pass this season, nor had we ammunition to spare for such small game: on the contrary, we were obliged on the 1st of the month to send an express to Fort Norman for a fresh supply of powder and ball.

On the 23rd, by dint of persuasion and remonstrance, the Indians were at length induced to withdraw towards Kasbah Lake—a day's journey to the northward, where we knew that at this period a good spring fishery commences. Scarcely had they been off a few hours, when one of the old men was seen returning in great haste. He began vociferating long before he came up to us, his violent gestures denoting some terrible calamity. When sufficiently near to comprehend his harangue, the first words we heard were, "They are all dead! Blacky (a young hunter) is blown up with gunpowder, and his little brothers are dead also!" and he renewed his clamour. We had at the house a smart, industrious lad, about fourteen years of age—a brother of Maccaconce—employed as an assistant to our fisherman. "The old man does not lament hard enough," said the youth, "for any one to have died; I'll go and see." He found the Indians about three miles off, all alive and well; our friend Blacky having but slightly scorched his hands. The foolish fellow had laid some gunpowder—fortunately a small quantity—in an untied handkerchief between his legs, and, with characteristic Indian apathy, began striking fire with his steel and flint, to light the eternal pipe. To us it would scarcely seem necessary to call in the aid of superstition to account for what followed; a spark flew into the powder, and it exploded: but the old man, as if pursued by all the demons, set off for the fort, to bring us the dreadful news! It is a general rule among the traders, not to believe the first story of an Indian. He will tell you, on arriving, that there are no deer, and afterwards acknowledge them to be numerous: that he has been starving, when he has been living in abundance: that certain individuals are dead; yet, after he has smoked his pipe and eaten his fill, ask him what is the matter with these same persons, and he will describe some trifling ailments, a surfeit perhaps; for though, at times, these people endure with fortitude, the least sickness makes them say, "I am going to die!"—a trait that also extends to their half-breed descendants.

Another striking instance of the native passion for bad news occurred this month. One of the old women, already mentioned as our constant house pensioners, had a daughter, and a son-in-law called "Le Grand Blanc," in a camp not very distant. Two old men from that camp, having visited the fort, told Grand Blanc and his wife, on their return, that their mother was dead, after having eaten her deer-skin robe! The pair immediately began grieving and wailing, and repaired to the fort. They found the old beldame highly indignant at her reported death. "Yes," said she, "had I remained with you, I should have been stiff enough by this time; but the whites have acted the part of relations towards me: I have never wanted for meat, or fire, or water; they have provided all that for me. And look at my robe, have I eaten it; don't you see it is as good as ever?" I do not mean to accuse the two old tattlers of any malicious intention in what they said. It never entered into their minds that such a story reflected upon our character; for this simple reason, that they would themselves have acted the unfeeling part they attributed to us, with very slight compunction.

I have now detailed the means by which we contrived to subsist during three-fourths of the year, the most important and engrossing care of an Arctic resident, but which has little to attract or interest the reader. As to the weather, it was extremely backward; the thermometer in the sweet month of May was as low as —15° and the mean temperature of the whole month was 7½° of frost, with frequent gales and snow. Not a drop of water appeared anywhere, and on the open lake the snow was so hard frozen as to afford excellent walking without snow-shoes.

On the 28th our express-men returned from Fort Norman. Their outward journey, across Great Bear Lake, had been favourable, and they reached Fort Franklin on the 6th. There they found a wonderful change. The upper part of Bear Lake River was open, the willows had begun to bud, and all the small streams from thence to Fort Norman were swollen to such a degree, that the journey through the woods, though not exceeding fifty miles of direct distance, occupied a week; during the greater part of which they were without food, and endured incredible misery, not the least part of which was, that, though wild fowl were numerous in every swamp and pond, they were unable to procure any, from having imprudently wasted their ammunition during the passage of the lake, whilst they yet had provisions in abundance.

The ice on the Mackenzie had made its first move at Fort Norman on the 6th, but stopped again; and they crossed it on the morning of the 13th, a few hours before its final liberation. After a halt of four or five days, while the ice continued driving, they commenced their return, had to carry everything on their backs to Great Bear Lake, and to cross the various streams, as before, on rafts. Arrived at the lake, they found the ice covered with water, and the journey consequently very bad, as far as "the Bay of the Deer Pass;" where they re-entered the realm of winter, and from whence they travelled very rapidly, with their dogs, over the hard dry surface of the snow. Thus, while at Fort Norman—scarcely two hundred and fifty miles to the south-west—Mackenzie River was broken up, vegetation had made some progress, and Mr. M'Beath was dressing his garden, perfect winter still reigned at Fort Confidence; a very striking proof of the great disparity in climate between a woody and a barren country.

With June came a change, sudden, delightful, and complete. The frosts almost entirely ceased; the temperature at mid-day attained from 40° to 70° in the shade; the snow disappeared, as though by magic, from the surface of the ice and of the ground, forming many brooks and rills of water; the willows timidly put forth their buds, and the woods grew vocal with the voice of song. Even in the remotest corners of creation, nature has its notes of praise to Him who sustains the whole. On the first day of the month I measured the ice in the strait to the eastward, where our nets were set. It was still five feet thick, but in these narrow parts was rapidly undermined by the current caused by Dease River, which broke up on the 3rd.

The change of weather brought a few Indians from the eastward with a little meat, and others, from different quarters, begging for provisions. In fact, throughout the entire season, a large proportion of our purchases from one set of natives always went in charity to another. The fish now began to come forth from the depths of the lake, and resort to the mouths of streams, where nets and lines were employed by ourselves and the natives for our daily subsistence. The unwonted fine weather seemed to animate all. Our men and the natives played at ball, and other out-of-door games. In the evening Mr. Dease's violin was oftener heard than during the long dreary winter, and to its enlivening strains the Indian youths danced and capered in the hall. With renovated hopes and thankful hearts we prepared to try our fortune a third time on the Polar Sea.

  1. The Sioux, Assiniboines, and the tribes on the Missouri, according to Lewis and Clarke (vol. ii. p. 421), habitually abandoned their people when no longer able to follow the hunting-camps; telling them that they had lived long enough, and that it was now time for them to go home to their relations.
  2. Cold and comfortless as these bivouacs are, the spirit of hilarity generally prevails, when the fire has once been lighted, and the kettle begins to boil. I remember our little party being once convulsed by seeing an old dog snatch out of the fire, instead of a bone which some one had thrown there, the unkindled end of a burning brand, and deliberately walk away with it in his mouth. Even such trifles will amuse after a long and wearisome day!