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Fort Chipewyan To Fort McMurray.

Chipewyan, it may be remarked, is not a Dene word. It is the name which was given by the Crees to that branch of the race when they first came in contact with them, owing to their wearing a peculiar coat, or tunic, which was pointed both before and behind; now disused by them, but still worn by the Esquimaux, and, until recent years, by the Yukon Indians. Though somewhat similar in sound, it has no connection, it is asserted, with the word Chippeway, or Ojibway. For all that, the words are perhaps closely akin. The writer for the accurate use in this narrative of words in the Cree tongue is under obligation to experts. When preparing his notes to his drama of “Tecumseh” he was indebted to his friend, Mr. Thomas McKay, of Prince Albert, Sask., a master of the Cree language, for the exact origin and derivation of the words Chippeway and Ojibway. Both are corruptions of O-cheepo-way, cheepo meaning “tapering,” and way “sound,” or “voice.” The name was begot of the Ojibway’s peculiar manner of lowering the voice at the end of a sentence. As “wyan” means a skin, it is not improbable that the word Chipewyan means tapering or “pointed” skin, referring, of course, to the peculiar garb of the Athapuskow Indians when the Crees first met with them.

The sites of old posts are to be found all over this region; but Chipewyan in the beginning of the last century was the great supply and trading-post of the North-West Company. From Sir John Franklin’s Journal (1820) it would appear that the Hudson’s Bay Company had begun, and, for some reason not given, had ceased trading on Lake Athabasca, as he says “Fort Wedderburne was a small post built on Coal Island now called Potato Island-about A.D. 1815, when the Hudson’s Bay Company recommenced trading in this part of the country.” He often visited this island post, then in charge of a Mr. Robertson, and, in June, engaged there for his memorable journey his bowmen, steersmen and middlemen, and an interpreter, his other men being furnished by the rival company. Fort Chipewyan was in charge at that time of Messrs. Keith and Black, of the North-West Company, a noticeable feature of the post being a tower built, Franklin says, about the year 1812, “to watch Indians who had evil designs.”

The site was well chosen, being sheltered from storms from the lake side by a great bulwark of wooded and rocky islands. The largest is Potato Island, just opposite, its outliers being the Calf and English Islands the Lapeta, Echeranaway and Theyaodene of the Chipewyans; the Petac, Moostoos and Akayasoo of the Crees.

Fort Chipewyan stands upon a rising ground fronting a sort of bay formed by these islands, and at the time of our visit consisted of a trading-store, several large warehouses and the master’s residence, etc., all of solid timber, erected in the days of Chief-factor MacFarlane, who ruled here for many years.

[Mr. MacFarlane’s career in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company is typical of the varied life and movements of its old-time adventurous traders. He entered the service in 1852, his first winter being spent as a clerk at Pembina (now Emerson), and also as trader in charge at the Long Creek outpost. From here he was transferred to Fort Rae, and afterwards to Fort Good Hope, Mackenzie River, where he remained six years. His next post was Fort Anderson, on the Begh-ula, or Anderson River, in the Barren Grounds, which he held for five years, much of his scientific work being done during excursions from this point. Afterwards he became trader and accountant at Fort Simpson, and was for two years in charge of the Mackenzie River district. This was succeeded by a six months’ residence at Fort Chipewyan, where, subsequently, for fifteen years he had charge of the district. For two years he had control of the Caledonia district, in British Columbia, but removed to Fort Cumberland, Sask., where he remained for five years. Other removals followed until he finally retired from the service, and, returning to Winnipeg, has lived there ever since.]

But old as the fort is, it has no relics not even a venerable cabin. In the store were a couple of not very ancient flint-locks, and, upstairs, rummaging through some dusty shelves, I came across one volume of the Edinburgh, or second, edition of Burns in gray paper boards a terrible temptation, which was nobly resisted. Though there was once a valuable library here, with many books now rare and costly, yet all had disappeared.

East of the fort are shelving masses of red granite, completely covered by a dark orange lichen, which gives them an added warmth and richness; and on the highest part stood a square lead sun-dial, which, at first sight, I thought had surely been set up by Franklin or Richardson, but which I was told was very modern indeed, and put up, if I am not mistaken, by Mr. Ogilvie, D.L.S. To the west of the fort is the Church of England Mission, and, farther up, the Roman Catholic establishment, the headquarters of our esteemed fellow-voyager, Bishop Grouard. [The first Roman Catholic Mission in Athabasca was formed by Bishop Farrand the year after Bishop Tache’s visit to Fort Chipewyan, about A.D. 1849, he being then a missionary priest. Bishop Farrand established other missions on Peace River, and went as far north as Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake. He died in 1890, and was succeeded by our guest, Bishop Grouard, O.M.I., Évêque d’Ibora, the present occupant of the See of Athabasca and Mackenzie River. This prelate was born at Le Mans, in France, and was educated there, but finished his education in Quebec. He was ordained by Bishop Tache, near Montreal, in 1862, and was sent at once to Chipewyan, where he learnt the difficult language of the natives in a year. He has worked at many points, and perhaps no man in all the North, with the exception of Archdeacon Macdonald, or the late Anglican Bishop Bompas, has or had as accurate a knowledge of the great Dene race, with its numerous subdivisions of Chipewyans, Beavers, Yellow Knives, Dog Ribs, Slaves, Nahanies, Rabbit Skins, Loucheaux, or Squint Eyes (so named from the prevalence of strabismus amongst them), and of other tribes. All these were at one time not only at war with the Crees, but with each other, with the exception of the Slaves, who were always a tame and meek-spirited race, and were often subjected to and treated like dogs by the others. Indeed they were called by the Crees, Awughkanuk, meaning “cattle.”] In line with the fort buildings, and facing the lake, stood a row of whitewashed cottages, all giving the place, with its environs, deeply indented shore and rugged spits of red granite, the quaint appearance of some secluded fishing village on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In sight, but above the bay, was the trading-post of Colin Fraser, whose father, the McCrimmon of the North-West, was Sir George Simpson’s piper. The late Chief-factor Camsell, of Fort Simpson, and myself paddled up to it, and were most hospitably entertained by Mr. Fraser and his agreeable family. His father’s bagpipes, still in excellent order, were speedily brought out, and it was interesting to handle them, for they had heralded the approach of the autocratic little Governor to many an inland post from Hudson’s Bay to Fraser River, over seventy years before.

Several days were spent at the fort taking declarations, but, unlike Vermilion or Dunvegan, there were few large families here, the applicants being mainly young people. The agricultural resources of this region of rocks are certainly meagre compared with those of Peace River. Potatoes, where there is any available soil, grow to a good size; barley was nearly ripe when we were there, and wheat ripens, too. But, of course, it is not a farming region, nor are fish plentiful at the west end of the lake, the Athabasca River, which enters there, giving for over twenty miles eastward a muddy hue to the water. The rest of the lake is crystal clear, and whitefish are plentiful, also lake trout, which are caught up to thirty, and even forty, pounds’ weight.

The distance from Fort Chipewyan to Fond du Lac is about 185 miles, but the lake extends over 75 miles farther eastward in a narrow arm, giving a total length of about 300 miles, the greatest width being about 50 miles. The whole eastern portion of the lake is a desolate scene of primitive rock and scrub pine, with many quartz exposures, which are probably mineralized, but with no land, not even for a garden. The scenery, however, from Black Bay to Fond du Lac is very beautiful, consisting largely of islands as diversified and as numerous as the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence. These extremely solitary spots should be, one would think, the breeding-grounds of the pelican, though it is said this bird really breeds on islands in the Great Slave River. If disturbed by man it is reputed to destroy its young and desert the place at once.

The Barren Ground reindeer migrate to the east end of this lake in October, and return in March or April, but this is not certain. Sometimes they unaccountably forsake their old migratory routes, causing great suffering, in consequence, to the Indians. Moose frequent the region, too, but are not numerous, whilst land game, such as prairie chickens, ptarmigan, and a grouse resembling the “fool-hen,” is rather plentiful.

The Indians of Fond du Lac are healthy, though somewhat uncleanly in their habits, and fond of dress, which is that of the white man, their women being particularly well dressed.

As an agricultural country the region has no value whatever; but its mineral resources, when developed, may prove to be rich and profitable. Mining projects were already afoot in the country, but far to the north on Great Slave Lake.

What was known as the “Helpman Party” was formed in England by Captain Alene, who died of pneumonia in December, 1898, three days after his arrival at Edmonton. The party consisted of a number of retired army officers, including Viscount Avonmore, with a considerable capital, $50,000 of which was expended. They brought some of their outfit from England, but completed it at Edmonton, and thence went overland late in the spring. But sleighing being about over, they got to Lesser Slave Lake with great difficulty, and there the party broke up, Mr. Helpman and others returning to England, whilst Messrs. Jeffries and Hall Wright, Captain Hall, and Mr. Simpson went on to Peace River Crossing. From there they descended to Smith’s Portage, on the Great Slave River, and wintered at Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake.

In the following spring they were joined by Mr. McKinlay, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s agent at the Portage, and he, accompanied by Messrs. Holroyd and Holt, who had joined the party at Smith’s Landing, and by Mr. Simpson, went off on a prospecting tour through the north-east portion of Great Slave Lake, staking, en route, a number of claims, some of which were valuable, others worthless. The untruthful statements, however, of one of the party, who represented even the worst of the claims as of fabulous value, brought the whole enterprise into disrepute. The members of the party mentioned returned to England ostensibly to raise capital to develop their claims, but nothing came of it, not because minerals of great value do not exist there, but on account of remoteness and the difficulties of transport.

In 1898 another party was formed in Chicago, called “The Yukon Valley Prospecting and Mining Company,” its chief promoters being a Mr. Willis and a Mr. Wollums of that city. The capital stock was put at a quarter of a million dollars, twenty-five thousand dollars being paid up. These organizers interested thirty-three other men in the enterprise, the agreement being that these should go to Dawson at the expense of the stockholders, and locate mining claims there, a half-interest in all of which was to be transferred to the company. These men proceeded to Calgary, and outfitted for Dawson, which they wished to reach by ascending the Peace River. At Calgary they were fortunate in procuring as leader a gentleman of large experience in the North, W. J. McLean, Esq., a retired Chief-factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who pointed out the difficulties of such a route, and recommended, instead, a possible one via Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River to Fort Simpson, and thence up the Liard River to the height of land at or near Francis Lake, and so down the Pelly River and on to Dawson.

In February the party, led by him, left Edmonton with 160 ponies, sleds and sleighs, loaded with supplies, and proceeded, by an extremely difficult forest trail, to Lesser Slave Lake. They had no feed for the horses, save what they drew, and, of course, they reached the lake completely exhausted. Here, by Mr. McLean’s advice, they sold the horses, and with the proceeds hired local freighters to carry them and their supplies to Peace River Crossing, where boats were built in which the party, with the exception of one of the organizers, Mr. Willis, who had returned in high dudgeon to Chicago, set out for Great Slave Lake. Before getting to Fort Resolution, Mr. McLean got private information from a former servant of his at that post, which led to an expedition to the north-east end of the lake, where he made valuable finds of copper and other minerals. Another trip was made, and additional claims were taken, and on Mr. McLean’s return with a lot of samples of ore, he with another prospector, came out, and proceeded to Chicago. His samples were tested there and in Winnipeg, and yielded in copper from 11 to 32 per cent.; and the galena 60 ozs. of silver to the ton. Other minerals, such as sulphur, coal, asphalt, petroleum, iron and salt were discovered, all of great promise, and his opinion is that when transport is extended to that region, it will prove to be a great storehouse of mineral wealth.

The other members of the party had at various times and places separated, some going here and some there; but all eventually left the country, and the company died a natural death. But Mr. McLean is not only a firm believer in the mineral wealth of the North, but in its resources otherwise. There are extensive areas of large timber, and the lakes swarm with fish. The soil on the Liard River is excellent, and he tells me that not only wheat but Indian corn will ripen there, as he himself grew both successfully when in charge of that district.

The mining enterprises referred to fell through, but I have described them at some length since they are very interesting as being the first attempts at prospecting with a view to development in those remote regions. Failure, of course, at such a distance from transport and supplies, was inevitable. But some of the prospectors, Captain Hall and others who came out with ourselves, seemed to have no doubt that much of the country they explored is rich in minerals. Indeed, should the ancient repute of the Coppermine River be justified by exploration, perhaps the most extensive lodes on the continent will yet be discovered there.

If the Hudson’s Bay route were developed, a short line of rail from the western end of Chesterfield Inlet would tap the mining regions prospected, and develop many great resources at present dormant. The very moss of the Barren Lands may yet prove to be of value, and be shipped to England as a fertilizer. I have been told by a gentleman who has travelled in Alaska that an enterprising American there is preparing to collect and ship moss to Oregon, where it will be fermented and used as a fertilizer in the dairy industry.

To return to Lake Athabasca. It seemed at one time to have been the rallying-place of the great Tine or Dene race, to which, with the exception of the Crees, the Loucheaux, perhaps, and the Esquimaux, all the Indians of the entire country belong. It is said to have been a traditional and central point, such as Onondaga Lake was to the Iroquois.

It is noticeable that, in the nomenclature of the various Indians of the continent, the names by which they were known amongst themselves generally meant men, “original men,” or people; e.g., the Lenni Lenape of the Delawares, with its equivalent, the Anishinape of the Saulteaux, and the Naheowuk of the Crees. It is also the meaning of the word Dene, the generic name of a race as widely sundered, if not as widely spread, as the Algonquin itself.

The Chipewyan of Lake Athabasca speaks the same tongue as the Apache of Arizona, the Navajo of Sonora, the Hoopa of Oregon, and the Sarcee of Alberta. The word Apache has the same root-meaning as the word Dene though that fierce race was also called locally the Shisindins, namely, “The Forest People,” doubtless from its original habitat in this region.

Owing to the agglutinative character of the aboriginal languages, numbering over four hundred, some philologists are inclined to attribute them all to a common origin, the Basque tongue being one of the two or three in Europe which have a like peculiarity. In the languages of the American Indians one syllable is piled upon another, each with a distinct root-significance, so that a single word will often contain the meaning of an ordinary English sentence. This polysynthetic character undoubtedly does point to a common origin, just as the Indo-European tongues trace back to Sanskrit. But whether this is indicative of the ancient unity of the American races, whose languages differed in so many other respects, and whose characteristics were so divergent, is another question.

One interesting impression, begot of our environment, was that we were now emphatically in what might be called “Mackenzie’s country.” In his “General History of the Fur-Trade,” published in London in 1801, Sir Alexander tells us that, after spending five years in Mr. Gregory’s office in Montreal, he went to Detroit to trade, and afterwards, in 1785, to the Grand Portage (Fort William).

The first traders, he tells us, had penetrated to the Athabasca, via Methy Portage, as early as 1791, and in 1783-4 the merchants of Lower Canada united under the name of The North-West Company, the two Frobishers Joseph Frobisher had traded on the Churchill River as early as 1775 and Simon McTavish being managers. The Company, he says, “was consolidated in July, 1787,” and became very powerful in more ways than one, employing, at the time he wrote, over 1,400 men, including 1,120 canoemen. “It took four years from the time the good, were ordered until the furs were sold;” but, of course, the profits, compared with the capital invested, were very great, until the strife deepened between the Montrealers. and the Hudson’s Bay Company, whose first inland post was only established at Sturgeon River, Cumberland Lake, in 1774, by the adventurous, if not over-valiant, Samuel Hearne. The rivalries of these two companies nearly ruined both, until they got rid of them by uniting in 1821, when the Nor’-Westers became as vigorous defenders of King Charles’s Charter as they had before been its defiers and defamers.

Fort Chipewyan was established, Mackenzie says, by Mr. Pond, in 1788, the year after his own arrival at the Athabasca, where, by the way, in the fall of 1787, he describes Mr. Pond’s garden at his post on that river as being “as fine a kitchen garden as he ever saw in Canada.” Fort Chipewyan, however, though not established by Mackenzie, was his headquarters for eight years. From here he set out in June, 1789, on his canoe voyage to the Arctic Ocean, and from here in October, 1792, he started on his voyage up the Peace River on his way to the Pacific coast, which he reached the following year.

In his history he states: “When the white traders first ventured into this country both tribes were numerous, but smallpox destroyed them.” And, speaking of the region at large, he, perhaps, throws an incidental side-light upon the Blackfoot question. “Who the original people were,” he says, “that were driven from it when conquered by the Kinisteneaux (the Crees) is not now known, as not a single vestige remains of them. The latter and the Chipewyans are the only people that have been known here, and it is evident that the last mentioned consider themselves as strangers, and seldom remain longer than three or four years without visiting their friends and relatives in the Barren Grounds, which they term their native country.”

[It is a reasonable conjecture that these “original people,” driven from Athabasca in remote days, were the Blackfeet Indians and their kindred, who possibly had their base at that time, as in subsequent days, at the forks and on both branches of the Saskatchewan. The tradition was authentic in Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Richardson’s time. Writing on the Saskatchewan eighty-eight years ago he places the Eascabs, “called by the Crees the Assinipoytuk, or Stone Indians, west of the Crees, between them and the Blackfeet.” The Assiniboines are an offshoot of the great Sioux, or Dakota, race called by their congeners the Hohas, or “Rebels.” They separated from their nation at a remote period owing to a quarrel, so the tradition runs, between children, and which was taken up by their parents. Migrating northward the Eascabs, as the Assiniboines called themselves, were gladly received and welcomed as allies by the Crees, with whom, as Dr. Richardson says, “they attacked and drove to the westward the former inhabitants of the banks of the Saskatchewan.” “The nations,” he continues, “driven westward by the Easeabs and Crees are termed by the latter Yatchee-thinyoowuc, translated Slave Indians, but properly ‘Strangers.’” This word Yatchee is, of course, the Iyaghchi of the Crees in their name for Lesser Slave River and Lake. Richardson describes them as inhabiting the country round Fort Augustus and the foot of the Rockies, and “so numerous now as to be a terror to the Assiniboines themselves.” They are divided, he says, into five nations, of whom the Fall Indians, so called from their former residence at Cole’s Falls, near the Forks of the Saskatchewan, were the most numerous, consisting of 500 tents, the Piegans of 400, the Blackfeet of 350, the Bloods of 300, and the Sarcees of 150, the latter tribe being a branch of the Chipewyans which, having migrated like their congeners, the Apaches, from the north, joined the Crees as allies, just as the Assiniboines did from the south.]

Besides Mackenzie’s, another name, renowned in the tragic annals of science, is inseparably connected with this region, viz., that of Franklin, who has already been incidentally referred to. Others recur to one, but these two great names are engrained, so to speak, in the North, and cannot be lightly passed over in any descriptive work. The two explorers were friends, or, at any rate, acquaintances; and, before leaving England, Franklin had a long conversation in London with Mackenzie, who died shortly afterwards. The record of his “Journey to the Shores of the Polar Ocean,” accompanied by Doctor Richardson and Midshipmen Back and Hood, in the years 1819-20-21 and ’22, practically began at York Factory in August of the former year. The rival companies were still at war, and in making the portage at the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan, with a party of Hudson’s Bay Company traders, “they advanced,” he says, “armed, and with great caution.” When he returned on the 14th July, 1822, to York, the warring companies had united, and he and his friends were met there by Governor Simpson, Mr. McTavish, and all the united partners, after a voyage by water and land of over 5,500 miles. Franklin spent part of the winter at Cumberland post, which had been founded to counteract the rivalry of Montreal. “Before that time,” he says, “the natives took their furs to Hudson’s Bay, or sold to the French Canadian traders, who,” he adds, “visited this part of the country as early as 1697.” If so, the credit for the discovery of the Saskatchewan has been wrongly given to the Chevalier, as he was called, a son of Varenne, Sieur de la Varendrye.

Franklin left Cumberland in January, 1820, by dog train for Chipewyan, via Fort Carlton and Green Lake. Fort Carlton was the great food supply post, then and long afterwards, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, buffalo and wapiti being very abundant. The North-West Company’s fort, called La Montee, was three miles beyond Carlton, and harbored seventy French Canadians and sixty women and children, who consumed seven hundred pounds of meat daily, the ration being eight pounds. This post was at that time in charge of Mr. Hallett, a forebear, if I mistake not, of my old friend, William Hallett, leader of the English Plain Hunt, and a distinguished loyalist in the rebellion of 1869.

Franklin and Back left Fort Carlton on the 8th February, and reached Green Lake on the 17th. The North-West Company’s post at the lake was managed by Dugald Cameron, and that of the Hudson’s Bay Company by a Mr. MacFarlane, and, having been equipped at both posts with carioles, sledges and provisions, they left “under a fusillade from the half-breed women.” From the end of the lake they followed for a short distance a small river, then “crossed the woods to Beaver River, and proceeding along it, passed the mouths of two rivers, the latter of which, they were told, was a channel by which the Indians go to Lesser Slave Lake.” On the 11th of March they reached Methy Lake so called from an unwholesome fish of the burbot species found there, only the liver of which is fit to eat crossed the Methy portage on the 13th, and, amidst a chaos of vast ravines and the wildest of scenery, descended the next day to the Clearwater River. Thence they followed the Indian trail on the north bank, passing a noted scene, “a romantic defile of limestone rocks like Gothic ruins,” and, crossing a small stream, found pure sulphur deposited by springs and smelling very strongly. On the 17th they got to the junction of the Clearwater with the Athabasca, where Port McMurray now stands, and next day reached the Pierre an Calumet post, in charge of a Mr. Stewart, who had twice crossed the mountains to the Pacific coast. The place got its name from a soft stone found there, of which the Indians made their pipes.

Franklin notes the “sulphurous springs” and “bituminous salt” in this region, also the statement of Mr. Stewart, who had a good thermometer, “that the lowest temperature he had ever witnessed in many years, either at the Athabasca or Great Slave Lake, was 45 degrees below zero,” a statement worth recording here.

On the 26th of March the party arrived at Fort Chipewyan, the distance travelled from Cumberland House being 857 miles. He notes that at the time of his arrival the fort was very bare of both buffalo and moose meat, owing, it was said, to the trade rivalry, and that where some eight hundred packs of fur used to be shipped from that point, only one-half of that number was now sent. Liquor was largely used by both companies in trade, and scenes of riot and violence ensued upon the arrival of the Indians at the fort in spring, and whom he describes otherwise as “reserved and selfish, unhospitable and beggars, but honest and affectionate to children.” They painted round the eyes, the cheek-bones and the forehead, and all the race, except the Dog Ribs and the Beavers, believed that their forefathers came from the East. The Northern Indians, Franklin says, suppose that they originally sprang from a dog, and about A.D. 1815 they destroyed all their dogs, and compelled their women to take their place. Their chiefs seemed to have no power save over their own families, and their conjurers were supported by voluntary contributions of provisions. These are some of the chief characteristics Franklin notes of the Indians who frequented Fort Chipewyan, at which point he spent several months. One extraordinary circumstance, however, remains to be mentioned. It is that of a young Chipewyan who lost his wife in her first pregnancy. He applied the child to his left breast, from which a flow of milk took place. “The breast,” he adds, “became of an unusual size.” Here he and Back, afterwards Admiral Back, were joined by Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood, who had come from Cumberland House by the difficult Churchill River route, and on July 18th, at noon, the whole party left the fort on their tragic expedition, the party, aside from those named, consisting of John Hepburn, seaman, an interpreter and fifteen voyageurs, including, unfortunately, an Iroquois Indian, called Michel Teroahante. At two p.m. they entered Great Slave River, here three-quarters of a mile wide, and, passing Red Deer Islands and Dog River, encountered the rapids, overcome by seven or eight portages, from the Casette to the Portage of the Drowned, all varying in length from seventy to eight hundred yards.

On the 21st they landed at the mouth of Salt River to lay in a supply of salt for their journey, the deposits lying twenty-two miles up by stream. These natural pans, or salt plains, he describes and the description answers for to-day as “bounded on the north and west by a ridge between six and seven hundred feet high.” Several salt springs issue at its foot, and spread over the plain, which is of tenacious clay, and, evaporating in summer, crystallize in the form of cubes. The poisson inconnu, a species of salmon which ascends from the Arctic Ocean, is not found, he says, above this stream. A few miles below it, however, a buffalo plunged into the river before them, which they killed, and those animals still frequent the region.

On the 25th of July they passed through the channel of the Scaffold to Great Slave Lake, and, landing at Moose Deer Island, found thereon the rival forts, of course, within striking distance of each other, and in charge, as usual, of rival Scotsmen. At Great Slave Lake I must part company with Franklin’s Journal, since our own negotiations only extended to its south shores. But who that has read it can ever forget the awful return journey of the party from the Arctic coast, through the Barren Lands, to their own winter quarters, which they so aptly named Fort Resolution? In the tales of human suffering from hunger there are few more terrible than this. All the gruesome features of prolonged starvation were present; the murder of Mr. Hood and two of the voyageurs by the Iroquois; his bringing to the camp a portion of human flesh, which he declared to be that of a wolf; his death at the Doctor’s hands; the dog-like diet of old skins, bones, leather pants, moccasins, tripe de roche; the death of Peltier and Semandre from want, and the final relief of the party by Akaitcho’s Indians, and their admirable conduct. And all those horrors experienced over five hundred miles beyond Fort Chipewyan, itself thousands of miles beyond civilization! Did the noble Franklin’s last sufferings exceed even these? Perhaps; but they are unrecorded.

To return to our muttons. Some marked changes had taken place, and for the better, in Chipewyan characteristics since Franklin’s day; not surprising, indeed, after eighty years of contact with educated, or reputable, white men; for miscreants, like the old American frontiersmen, were not known in the country, and if they had been, would soon have been run out. There was now no paint or “strouds” to be seen, and the blanket was confined to the bed. In fact, the Indians and half-breeds of Athabasca Lake did not seem to differ in any way from those of the Middle and Upper Peace River, save that the former were all hunters and fishermen, pure and simple, there being little or no agriculture. It was impossible to study the manners and customs of the aborigines, since we had no time to observe them closely. They have their legends and traditions and remnants of ceremonies, much of which is upon record, and they cherish, especially, some very curious beliefs. One, in particular, we were told, obtained amongst them, namely, that the mastodon still exists in the fastnesses of the Upper Mackenzie. They describe it as a monster many times larger than the buffalo, and they dread going into the parts it is supposed to haunt. This singular opinion may be the survival of a very old tradition regarding that animal, but is more likely due to the presence of its remains in the shape of tusks and bones found here and there throughout the Mackenzie River district and the Yukon.

[A similar belief, it is said, exists amongst the Indians of the Yukon. The remains of the primeval elephant are exceedingly abundant in the tundras of Siberia, and a considerable trade in mammoth ivory has been carried on between that region and England for many years. It is supposed that the Asian elephant advanced far to the North during the interglacial period and perished in the recurrent glacial epoch. Its American congener, the mastodon, found its way from Asia to this continent during the Drift period, when, it is believed, land communication existed in what is now Bering’s Strait, and perished in a like manner. It was not a sudden but a gradual extinction in their native habitats, due to natural causes, such as encroaching ice and other material changes in the animals’ environment. This, I believe, is the accepted scientific opinion of to-day. But the fact that these animals are at times exposed entire by the falling away of ice-cliffs or ledges, their flesh being quite fresh and fit food for dogs, and even men, opens up a very interesting field of inquiry and conjecture. In the bowels of a mammoth recently revealed in North-Eastern Siberia vegetable food was found, probably tropical, at all events unknown to the botany of to-day. The foregoing facts seem to be at variance with the doctrine of Uniformity, or with anything like a slow process. The entombment of these animals must have been very sudden, and due, one would naturally think, to a tremendous cataclysm followed by immediate freezing, else their flesh would have become tainted. A recent English writer predicts another deluge owing to the constant accumulation of ice at the Antarctic Pole, which for untold ages has been attracting and freezing the waters of the Northern Hemisphere. A lowering process, he says, has thus been going on in the ocean levels to the north through immeasurable time, its record being the ancient water-marks now high up on the mountain sides of British Columbia and elsewhere. It is certainly not unthinkable that, if subject to such a displacement of its centre of gravity, our planet at some inconceivably remote period capsized, so that what were before the Tropics became the Poles, and that such a catastrophe is not only possible but is certain to happen again. As a conjecture it may be unscientific; but how many of the accepted theories of science have ceased to be! As a matter of fact, she has been very busy burying her dead, particularly of late years, and her theory of the extinction of the primeval elephant may yet prove to be one of them.]

On the 9th the steamer Grahame arrived from Smith’s Landing, bringing with her about 120 baffled Klondikers, returning to the United States, there being still some sixty more, they said, down the Mackenzie River, who intended to make their way out, if possible, before winter. They had a solitary woman with them who had discarded a duffer husband, and who looked very self-reliant, indeed, being girt about with bowie-knife and revolver, but otherwise not alarming.

It was certainly a motley crowd, and some of its members by no means honest. Chief-factor Camsell, who had just come from Fort Simpson, told me they had stolen from every house where they had a chance, and mentioned, amongst other things, a particularly ungrateful theft of a whip-saw from a native’s cabin shortly after an Indian had, with much pains, overtaken them with a similar one, which they had lost on the trail. Their departure, therefore, was not lamented, and the natives were glad to get rid of them.

We ourselves boarded the steamer for Fort McMurray on the 11th, but, owing to bad weather, did not get off till midday, and even then the lake was so rough that we had to anchor for a while in the lee of an island. Colin Fraser had started ahead of us with his big scow and cargo of furs, valued at $15,000, and kept ahead with his fine crew of ten expert trackers. When the weather calmed we steamed across to the entrance of one of the various channels connecting the Athabasca River with the lake, and soon found ourselves skirting the most extensive marshes and feeding-grounds for game in all Canada; a delta renowned throughout the North for its abundance of waterfowl, far surpassing the St. Clair flats, or any other region in the East.

Next morning, upon rounding a point, three full-grown moose were seen ahead, swimming across the river. An exciting, and even hazardous, scene ensued on board, the whole Klondike crowd firing, almost at random, hundreds of shots without effect. Two of the noble brutes kept on, and reached the shore, disappearing in the woods; but the third, a three year-old bull moose, foolishly turned, and lost its life in consequence. It was hauled on deck, bled and flayed, and was a welcome addition to the steamer’s table.

That night a concert was improvised on deck, in which the music-hall element came to the front. But one speedily tired of the “Banks of the Wabash,” and other ditties; in fact, we were burning to get to Fort McMurray, where we expected letters and papers from the outer world and home, and nothing else could satisfy us. By evening we had passed Burnt Point, also Poplar Point, where the body of an unfortunate, called Patterson, who had been drowned in one of the rapids above, was recovered in spring by some Indians, the body being completely enclosed in a transparent coffin of ice. On the following day we passed Little Red River, and next morning reached the fort, where, to our infinite joy, we received the longed-for letters and papers our first correspondence from the far East.

Fort McMurray consisted of a tumble-down cabin and trading-store on the top of a high and steep bank, which had yet been flooded at times, the people seeking shelter on an immense hill which overlooked it. Above an island close by is the discharge of the Clearwater River, the old canoe route by which the supplies for the district used to come, via Isle a la Crosse. At McMurray we left the steamer and took to our own boats, our Commission occupying one, and Mr. Laird and party the other. The trackers got into harness at once, and made very good time for some miles, the current not being too swift just here for fast traveling.