Read CHAPTER III - STUDYING OUT THE TRAIL of The Young Alaskans on the Trail , free online book, by Emerson Hough, on ReadCentral.com.

It must have been some time about five o’clock in the morning, or even earlier, when Rob, awakened by the increasing light in the tent, stirred in his blanket and rolled over.  He found himself looking into the eyes of John, who also was lying awake.  They whispered for a minute or two, not wishing to waken Jesse, who still was asleep, his face puckered up into a frown as though he were uneasy about something.  They tried to steal out the other tent, but their first movement awakened Jesse, who sat up rubbing his eyes.

“What’s the matter?” said he; “where are we?” He smiled sheepishly as the other boys laughed at him.

“A good way from home, you’ll find,” answered John.

The smell of fresh smoke came to their nostrils from the fire, which had been built for some time.  So quiet had the men been about their work that they had left the boys undisturbed for the best part of an hour.  They themselves had been accustomed to taking the trail even earlier in the day than this.

“Good morning, young gentlemen,” said Alex, quietly.  “I hope you slept well.”

“Well,” said Jesse, grinning, “I guess I did, for one.”

“You’ll been hongree?” smiled Moise at the fireside.

“Awfully!” said John.  “I could eat a piece of raw bear meat.”

“So?” grinned Moise.  “Maybe you’ll seen heem before we get through, hein?  She’ll not been very good for eat raw.”

“Nor any other way, according to my taste,” said Alex, “but we’ll see how we like it cooked, perhaps.”

“Do you really think we’ll see any bear on this trip?” asked Rob.

“Plenty,” said Alex, quietly.

Grizzlies?”

“Very likely, when we get a little farther into the mountains.  We ought to pick up two or three on this trip ­if they don’t pick us up.”

“I’m not worrying about that,” said Rob.  “We’re old bear hunters.”

Both the men looked at him and laughed.

“Indeed, we are,” insisted Rob.  “We killed a bear, and an awfully big one, all by ourselves up on Kadiak Island.  She was bigger than that tent there; and had two little ones besides.  Each of them was big as a man, almost.  They get awfully big up there in Alaska.  I’ll bet you haven’t a one in all these mountains as big as one of those fellows up in our country.”

“Maybe not,” said Alex, still smiling, “but they get pretty near as big as a horse in here, and I want to tell you that one of our old, white-faced grizzlies will give you a hot time enough if you run across him ­he’ll come to you without any coaxing.”

“This is fine!” said Rob.  “I begin to think we’re going to have a good trip this time.”

“Grub pile!” sang out Moise about this time.  A moment later they were all sitting on the ground at the side of the breakfast fire, eating of the fried bacon, bannock, and tea which Moise had prepared.

“To-day, Moise, she’ll get feesh,” said Moise, after a time.  “Also maybe the duck.  I’ll heard some wild goose seenging this morning down on the lake below there.  She’s not far, I’ll think.”

“Just a little ways,” said Alex, nodding.  “If we’d gone in a little farther to the west we might have hit the lake there, but I thought it was easier to let the water of this little creek carry our boats in.”

“Listen!” said John.  “Isn’t that a little bird singing?”

A peal of sweet music came to them as they sat, from a small warbler on a near-by tree.

“Those bird, he’s all same Injun,” remarked Moise.  “He seeng for the sun.”

The sun now indeed was coming up in the view from the mountain ranges on the east, though the air still was cool and the grass all about them still wet with the morning dew.

“Soon she’ll get warm,” said Moise.  “Those mosquito, she’ll begin to seeng now, too.”

“Yes,” said Rob, “there were plenty of them in the tent this morning before we got up.  We’ll have to get out the fly dope pretty soon, if I’m any judge.”

“But now,” he added, “suppose we read a little bit in our book before we break camp and pack up.”

“You’re still reading Sir Alexander and his voyages?” smiled Alex.

“Yes, indeed, I don’t suppose we’d be here if we hadn’t read that old book.  It’s going to be our guide all the way through.  I want to see just how close we can come to following the trail Mackenzie made when he crossed this very country, a hundred and eighteen years ago this very month.”

“Some say they can’t see how Sir Alexander made so many mistakes,” said Alex, smiling.  He himself was a man of considerable intelligence and education, as the boys already had learned.

“I know,” said Rob, nodding.  “For instance, Simon Fraser ­”

“Yes, I know those Simon Fraser ­he’s beeg man in the Companee,” broke in Moise, who very likely did not know what he was talking about.

Alex smiled.  “There have always been Mackenzies and Frasers in the fur trade.  This was a long time ago.”

“How’ll those boy know heem, then?” said Moise.  “I don’t know.  Some boy she’ll read more nowadays than when I’m leetle.  Better they know how to cook and for to keel the grizzly, hein?”

“Both,” said Alex.  “But now we’ll read a little, if you please, Moise.  Let’s see where we are as nearly as we can tell, according to the old Mackenzie journal.”

“I’ll know where we ought for be,” grumbled Moise, who did not fancy this starting-place which had been selected.  “We’ll ought to been north many miles on the portage, where there’s wagon trail to Lake McLeod.”

“Now, Moise,” said Rob, “what fun would that be?  Of course we could put our boats and outfit on a wagon or cart, and go across to Lake McLeod, without any trouble at all.  Everybody goes that way, and has done so for years.  But that isn’t the old canoe trail of Mackenzie and Fraser.”

“Everybody goes on the Giscombe Portage now,” said Moise.

“Well, all the fur-traders used to come in here, at least before they had studied out this country very closely.  You see, they didn’t have any maps ­they were the ones who made the first maps.  Mackenzie was the first over, and he did it all by himself, without any kind of map to help him.”

“Yes, and when he got over this far he was in an awful fix,” said John.  “I remember where it says his men were going to leave him and go back down the Peace River to the east.  He wasn’t sure his guide was going to stick to him until he got over to the Fraser, west of here.”

“Yes,” said Rob, “and there wasn’t any Fraser River known by that name at that time.  They all thought it was the Columbia River, which it wasn’t by a long way.  But Sir Alexander stuck it out, don’t you see.  He was a great man, or he couldn’t have done it.  I take off my hat to him, that’s what I do.”

And in his enthusiasm, Rob did take off his hat, and his young companions joined him, their eyes lighting with enthusiasm for the man the simple story of whose deeds had stirred their young blood.

Alex looked on approvingly.  “He was of my family,” said he.  “Perhaps my great-grandfather ­I don’t know.  He was a good man in the woods.  You see, he went far to the north before he came here ­he followed the Mackenzie River to its mouth in the Arctic Sea.  Then he thought there must be a way across to the Pacific.  Some one told him about the Peace River.  That’s how he came to make the first trip over the mountains here.  By rights the Fraser River ought to have been named after him, too, because he was the first to see it.”

“But he wasn’t the first to run it on out,” said John, who also had a good idea of the geography hereabouts, which he had carefully studied in advance.  “It was Simon Fraser did that first.”

“Yes, they’ll both been good man, heem,” said Moise, his mouth full of bacon.  “My wife, she’ll had an onkle once name Fraser an’ he’ll been seex feet high an’ strong like a hox ­those Fraser, yes, heem.”

“They must have been strong men,” said Alex, “and brave men as well.”

“Their worst time was getting west of here, wasn’t it?” asked John.

“Yes,” answered Rob.  “The book says that when they tried to get down the Fraser they had a terrible time.  Sometimes they had to carry their canoe through swamps and over hills.  No wonder the men mutinied.  Why, they lost all their bullets, and got everything they had wet.  The men almost lost heart.”

Moise nodded.  “I’ll onderstan’ that,” said he.  “Sometime man get tired.”

“But you see now, Moise, why we wanted to come down here and go over this same ground and not to take the easy portage trail into Lake McLeod.”

“All same to me,” smiled Moise.  “I’ll don’ care.”

“Of course, if we wanted to go through the easiest way,” assented Rob, “it would be simpler to go up through McLeod Lake.  But you see, that’s something of a way above here.  Finlay found that lake after Mackenzie came across, and they had a fort up there when Fraser came through eighteen years later.  The Indians used to come to that fort and tell about the salt water somewhere far to the west.  They had brass and iron which they had got of white men somewhere on the Pacific ­that was more than a hundred years ago.  Fraser wanted to get across to the Pacific, but he followed the old Mackenzie trail across here.  He started at the Rocky Mountain portage and went up into McLeod Lake, and stopped there for a while.  But he didn’t start west and northwest, by way of Stuart Lake.  Instead of that, he followed Mackenzie’s journal, just as we’re doing.  He came into the little creek which leads into these lakes ­where we’ll go down pretty soon.  He came right across this lake, not a mile from where we’re sitting.  Then he met Indians in here, who told him ­just as Moise has told us ­that the best and easiest way to get across would have been by way of McLeod Lake ­the very place he had come from.”

“Well,” said Jesse, “I agree with Moise.  It would be easier to go where we could have wagons or carts or something to take the boats over.  Everything looks mighty wild in here.”

“Certainly, Jess,” said John, “that’s why we’re here.  I expect that portage trail up there is just like a road.”

“Fur-traders made it first,” smiled Alex, “and then the miners used it.  That was the way white men came into the country east of the Rockies, in the far North.”

“How long ago was that?” asked John.

“There were a great many miners all along the Fraser as early as 1857.  Ten years later than that, they came up the big bend of the Columbia.  Many men were killed on the rapids in those days.  But they kept on pushing in, and in that way they learned all these old trails.  I expect some Fraser uncle or other of Moise’s has been across here many a time.”

“Seex feet high, an’ strong like a hox,” smiled Moise, nodding his head.  “Heem good man, my onkle, yes, heem.”

“Well,” said Rob, as he bent over the book once more.  “Here’s Sir Alexander’s story, and here’s a map I made myself.  That way, to the west, is the little lake where the Bad River runs out to another river that runs into the Fraser.  This lake drains into that little lake.  There’s another lake east of here, according to the story; and when we get there we’ll strike a deep, clear creek which will take us pretty soon into the Parsnip River.  From there it’s all downhill.”

“Yes,” said Alex, smiling, “considerably downhill.”

“It’s said there was a current westward in this middle lake,” began John.

“Certainly,” Rob answered, “we are really now on Pacific waters.”

“How far is it across to the other lake?” asked Jesse.

“The portage is just eight hundred and seventeen paces,” replied John, promptly.  “I remember that’s what Mackenzie wrote down.”

“Fraser in his journal calls it ’between eight and nine hundred paces,’” said Rob.  “Anyhow, that portage goes over the top of the Rocky Mountain range at this place ­that’s the top of the divide.  Nearly all these natural passes in the mountains run up on each side to a sort of flat place.  Anyhow, when we get over that portage we’re on Peace River waters.  In yonder direction the waters run into the Pacific.  To the east they go into the Arctic.  I’m ready to start now, and anxious to get over the height of land.”

“She’ll be downheel then,” laughed Moise.  “All same roof on the house, maybe so.”

“You’re not scared, are you, Moise?” asked Rob, smiling.

“Moise, she’ll sweem all same feesh,” was the answer of the voyageur.

“We’re not going to do any swimming,” said Alex, quietly, “and not even any more wading than we have to.  You see, our party is small, and we’re going over a trail that has already been explored.  We travel light, and have good boats.  I think we ought to have rather an easy time of it, after all.”

“One thing,” broke in John, “that always makes me think less of these early explorers, is that they weren’t really exploring, after all.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Jesse.  “You just said that Mackenzie and Fraser were the first to come across here.”

John shook his head vigorously.  “No, they weren’t the first ­as near as I can find out, the white men always had some one to tell them where to go.  When Mackenzie was going north there was always some tribe or other to tell him where he was and what there was ahead.  It was some Indian that told him about coming over this way to the west ­it was Indians that guided him all the way across, for that matter, clear from here to the Pacific.”

“That’s right,” said Rob.  “If some Indian hadn’t told him about it, he probably never would have heard about the creek which leads into these lakes where we are now.  He had a guide when he came here, and he had a guide west of the Fraser, too ­they never would have got through without Indians to help them.”

“That’s true,” said Alex, not without a certain pride in the red race which had given him half his own blood.  “The whites haven’t always used the Indians well, but without native help they could never have taken this northern country.  The Beaver Indians used to hunt all through these mountains.  It was those men who told Mackenzie how to get over here.  He was told, weeks before he got here, that there was a carrying-place across the great hills to the western waters.  As you say, young gentlemen, he had guides all the way across.  So, after all, as we have only him and Fraser for guides, we’ll take a little credit to ourselves, just as he did!”

“Yes,” said Moise.  “My people, she’ll own this whole contree.  They’ll show the Companee how to take hold, all right.  But that’s all right; I’m glad, me.”

“It looks a little tame,” grumbled John, “coming through here where those old fur-traders knew every foot of the country.”

“Well, we’ll see,” said Alex, rising, filling his pipe and tightening his belt to begin the day’s work.  “It may not look so tame before we get through!  But first,” he added, “we’ll have to see if we can get the boats to the open water of the lake.  Come, it’s time to break camp now for the first day’s journey.”