Page images
PDF
EPUB

water near the shore was encrusted with ice. Our voyagers embarked, and after paddling for twenty miles landed on an island, consisting of a conical mount, about two hundred feet high. From its summit they beheld another immense lake. They then resumed their journey. On the 29th De Charloit and the Indian returned; the first bending under the weight of a musk ox's head and horns; the latter carrying the meat of a fat deer.

They had found the river on the second day after they left the party, and described it as being large enough for boats; they ascertained that it was the same stream, the source of which our author had accidentally discovered in the lake, seen from the conical mount; thus the existence of the long sought Thlew-ee-choh was placed beyond a doubt. On the 30th the canoe was put in order, and our voyagers moved on to the river. Having passed the portage from Lake Aylmer, they entered it, and on the 31st arrived at Musk-ox-lake. They pursued their journey with but little adventure for several days. Passing near the western shore of the lake in which they were (our author gives no name for it) it was observed that the two Indians assumed a look of superstitious awe, and maintained a rigid silence; the reason was enquired; when Maufelly, with much gravity, related a traditionary tale which our author gives at length, and wbich the reader will find to illustrate the Indian character. Our limits prevent us from extracting it; it referred to the island they were passing. “Il fares the Indian,” said Maufelly, in concluding his story," who attempts to pass this spot in his canoe, without muttering a prayer for safety: many have perished; some bold men have escaped ; but none have been found su rash as to venture a second time within its power.”

Our travellers pursued a dangerous navigation down the Ah-hel-dessy river; the rapids were numerous and violent, and they were obliged to land and journey on foot. At sunset they halted for the night.

"Our encampment was broken up, and we were on our way very early on the morning 'of the 7th of September, but every one was too busily engaged in picking his way to speak; not a word was audible until about eight o'clock, when a fine buck deer, betrayed by its branching antlers, was espied feeding behind a point thirty paces from us. It was brought down; and the haunch, covered with a rich layer of fat two inches thick, afforded a luxurious breakfast. Having put the remainder en cache, we proceeded on our way, and when we had gained the top of a hill, Slave Lake was seen right before us, hemmed in by mountains of considerable magnitude and height. A craggy range to the right determined the course of the Ab-hel-dessy; and many a steep rock and deep valley between the lake and us, announced the fatigue which was to be endured before we arrived at our destination. But how can I possibly give an idea of the torment we endured from the sand

flies? As we dived into the confined and suffocating chasms, or waded through the close swamps, they rose in clouds, actually darkening the air: to see or to speak was equally difficult, for they rushed at every undefended part, and fixed their poisonous fangs in an instant. Our faces streamed with blood, as if leeches had been applied; and there was a burning and irritating pain, followed by immediate inflammation, and producing giddiness, which almost drove us mad. Whenever we balted, which the nature of the country compelled us to do often, the men, even Ipdians, threw themselves on their faces, and moaned with pain and agony. My arins being less encumbered, I defended myself in some degree by waving a branch in each hand; but even with this, and the aid of a veil and stout leather gloves, I did not escape without severe punishment. For the time, I thought the tiny plagues worse even than musquitoes.

“While speaking on this subject, I am reminded of a remark of Maufelly, which, as indicative of the keen observation of the tribe, and illustrating the humanity of the excellent individual to whom it alludes, I may be pardoned for introducing here :- It was the custom of Sir John Franklin never to kill a fly, and though teased by them beyond expression, especially when engaged in taking observations, he would quietly desist from his work, and patiently blow the half-gorged intruders from his hands—the world was wide enough for both. This was jocosely remarked upon at the time by Akaitcho and the four or five Indians who accompanied him; but the impression, it seems, bad sunk deep, for on Maufelly's seeing me fill my' tent with smoke, and then throw open the front and beat the sides all round with leafy branches, to drive out the slupified pests before I went to rest, he could not refrain from expressing his surprise that I should be so unlike the old chief, who would not destroy so much as a single musquito."

Our travellers had passed the confluence of the Ah-hel-dessy, with Great Slave Lake, and reached the eastern extremity where MʻLeod had been directed to build the house. The sound of the axe was soon heard, and M‘Leod with La Prise were seen walking near the framework of a newly erected building. Our party, which was ranged in single file, some carrying guns, others tent poles, &c., and all with swollen and bleeding faces, presented a singular appearance. M‘Leod had been awaiting their arrival with anxiety, and testified his pleasure when it occurred. He had arrived on the 22d August, and with four men had erected the framework just mentioned.

On the 16th September Mr. King, with the rest of the party, came up:

He gave our author a minute and interesting account of his adventures since their parting. We omit it here, our principal business being to follow the commander of the expedition.

The site of their intended dwelling was on a level bank, covered with shrubs and trees, at the northern extremity of a bay. The Ah-hel-dessy fell into it from the westward, and a smaller river to the eastward. Granite hills of feld-spar and mica surrounded the bay. The long sand banks which ran out between the two rivers, seemed to present an apt harbour

for the white fish, and preparations were accordingly made for a good fishing season.

The house and observatory were in progress, and rapidly approached their completion, when the Indians of the surrounding country began pouring in from all quarters. In consequence of the deer having left the barren lands where they had been accustomed to resort at this season, no game was to be procured, and the natives were in a starving condition. Many of them were relieved by our travellers to the extent of their means, but not a few perished from want and suffering. Many instances of misery that are related by Captain Back, are affecting in the extreme, and the benevolence of his character is strikingly exemplified by the privations to which he subjected himself, that he might diminish the sufferings of these wretched people. We give a single instance that will serve to show the condition of the aged and infirm, who were unable to take care of themselves.

“On the 291h September, a fire being seen on the opposite side of the bay, a canoe was despatched to see who had made it; and soon returned, not with a good load of meat, as we had hoped, but with a poor old wornan, bent double by age and infirmities, and rendered absolutely frightful by famine and disease. The ills that 'flesh is heir to'had been prodigally heaped on her, and a more hideous figure Dante himself has not conceived.

“Clad in deer skins, her eyes all but closed, her hair matted and filthy, her skin shrivelled, and feebly supporting, with the aid of a stick beld by both hands, a trunk which was literally horizontal, she presented, if such an expression may be pardoned, the shocking and unnatural appearance of a human brute. It was a humiliating spectacle, and one which I would not willingly see again. Poor wretch! Her tale was soon told: old and decrepit, she had come to be considered as a burden even by her own sex. Past services and toils were forgotten, and, in their figurative style, they coldly told her, that though she appeared to live, she was already dead,' and must be abandoned to her fate. "There is a new fort,' said they; 'go there; the whites are great medicine men, and may have power to save you. This was a month before; since which time she had crawled and hobbled along the rocks, the scanty supply of berries which she found upon them just enabling her to live. Another day or two must have ended her sufferings.”

The house was speedily completed, and our travellers were fixed for the winter. Parties were sent out to procure fish, but they, as well as the deer, seemed to have abandoned those regions, and very few were obtained. Captain Back was therefore obliged to reduce the rations of his men. Our author continues to describe the acute sufferings of the Indians, who besieged the house with their moanings and lamentations.

On the 7th of December, being anxious to diminish the number of the party, Captain Back discharged De Charloit,

and two Iroquois, according to previous agreement. Many hunting parties of the Indians were out, with little success. Forty of the best Chippewyan hunters had been destroyed by famine, and many others had not been heard of. Our author describes two women, with their children, as being swept off by a whirlwind. One boy of the number only was found, and he died in excruciating pain the same night.

“December 16.—The interpreter came from one of the fishing stations with an account of the loss of some nets, and the inadequacy of their means of support. They seldom took more than thirteen small fish in a day, and the Indians, now reduced to a state of great weakness, crowded round them for a portion of what they could ill afford. It was the same with us; for those who happened to be within a moderate distance fell back on the fort, as the only chance of prolonging their existence; and we freely imparted the utmost we could spare. În vain did we endeavour to revive their drooping spirits, and excite them to action; the scourge was too heavy, and their exertions were entirely paralysed. No sooner had one party closed the door, than another, still more languid and distressed, feebly opened it, and confirmed by their half-famished looks and sunken eyes their heart-rending tale of suffering. They spoke little, but crowded in silence round the fire, as if eager to enjoy the only comfort remaining to them. A handful of mouldy pounded meat, wbich had been vriginally reserved for our dogs, was the most liberal allowance we could make to each; and this meal, unpalatable and unwholesome as it was, together with the customary presentation of the friendly pipe, was sufficient 10 efface for a moment the recollection of their sorrows, and even to light up their faces with a smile of hope. “We know,' said they, 'that you are as much distressed as ourselves, and you are very good. Aflicting as it was to behold such scenes of suffering, it was at the same time gratifying to observe the resignation with which they were met. There were no impious upbraidings of Providence, nor any of those revolting acts, too frequent within late years, which have cast a darker shade over the character of the savage Indian. While the party thus scantily relieved were expressing their gratitude, one of their companions arrived, and after a short pause announced that a child was dying for want of food, close at hand. The father instantly jumped up; and having been supplied with some pemmican, for we had no other meat, hurried away, and happily arrived in time to save its life.”

On the 18th, Mr. M‘Leod, with two men, went in search of Akaitcho, who was out with a hunting party. The day after their departure, Akaitcho arrived, with a small quantity of half dried meat, which he had dragged during eight days' march.

The hall of the house was now constantly filled with miserable beings, who, seated round the fire, roasted and devoured small pieces of their rein-deer garments. At this time the temperature was 102° below the freezing point. Those who required medical aid received it from Mr. King, who was unremitting in his attentions to them. On the 1st of January some Indians brought a small supply of half dried meat,-on the 13th the women and children were sent to the fishery, and

the allowance of the party was reduced a quarter of a pound each. Another supply of lean and putrid meat was received from Akaitcho, and a few days afterwards eighty pounds from M‘Leod.

On the 4th of February, the temperature was 60° minus. So great was the cold that, with an immense fire, in a small room, ink and paint froze. Our author attempted to finish a sketch, by placing a table near the fire; but a scratch on the paper, and small shining particles at the end of the pen, showed that it was useless. On one occasion, after washing his face, within three feet of the fire, his hair was clotted with ice, before he could dry it.

On the 9th, Mr. M-Leod arrived with a party of men laden with meat. Their faces were much frost-bitten. The Indians complained bitterly, and compared the sensation of handling their guns, to that of touching red hot iron ; it was so painful that they wrapped thongs of leather round their triggers, to keep their fingers from touching the steel,

At this time, owing to unfavourable reports from the fisheries, a further reduction of the establishment was deemed proper; and accordingly, at Mr. MʻLeod's suggestion, the family of the latter was removed to a place, half way between the house and the hunting party. M'Leod started on the 14th, to conduct them to their place of destination.

For a long time our author had been under great anxiety for the fate of Maufelly, who had gone, with a small party, to the south east, and had now been absent some months. No intelligence of them had been received, and as they had promised to return in January, if alive, our party began to entertain gloomy apprehensions. These were of short duration, for Maufelly himself made his appearance on the 16th, with the joyful information that he had five deer, killed within two days' march. Three men were instantly despatched for the treasure, and returned with it in due time.

The weather having in some degree moderated, a little provision was, now and then, brought from the hunters. M-Leod sent word that he could get neither fish nor flesh, and as a last resource, had been obliged to transfer his men to the other fishery, under the charge of M'Kay. In performing this journey the men were three days without a particle of food.

On the 13th of March, Captain Back sent the whole of the men, with iron and planking, to the borders of Artillery Lake, where the boats, for the summer's voyage, were to be built: this occupied four or five days. About this time a supply of meat was brought by an old friend, the Camarade de Mandeville. The day following, intelligence was received from M'Leod,-six more natives, of either sex, had perished of starv

« PreviousContinue »