The Drama of Our Great Forests MEETING of the WILD MEN
CHRISTMAS week had arrived and now we were off for the New Year’s dance to be held at Fort Consolation. Instead of travelling round three sides of an oblong as we had done to reach Oo-koo-hoo’s hunting ground by canoe, we now, travelling on snowshoes, cut across country, over hill and valley, lake and river, in a south-easterly direction, until we struck Caribou River, and then turned toward White River and finally arrived at God’s Lake.
Our little party included Oo-koo-hoo; his wife, Ojistoh; their granddaughter,
Neykia, and myself. Our domestic outfit was loaded upon two hunting sleds, in the hauling of which we all took turns, as well as in relieving each other in the work of track beating. At night we camped in the woods without any shelter save brush windbreaks over the heads of our beds, our couches being made of fir-twigs laid shingle fashion in the snow.
For the sake of warmth, Ojistoh and Neykia slept together, while Oo-koo-hoo and I cuddled up close to one another and fitted together like spoons in a cutlery case, for the cold sometimes dipped to forty be-
Tbe prisoner of the city, however, may think sleeping under such conditions not only a terrible hardship, but a very dangerous thing, in the way of catching one’s death of cold. I can assure him it is nothing of the kind—when the bed is properly made. And not only does one never catch cold under such conditions, but it is my experience that there is no easier way to get rid of a bad cold than to sleep out in the snow, wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, a caribou robe, or a rabbit skin quilt, when the thermometer is about fifty below zero. But rather than delay over a description in detail of the mere novelty of winter travel, let us hurry along to our first destination, and visit the Free Trader, Mr. Spear, and his family, and find out for our own satisfaction, whether or not
the mysterious “Son-in-law” had recently been courting the charming Athabasca.
When we reached God’s Lake, for a while we snowshoed down the centre, until at the parting of our ways we said good-bye, for the Indians were heading directly for Fort Consolation. As I neared Spearhead and came in view of its one and only house, the Free Trader’s dogs set up a howl, and Mr. Spear came out to greet me and lead me into the sitting room where I was welcomed by his wife and daughter. Now I made a discovery; quartered in a box in the hall behind the front door they had three geese that being quite free to walk up and down the hall, occasionally strolled about for exercise.
[VisitSpearhead—and Who is “Son-in-Law?”
AS GOOD luck would have it, supper was nearly ready, - and I had just sufficient time to make use of the tin hand-basin in the kitchen before the tea bell rang. Again, during the first half of the meal we all chatted in a lively strain, all save Athabasca, who, though blushing less than usual, smiled a little more, and murmured an occasional yes or no; all the while looking even more charming. But her composure endured not long, for her mother presently renewed the subject of “Son-in-law.”
“Father, don’t you think it would be a good idea if you took son-in-law into partnership very soon?”
“Yes, mother, I do, because business is rapidly growing, and I’ll need help in the spring. Besides, it would give me a chance to do my own fur-running in winter, and in that way, I believe I could double, if not treble, our income.” Athabasca turned crimson and I followed suit—for being a bom blusher myself, and mortally hating it, I could never refrain from sympathizing with others similarly afflicted.
“Precisely, father,” replied Mrs. Spear, “that’s exactly what I thought. So you see you wouldn’t be making any sacrifice whatever, and such an arrangement would prove an advantage all round. Everybody would be the happier for it, and it seems to me to delay the wedding would be a vital mistake.”
From that moment until we left the table Athabasca concentrated her vision on her plate; and I wondered more than ever who “Son-in-law” could be. Then an idea came to me, and I mused: “We’ll surely see him at Fort Consola-
Copyright in Canada, 1920, by Arthur Heming. All right« reserved
After supper I discovered a new member of the household, a chore-boy, twenty-eight years of age, who had come out from England to learn farming in the Free Trader’s stump lot, and who was paying Mr. Spear so many hundred dollars a year for that privilege, and also for the pleasure of daily cleaning out the stable—and the pig pen. When I first saw him, I thought: “Why here, at last, is ‘Son-inlaw.’ ” But, on second consideration, I knew he was not the lucky man, for it was evident the Spears did not recognize him as their social equal, since they placed him, at meal time, out in their kitchen at the table with their two half-breed maid-servants.
My “Private” Bedroom Not Very Private
THAT evening while sitting around the big wood stove we discussed Shakespeare, Byron, Scott, and even the latest novel that was then in vogue—“Trilby,” if I remember right—for the Spears not only subscribed to the Illustrated London News and Blackwood’s but they took Harper’s and Scribner’s, too. And by-the-way, though Athabasca had never been to school, her mother had personally attended to her education. When bedtime arrived, they all peeled off their moccasins and stockings and hung them round the stove to dry, and then pitter-pattered up the cold, bare stairs, in their bare feet.
I was shown into the spare room and given a candle, and when I bade them goodnight and turned to close the door, I discovered that there was no door to close, nor was there even a curtain to screen me from view. The bed, however, was an old-fashioned wooden affair with a big solid footboard, so I concluded that in case of any one passing the doorway, I could crouch behind the foot of the bed. Then, when I blew out my candle, I got a great surprise, for lo and behold! I could see all over the house! I could see Paw and Maw getting undressed, Athabasca saying her prayers, and the half-breed maids getting into bed.
How did it happen? The cracks between the upright boards of my partition were so wide that I could have shoved my fingers through. As a matter of fact, Mr.
Spear explained next day, the lumber being green,
rather than nail the boards tightly into place, he had merely stood them up, and waited for them to season.
During the night the cold grew intense, and several times I was startled out of my sleep by a frosty report from the ice and snow on the roof that reminded one of the firing of a cannon.
However, although my slumber was thus intermittent, I was thoroughly comfortable, and found the bed to be really snug and warm. As far as I could judge from the evidences of my ears, everyone else was sleeping the sleep of the just.
In the morning when the geese began screeching in the lower hall, I thought it was time to get up, and was soon in the very act of pulling off a certain garment over my head, when one of the half-breed maids—the red-headed one whose hair Mr. Spear had cut off with the horse-clippers— intruded herself into my room to see if I were going to be down for breakfast, and I had to drop behind the foot of the bed.
At breakfast, the first course was oatmeal porridge; the second, “Son-in-law;” the third, fried bacon, toast and tea; after which we all put on our wraps for our five mile trip across God’s Lake to Fort Consolation. Everyone went, maids, choreboy and all, and everyone made the trip on snowshoes—all save the trader’s wife, who rode in state, in a carriole, hauled by a tandem train of four dogs.
It was a beautiful, sunny day and the air was very still ; and though the snow was wind-packed and hard, the footing was very tiresome, for the whole surface of the lake was just one endless mass of hardpacked snowdrifts, that represented nothing so much as a great, stormy, whitecapped sea that had been instantly congealed. And for us it was just up and down, in and out, up and down, in and out, all the way over. These solid white waves, however, proved one thing, and that was the truth of Oo-koohoo’s woodcraft; for, just as he had previously told me, if we had been suddenly encompassed by a dense fog or a heavy snowstorm, we could never for a moment have strayed from our true course; as all the drifts pointed one way, south-by-southeast, and therefore, must have kept us to our proper direction.
Many Quaint Costumes
THERE were, many dogs and sleds, and many Indians and half-breeds, too, about the Fort when we arrived; and as the dogs heralded our approach, the Factor came out to greet us and wish us a Happy New Year. At the door Mrs. Mackenzie, the half-breed wife of the Factor, was waiting with a beaming smile and a hearty welcome for us; and after we removed our outer wraps, she led us over to the storehouse in which a big room had been cleared, and heated, and decorated to answer as a ballroom and banqueting-hall.
Tables were being laid for the feast, and Indian mothers and maidens and children, too, were already sitting on the floor around the sides of the room, and with sparkling eyes were watching the work in happy expectation. Around the doorway, both out and in, stood the men—Indians and half-breeds and a few French and English Canadians. Some wore hairy caribou capotes, others hairless mooseskin jackets trimmed with otter or beaver fur, others again were garbed in duffel capotes of various colors with hoods and turned back cuffs of another hue; but the majority wore capotes made of Hudson’s Bay blanket and trimmed with slashed fringes at the shoulders and skirt; while their legs were encased in trousers, gartered below the knee, and their feet rested comfortably in moccasins. Though, when snowshoeing, all the men wore hip-high leggings of duffel or blanket, the former sometimes decorated with a broad strip of another color, the latter were always befringed the whole way down the outer seam; both kinds were gartered at the knee. Such leggings are always removed when entering a lodge or house or when resting beside a camp fire—in order to free the legs from the gathered snow and prevent it '-rom thawing and wetting the trousers.
The children wore outer garments of either blanket or rabbit-skin, while the women gloried in brilliant plaid shawls of two sizes—a small one for the head and a large one for the shoulders. The short cloth skirts of the women and girls were made so that the fullness at the waist, instead of being cut away, was merely puckered into place, and beneath the lower hem of the skirt showed a pair of beaded leggings and a pair of silk-worked moccasins.
All the Indians shook hands with us, for in the Canadian Government’s treaty with them it is stipulated that: “We expect you to be good friends with everyone, and shake bands with all whom you meet.” And I might further add that the Indian—when one meets him in the winter bush—is more polite than the average white man, for he always removes his mitten, and offers one his bare hand.
Further, if his hand happens to be dirty, he will spit on it and rub it on his leggings to try and cleanse it before presenting it to you. But when he did that, I could never decide which was the more acceptable condition—before or after.
Factor Must Kiss all the Women
WHEN the Factor entered, he was greeted with a perfect gale of merriment, as it was the ancient custom of the Great Company that he should kiss every woman and girl at the New Year’s feast. After that historical ceremony was over—in which Free Trader Spear also had to do his duty—and the laughter had subsided, the principal guests were seated at the Factor’s table, the company consisting of the three clergymen, the Spears, myself, the two Northwest Mounted Policemen—who had just arrived from the south—and a few native headmen, including my friend Oo-koo-hoo. Though the feast was served in relays, some of the guests who were too hungry to wait their turn were served as they sat about the floor. The dishes included the choice of moose, caribou, bear, lynx, beaver and muskrat.
Then a couple of picturesque, shock-haired, French-Canadians got up on a big box that rested upon a table and commenced to tune up.
Now the dance was going in full swing and in rapid succession the music changed from the Double Jig to the Reel of Four, the Duck Dance, the Double Reel of Four, the Reel of Eight, and the Red River Jig, till the old log storehouse ihook from its foundation right up to its very rafters. The breathless, perspiring, but happy •ouples kept at it until exhaustion fairly overtook them, and then dropping out now and then, they squatted on the floor around the walls till they rested; and then, with all their might and main, they went at it again. Among ither things I noticed was that the natives who were smoking were so considerate of their host’s feelings that they never for a moment forgot themselves enough to soil the freshly scrubbed floor, but always used their upturned fur caps ■*« cuspidors.
The children, even the little tots, showed interest in the dancing of their parents, and so enthused did they become that they would sometimes gather in a group in a corner and try to step in time with the music.
Every one that could dance took a turn— even Oo-koo-hoo and old Granny did the light fantastic—and at one time or another all the principal guests were upon the floor, all, save the Priest. The scarlet tunics of the corporal and the constable of the Royal North-West Mounted Police as well as the sombre black of theEnglish church, and the Presbyterian clergymen, added much to the whirling color scheme, as well as to the joy of the occasion.
But look where I would I could not find "Son-in-law,” and though the blushing Athabasca was often in the dance, it was plain to see ber lover was not there, for even the handsome policemen, though they paid her marked attention, gave no sign, either of them, of being the lucky one.
In the number of partners, Oo-koo-hoo’s grand-daughter outshone them all, and, moreover, her lover was present. At every chance Shing-wauk — The Little Pine—was shyly whispering to her and she was looking very bappy. Even I rose to the occasion and had for my first partner our host’s swarthy wife, a wonderful performer, who, after her husband’s retirement from the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, became the most popular lancer in all Winnipeg.
Nor must I forget my dance with that merry, muscular, iron-framed lady, Oo-koo-hoo’s better half—Old Granny — who at first crumpled me up in her gorilla-like embrace, and ended by swinging me clean off my feet—much to the merriment of the Indian maidens.
Then as the afternoon wore on and everything was in full swing, the Rabbit Dance be-
gan, and was soon followed by the Hug-Me-Snug, the Drops of Brandy, and the Saskatchewan Circle, and—last but not least—the Kissing Dance. Oh how Toronto and other Canadian cities would revel in such a program! And you may be sure that when the Kissing Dance was encored for the fifth time, the spirit of the company certainly proclaimed it a Happy New Year.
More Hints About Athabasca
AGAIN at tea time the guests gathered round the festive board; then a little later, the music once more signalled the dancers to take their places on the floor. Hour after hour it went on. After midnight another supper was served; but still “the band” consisting of a violin and a concertina—played on, and still the moecasined feet pounded the floor without intermission. At the very height of the fun, when the Free Trader’s charming daughter was being whirled about by a scarlet tunic, Mrs. Spear turned to me and beamed:
“Doesn’t Athabasca look radiantly beautiful?”
“Indeed she does!” I blushed.
“And what a delightful party this is. . . but there’s just one thing lacking. . . to make it perfect.”
“What’s that?” I enquired.
“A wedding. . . my dear.” Then after a long pause, during which she seemed to be staring at me—but I didn’t dare look—she impatiently tossed her head and exclaimed:
“My. . . but some men are deathly slow!”
“Indeed they are,” I agreed.
About four o’clock in the morning, the music died down, then after much hand-shaking, the company dispersed in various directions over the moonlit snow; some to their nearby lodges, some to the log shacks in the now deserted Indian village, and others to their distant hunting-grounds. It must have been nearly five o’clock before the ladies in the Factor’s house went upstairs, and the men lay down upon caribou, bear and buffalo skins on the otherwdse bare floor of the living room. It was late next morning when we arose, yet already the police had vanished—they had again set out on their long northern patrol.
At breakfast Mr. and Mrs. Spear invited me to return and spend the night with them, and as Oo-koo-hoo and his wife wanted to remain a few days to visit some Indian friends, and as the Factor had told me that the Northbound Packet with the winter’s mail from the railroad was soon due; and as, moreover, the Fur Brigade would be starting south in a few days, and it would travel for part of the way along our homeward trail, I accepted Mr. Mackenzie’s invitation to return to Fort Consolation and depart with the Fur Brigade.
It was a cold trip across the lake as the thermometer had dropped many degrees and a northwest wind was blowing in our faces. As I had frequently had my nose frozen, it now turned white very quickly, and a half-breed, who was crossing with us, turned round every once in a while and exclaimed to me :
‘Oh, my gud, your nose all froze!”
The snow seemed harder than ever, and for long stretches we took off our snowshoes and ran over the drifts, .but so wind-packed were they that they received little impression from our feet. Of course, when we arrived at Spearhead, the house was cold and everything in it above the cellar—except the cats and geese—was frozen solid; but it is surprising how quickly those good old-fashioned box-stoves will heat a dwelling; for in twenty or thirty minutes those woodburning stoves were red-hot and the whole house comfortably warm.
Athabasca and 1 Look at Pictu es
IT'S strange, but nevertheless true, that “Son-inlaw” was never once mentioned at dinner, but later on, when Athabasca and 1 were sitting one on either side of the room, Mrs. Spear got up and getting a picture book, asked :
“Mr. Heming, are you fon i of pictures? Daughter has a delightful little picture book here that I want her to show you, so now, my dears, both sit over there on the sofa where the light will be better, and look at it together.”
over to the old horsehair sofa—the pride of all Spearhead and even of Fort Consolation—we sat down together, much closer than I had expected, as some of the springs were broken, thus forming a hollow in the centre of the affair, into which we both slid without warning—just as though it were a trap set for bashful people. Then Mrs. Spear with a sigh, evidently of satisfaction, withdrew from the room, and we were left alone together. With the book spread ' out upon our knees we looked it over for perhaps— !
well, I am not sure how long, but anyway, when I came to, I saw something just in front of me on the floor. Really, it startled me. For in the following it up with my eye I discovered that it was the toe of a moccasin, and the worst of it was that it was being worn by Mrs. Spear. There, for ever so long, she must have been standing and watching us. The worst of that household was that all its members wore moccasins, so you could never hear them coming.
That night, when we were sitting around the stove, Mrs. Spear'explained to me how she had educated her daughter and added: “But perhaps, after all, if the wedding is not going to take place right away, it might be well to send daughter to some finishing school for a few months—say in Toronto,” and then after a little pause, and still looking at me, she asked: “To which school would you prefer us to send Athabasca?”
When I named the most fashionable girls’ school in that city, “Paw and Maw” settled it, there and then, that daughter would attend it next fall, that is, unless it was decided to celebrate her wedding at an earlier date.
And Then We Go For a Sleigh-ride
NEXT morning, at breakfast, Mrs. Spear suggested that Athabasca should take me for a drive through the woods and Mr. Spear remarked
“You know, Mr. Heming, we haven’t any cutter or any suitable sleigh, and besides one of the horses is working in the stump lot; hut I think I can manage it, despite that.” In a little while he led a horse around to the front door. The animal had a pole attached to either side, the other ends of which dragged out behind; across file two poles, just behind the horse’s tail, was fastened a rack of cross poles upon which was placed some straw and a buffalo robe. It was really a travois, the kind of conveyance used by the Plains Indians. Getting aboard the affair, off we went, the old plug rumbling along in a kind of a trotting walk, while Athabasca held the reins. The morning being a fine, sunny one, and the trees being draped and festooned with snow, the scene was so beautiful when we got into the thicker woods, that it made one think of fairy land. A couple of fluffy little whiskey jacks followed us all the way there and back, just as though they wanted to see and hear everything that was going on; but those little meddlers of the northwoods must have been disappointed, for both Athabasca and I were not only too shy to talk, but too bashful even to sit upright; in fact, we both leaned so far away from one another that we each hung over our side of the trap; and did nothing but gaze far-off into the enchanted wood. We must have been gone nearly two hours when the house again came into view. Yes, I enjoyed it. It was so romantic. But what I couldn’t understand was why her parents allowed her to go with me, when they were already counting on “Son-in-law” marrying her. It was certainly a mystery to me; however, that afternoon I left for Fort Consolation.
east. That night, in front of the big open fire, we talked of the fur-trade. Among other books and papers he showed me was a copy of the Company’s Deed Poll; not published a century ago, but printed at the time of which I am writing, and thus it
“To all whom these presents shall come, The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay send greeting. Whereas His Majesty King Charles the Second did, by His Royal Charter, constitute the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay in a Body Corporate, with perpçtual succession and with power to elect a Governor and Deputy Governor and Committee for the management of their trade and affairs.”
Our “Northern Lights” Cover
"PHLS brilliant exhibition of night lights is seen to its fall advantage by the adventurers in the North. Mr. lleming shows here one of the typical “lights” so often witnessed by Canadians. In the foreground is a “head-hunter” returning with a moose-head across a frozen lake.
“Wild Animals and Men”
"THIS is the title of Mr. Heming's next chapter, which will * appear in the March 1 issue. It is, again, a long instalment! full of forest-lore._ And, don't forget to study the cover in our next issue. Seven suns are shown! An uniquely artistic picture.
were: A Commissioner, three Inspecting Chief Factors, eight Chief Factors, fifteen Factors, ten Chief Traders, and twenty-one Junior Chief Traders, all of whom on appointment became shareholders in the Company. While the Governor and Committee had their offices in London, the Commissioner was the Canadian head with his offices in Winnipeg, and to assist him an advisory council, composed
On my way across the lake I noticed that the wind was veering round toward the east and that the temperature was rising. When I arrived in good time for supper, Factor Mackenzie seemed relieved, and remarked that the barometer indicated a big storm from the north-
February 15, 1921
of Chief Factors and Chief Traders, was occasionally called. The Company’s territory was divided into four departments -the Western, the Southern, the Northern, and the Montreal—while each department was again subdivided into many districts, the total number being thirty-four. The non-commissioned employees at the various posts were: clerks, postmasters and servants. Besides the regular post servants there were others employed such as; voyageurs, among whom were the guides, canoemen, boatmen and scowmen; then again there were fur-runners, forthunters and packeteers.
In the morning a miserable north-easter was blowing a heavy fall of snow over the country, and the Factor offered to show me the fur-loft where the clerk and a few half-breed men-servants were folding and packing furs. First they were put into a collapsible mould to hold them in the proper form, then when the desired weight of ninety pounds had been reached, they were passed into a powerful, home-made fur-press, and after being pressed down into a solid pack, were corded and covered with burlap, and marked ready for shipment. The room in which the men worked was a big loft with endless bundles of skins of many sizes and colors hanging from the rafters, and with long rows of shelves stacked with folded furs, and with huge piles of pelts and opened bales upon the floor. Also there were moose and caribou horns lying about, and bundles of Indian-made snowshoes hanging by wires from the rafters, and in one corner, kegs of dried beaver castors.
“Voyez, voyez, le pacquet!”
ON THE morning of the second day of the storm, I happened to be in the Indian shop, where I had gone to see the Factor and the clerk barter for the furs of a recently arrived party of Indian fur-hunters, when presently I was startled by hearing:
“Voyez, voyez, le pacquetl" shouted by Bateese as he floundered into the trading-room without a thought of closing the door, though the drifting snow scurried in after him. Vociferously he called to the others to come and see, and instantly trade was stopped. The Factor, the clerk, and the Indians rushed to the doorway to obtain a glimpse of the long expected packet. For two days the storm had raged, and the snow was ' still blowing in clouds that blotted out the neighboring forest.
“Come awa’, Bateese, ye auld fule! Come awa’ ben, an’ steek yon door! Yedinna see ony packet!” roared the trader, who could distinguish nothing through the flying snow.
“Bien, m’sieu, mebbe she not very clear jus’ now; but w’en I pass from de Mad Wolf’s Hill, w’en de storm she lif a leetle, I see two men an’ dog train on de lac below de islan’s,” replied the half-breed fort-hunter, who had returned from a caribou cache, and whose duty it was to keep the fort supplied with meat.
“Weel, fetch me the giess, ma mon; fetch me the giess, an’ aiblins we may catch a glint o’ them through this smoorin’ snaw; though I doot it’s the packet, as ye say.” And the Factor stood shading his eyes and gazing anxiously in the direction of the invisible islands. But before the fort-hunter had returned with the telescope, the snowy veil suddenly thinned and revealed the gray figure of a tripper coming up the bank.
“Quay, quay! Ke-e-e-pling!” sang out one of the Indians. He had recognized the tripper to be Kipling, the famous snowshoe runner. Immediately all save the Factor rushed forward to meet the little half-breed who was in charge of the storm-bound packet, and to welcome him with a fusillade of gun shots.
Everyone was happy now, for last year’s news of the Grand Pays—the habitant’s significant term for the outer world—had at last arrived. The monotonous routine of the post was forgotten. To-day the long, dreary silence of the winter would be again broken in upon by hearty feasting, merry music, and joyous dancing in honor of the arrival of the half-yearly
Hubbub of Shouting Men and Yelping Dogs
ALL crowded round the voyageur, who, though scarcely more than five feet in height, was famed as a snowshoe runner throughout the wilderness stretching from the Canadian Pacific Railroad to the Arctic Ocean. While they were eagerly plying him with questions, the crack of a dog-whip was heard. Soon the faint tinkling of bells came through the storm. In a moment all the dogs of the settlement were in an uproar, for the packet had arrived.
With a final rush the gaunt, travel-worn dogs galloped through the driving snow, and, eager for the shelter of the trading room, bolted pell-mell through the gathering at the doorway, upsetting half a dozen spectators before the driver could halt the runaways by falling headlong upon the foregoer’s back and flattening him to the floor.
Continued on page 48
Continued from page 22
All was excitement. Every dog at the post dashed in with bristling hair and clamping jaws to overawe the strangers. Amid the hubbub of shouting men, women, and children, the crackjng of whips, and the yelping of dogs, the packet was removed from the overturned sled and hustled into the Factor’s office, where it was opened, and the mail quickly overhauled. While the Factor and his clerk were busily writing despatches, a relay of dogs was being harnessed, and two fresh runners were making ready to speed the mail upon its northward way.
That afternoon five dog-trains arrived from outlying posts, their sleds:
Laden with skins from the north, Beaver and bear and raccoon,
Marten and mink from the polar belts, Otter and ermine and sable pelts— The spoils of the hunter’s moon.*
They had come to join the Dog Brigade •that was to leave Fort Consolation first thing in the morning on its southern way to the far-off railroad. As I wished to accompany the Brigade, I had arranged with Oo-koo-hoo that we should do so, as far as we could without going out of oiir way, in returning to his hunting-grounds. So to bed that night we all went very early, and at four o’clock in the morning we were astir again. Breakfast was soon over, then followed the packing of the sleds, the harnessing of the dogs, the slipping of moccasined feet into snowshoe thongs, the shaking of hands, and the wishing of farewells. Already the tracker, or track beater, had gone ahead to break the trail.
“M-a-r-r-che\” (start) shouted the guide —as the head dog-driver is called. Every driver repeated the word; whips cracked; dogs howled, and the brigade moved forward in single file. At the head went the Factor’s train of four powerful looking and handsomely harnessed dogs hauling a decorated carriole in which the Factor rode and behind which trotted a picturesque half-breed driver. Next in order went the teams of the Church of England clergyman and the Roman Catholic priest, both of whom happened to be going out to the railroad. Behind these followed twelve sleds laden with furs which the Hudson’s Bay Company was shipping to their Department Headquarters. When one remembers that black or silver fox skins are frequently sold for more than a thousand dollars each, one may surmise the great value of a cargo of furs weighing nearly five thousand pounds, such as the Dog Brigade was hauling. No wonder the Company was using all haste to place those furs on the London market before the present high prices fell.
Hard Work on a Hill—Even Descending
' I 'HE Brigade formed an interesting sight, as the Indians, half-breeds and white men were garbed most curiously; and, in strong contrast to the brilliant colors worn by the members of the brigade, the clergymen trotted along in their sombre black—the priest’s cassock flowing to his snowshoes, and his crucifix thrust, daggerlike, in his girdle.
The four dogs comprising each of the fur trains hauled four hundred pounds of fur besides the camp outfit and grub for both driver and dogs—in all about six hundred pounds to the sled. When the sleighing grew heavy, the drivers used long pushing-poles against the ends of the sleds to help the dogs.
While the march always started in a stately way—the Factor’s carriole in advance, it was not long before the trains abandoned their formal order; for whenever one train was delayed through any one of many reasons, the train behind invariably strove to steal ahead so that after a few hours’ run the best dogs were usually leading.
Coming to a steep hill every one helped the dogs in their climb. When at last the brigade, puffing and panting, reached the summit, pipes were at once in evidence and then another rest followed. When the descent began, the drivers—most of them having removed their snowshoes that their feet might sink deeper into the snow—
*E. Pauline Johnson.
seized their trail-lines, and, acting as anchors behind the sleds, allowed themsleves to be hauled stiff-legged through the deep snow in their effort to keep the sleds from over-running the dogs. It was exciting work. The men throwing their utmost weight upon the lines sought every obstruction, swerving against trees, bracing against roots, grasping at branches and floundering through bushes. Often they fell, and occasionally, when they failed to regain their footing, were mercilessly dragged downhill; the heavy sleds, gathering momentum, overtook the fleeing dogs; and their unfortunate masters were ploughed head-first through the snow. At the foot of the steepest incline a tumult arose as men and dogs struggled together in an effort to free themselves from overturned sleds. Above the cursing in French and English—but not in Indian—rose the howling of the dogs as lead-loaded lashes whistled through the frosty air. One wondered how such a tangle could ever be unravelled, but soon all was set straight
About eight o’clock we had our second breakfast and by twelve we stopped again for the noon-day meal, both of which consisted of bannock, pork and tea. While we ate, the dogs still harnessed lay curled up in the snow. We had a most glorious afternoon’s trip, and as the sunset glow faded, the Brigade halted to make camp for the night.
When pipes had been filled and lighted, each driver took his allotment of fish, called his dogs aside and gave them a couple each. Some of the brutes bolted their food in a few gulps and rushed to seize the share of others, but a few blows from the drivers’ whips drove them back.
‘‘Wat-che? Wat-che?’’ They Greet The Cree
JUST then the dogs began to blow and then to growl, as a strange Indian strode out of the gloom into the brilliant glare of the fires.
“Wat-che! wat-che?” (What cheer, what cheer!) sang out the men. The stranger replied in Cree, and then began a lively interchange of gossip. The Indian was the track beater of the south bound packet from the far north that was now approaching. All were keenly interested. The cracking of whips and the howling of dogs was heard, and a little later the tinkling of bells. Then came a train of long-legged, handsomely harnessed dogs hauling a highly decorated carriole, behind which trotted a strikingly dressed half-breed dog-driver. When the train had drawn abreast of our fire, an elderly white man, who proved to be Chief Factor Thompson, of a still more northerly district of the Hudson’s Bay Company, got out from beneath the carriole robes, cheerfully returned our greeting and accepted a seat on the dunnage beside Factor Mackenzie’s fire. Two other trains and two other dog-drivers immediately followed the arrival of the Chief Factor, for they were the packeteers in charge of the packet. Now the woods seemed to be full of talking and laughing men and snarling, snapping dogs. Twenty-two men were now crowding round the fires, and seventy-two dogs and eighteen sleds were blocking the spaces between the trees.
Chief Factor Thompson was the “real thing,” and therefore not at all the kind of Hudson’s Bay officer that one ever meets in fiction. For instead of being a big, burly, “red-blooded brute,” of the “he-man” type of Factor—the kind that springs from nowhere, save the wild imaginations of the authors who have never lived in the wilderness, he was just a real man, just a fine type of Hudson’s Bay Factor, who was not only brother to both man and beast, but who knew every bird by its flight or song; who loved children with all his heart—flowers too—and whose kindly spirit often rose in song.
After the Chief Factor and his men had been refreshed with bannock, pork and tea, pipes were filled and lighted and for a time we talked of all sorts of subjects. Later, when we were alone for a little while, I found Mr. Thompson a man richly informed on northern travel, for he had spent his whole life in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and at one time or another had been in charge of the principal posts on Hudson’s Bay, Great Slave Lake, and the Peace, the Church-
hill, the Athabasca and the Mackenzie Rivers. Among other subjects discussed were dogs and dog-driving; and when I questioned him as to the loading of sleds, he answered:
“Usually, in extremely cold weather, the Company allots dogs not more than seventy-five pounds each, but in milder weather they can handily haul a hundred pounds, and toward spring when sleds slide easily they can often manage more than that.” Then dreamily puffing at his pipe, he added:
“I remember when six dog-trains of four dogs each hauled from Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca to Fort Vermilion on the Peace River, loads that averaged six hundred and fifty pounds per sled—not including the grub for the men and dogs and the men’s dunnage. Then again, Wm. Irving with Chief Factor Camsell’s dogs brought to Fort Simpson a load of nine hundred pounds. The greatest load hauled by four dogs that I know of was brought to Fort Good Hope by Gaudet. When it arrived it weighed a trifle over one thousand pounds. But Factor Gaudet is one of the best dog-drivers in the country.”
Then, re-settling himself more comfort ably before the fire, he continued:
“And while I think of it we have had some pretty fine dogs in the service of the Company. The most famous of all were certainly those belonging to my good friend, Chief Factor Wm. Clark. He bred them from Scotch stag hounds and ‘huskies’ — the latter, of course, he procured from the Eskimos. His dogs, however, showed more hound than husky Their hair was so short that they had to be blanketed at night. Once they made t trip from Oak Point on Lake Manitoba te Winnipeg, starting at four o’clock in the morning, stopping for a second breakfas' by the way, and reaching Winnipeg bj one o’clock at noon, the distance beins sixty miles.
“They were splendid dogs and greai pets of his. They used to love playinj tricks and romping with him. Frequentlj when nearing a Post they would purposelj dump him out of his carriole and leaving him behind, go on to the Post, where of course, on their arrival with the emptj sled, they were promptly sent back foi Mr. Clark. Understanding the com mand, they would at once wheel about and without a driver, would return on the ful gallop to get their master. When coming upon him they would rush around and bark at him, showing all the while th* greatest glee over the trick they had playec
“He never used a whip upon them. Nt snowshoer could be found who was swift enough to break a trail for those dogs and no horse ever overtook them. Once while going from Oak Point to Winnipeg Factor Clark’s train ran down six wolves allowing him to shoot the brutes as h* rode in his carriole. Another time the} overhauled and threw a wolf which Mr Clark afterwards stunned, and then bound its jaws together. When the brute cam* to, it found itself harnessed in the train in place of one of the dogs, and thus Chief Factor Clark drove a wild timber-wolf into the city of Winnipeg.”
“They must have been wonderful dogs,” remarked Father Jois, “but it’s toe bad they don’t breed such dogs now-a
“That’s so,” returned the Chief Factor “Twenty or thirty years ago at each of th» big Posts—the district depots—they used to keep from forty to fifty dogs, and at th* outposts, from twenty to thirty were al ways on hand. At each of the districi depots a man was engaged as keeper of the dogs and it was his duty to attend tr their breeding, training and feeding.”
Bringing Out the Mail
BUT to return to the Hudson’s Ba} Company’s packet system, I asked Chief Factor Thompson:
“Do the Company’s officers experienc* much trouble in procuring men to act a» packeteers?”
“Oh, no; none whatever. As a rul» when men enter the Company’s service they stipulate that they shall be given a place on the packet; for that affords them an opportunity to pay a visit to the nexf post, and to join in the dance which is always held on the arrival of the mail. Trippers consider themselves greatly honored on being given charge of a packet; for it means that they are held to be trustworthy, and thoroughly familiar with the topography of the district.”
“Before the advent of the railroad and the steamboat, which was the longest of the Company’s packet routes?”
“By all odds that of the Yukon packet. It made the journey from Montreal to Fort Yukon, which was then situated at the junction of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. It was routed by way of the Ottawa River, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake of the Woods, Lake Winnipeg, the Athabasca River, the Slave River, and the Mackenzie River. It was forwarded in summer by canoe, in winter by dog-train, for the enormous distance of four thousand five hundred miles. And let me tell you, it is to-day, as it was two hundred years ago, the pride of the Company’s people that not one packet was ever lost beyond recovery. Packeteers have been drowned, frozen, burned, shot, smothered, and even eaten; but the packet has always reached its destination somehow.”
A few moments later, Chief Factor Thompson yawned:
“Well, gentlemen, it’s getting on. I must be turning in or my men will be late in getting under way in the morning.”
Prayer in the Wilderness
DROWSINESS had indeed overtaken the camp. But now I must digress a moment to tell you something that the public—at least the public that has derived its knowledge of northern wilderness life from fiction—may find it hard to believe. And this is what I want to say: that every one in that whole brigade of wild men of the wilderness, from the lowest dog-driver right up to the Chief Factor—when each had fixed his bed in readiness for the night—knelt down, and, with bowed head, said his evening prayer to the Master of Life. Moreover, the fact that two clergymen were present had nothing whatever to do with it, for the “barbarians” of the forest would have done just the same had no priest been there —just as I have seen them do, scores and scores of times. In fact, in some sections of the forest, the native wilderness man -—red, white or half-breed — who does not, is not the rule, but the exception. Then, too—unless one’s ears are closed to such sounds—one may occasionally hear the voyageurs of the “North canoe” and the “York boat” brigades, while straining on the tracking line, singing, among other hymns:
“Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war,
With the Cross of Jesus Going on before.”
And furthermore, I wonder if the fiction-reading public will believe that the majority of the men in the fur-brigades always partake of the holy sacrament before departing upon their voyages? Nevertheless it is the truth-—though of course, truth does not agree with the orgies of gun-play that spring from the weird imaginations of the stay-at-home authors, who, in their wild fancy, people the wilderness with characters from the putrescence of civilization. It is time these authors were enlightened, for a man, native to the wilderness, is a better man. . more honest, more chivalrous, more generous, and—at heart, though he talks less
about it—more God-respecting......
than the man born in the city. That is something the public should never forget; for if the public remembers that, then the authors of wilderness stories will soon have to change their discordant tune.
Yes, it is true, every one of those wild men said his evening prayer and then, with his blanket wrapped about him, lay down upon his thick, springy mattress of fir-brush, with his feet toward the fire, and slumbered as only a decent, hardworking man can. Out among the dancing shadows that flitted among the snowmantled bushes and heavily-laden trees, a hundred and fifty eyes glared in the brooding darkness—as though all the wolves in the forest were gathering there.
Later, when the sound of heavy breathing was heard round the fires, a fierce, wolfish-looking dog, holder than the rest, left its snowy bed to hunt for more sheltered quarters. There was a whine, a snarl, then the sound of clashing teeth. In a moment every dog leaped up with bristling hair. Instantly bedlam reigned. Over seventy dogs waged the wildest kind of war and the distant woods re-echoed the horrible din. A dozen blanketed mounds rose up, and many long lashes whistled through the air. The seething mass broke away and flew howling and yelping into outer darkness followed by a roar of curses —but only in civilized tongues.
Levey! Levey! Levey!
PRESENTLY all was still again.
The men lay down, and the dogs, one by one, came slinking back to their resting places. But in a couple of hours one of the half-frozen brutes silently rose up, cautiously stepped among the sleeping men and lay couched close to a smouldering fire. Another followed and then another until most of the dogs had left their beds. Growing bolder, a couple of the beasts fought for a warmer spot. In their tussle they sprawled over one of the men, but a few lusty blows from a handy frying-pan restored calm. As the night wore on some of the dogs, not contented with sleeping beside the men, curled up on top of their unconscious masters. Then for hours nothing but the heavy breathing and snoring in camp and the howling of distant wolves was heard. Slumber had at last overtaken the wild men of the wilderness—who always made it a rule to kneel down every night, and ask God to bless their little children at home.
Now, though Time still sped on, silence possessed the forest—until:
“Hurrah, mes bons hommes'. Levy, levey levey'. Up, up, up, up, up!” ending in a shrill yell from the guide startled the drowsy crew. It was three o’clock in thé morning. Had it not been for the brilliancy of the northern lights all would have been in darkness. An obscure form bent over an ash-bed and fumbled something. A tiny blaze appeared and rapidly grew until the surrounding forest was aflare. Over the fires frying-pans sizzled, while tea-pails heaped with snow began to steam. A hurried breakfast followed. The sleds were packed. The dogs, still curled up in the snow, pretended to be asleep.
“Caesar! Tigre! Cabri! Whiskey! Tête Noire! Pilot! Michinass! Coffee! Bull! Brandie! Caribou!” shouted the men. A few of the dogs answered to their names and came to harness while some holding back were tugged forward by the scruff of the neck. Others were stül in hiding. The men searched among the mounds and bushes. Every now and then the crack of a whip and the yelp of a dog announced the finding of a truant.
Two trackers on large snowshoes had already gone ahead to break the trail. It was easy to follow their tracks though the woods were still in darkness and remained so for several hours.
We Leave the Brigade
AT DAWN Oo-koo-hoo and our little - outfit parted company with the Dog Brigade. Already the packet was many miles ahead. As I turned on my western way, I thought of the work of these postmen of the wilderness, of the hardships they endured, and the perils they braved; and the Chief Factor’s assertion that no packet had ever been lost beyond recovery recalled to mind other stories that were worth remembering: For instance, a
canoe express was descending the Mackenzie River; the canoe was smashed in an ice jam, and the packeteers were drowned. A few weeks later, passing Indians caught sight of a. stick bobbing on the surface of the stream. Though the water was deep and the current was running at the rate of three miles an hour, the stick remained in the same place. So the Indians paddled over to investigate. They found that to the floating stick was fastened a long thong, which on being pulled up brought the missing packet to light.
Again, while making camp near the Athabasca River, the packeteers had slung: the packet in a tree, the usual place for it while in camp. During the night their fire spread and burned up the whole equipment except the tree, which being green, received little more than a scorching. The packet was unharmed.
On Great Slave Lake during a fierce snow storm the packeteers became separated from their dogs, and were frozen to death. But the packet was recovered.
In one autumn two packeteers journeying from George’s River Post to Ungava Post drew up their canoe on a sandy beach, and camped beneath a high, overhanging bank. During the night the bank gave way and buried them as they slept. When the ice formed, the trader at Ungava sent out two men to search for the missing packet. They found the canoe on the beach; and from the appearance of the bank conjectured what had happened. Next spring the landslide was dug into, and the packeteers were found both lying under the same blanket, their heads resting upon the packet.
To be Continued in March 1st Issue.