MY SON, a good hunter is never long in doubt; for when he discovers a bear track and follows it for a few hundred paces, he knows whether the track was made by day or by night, whether the bear was large or small, old young, male or female; whether its coat was in condition or not; whether the beast was merely wandering or travelling with a purpose in view; whether it was frightened or undisturbed; whether going fast or slow; and whether seeking friends or food. Also, the hunter knows which way the wind was blowing when the track was made, he knows whether the bear felt tired or active, and furthermore, whether or not it wanted to go to bed.”
I laughed aloud.
Instantly Oo-koo-hoo’s kindly smile was clouded with a frown and he exclaimed: “My son. . . that was the laugh of a monias (a greenhorn),” and glaring at me, he added: “At first, I thought better of you, but now I am sure that all white men are fools.”
Realizing my mistake, I sobered, and suggested that if he would explain I would have a chance to learn the ways of a great hunter.
“My son, it is a simple matter to read a track—that is, when one has learned the game. For then one has but to look, remember, and reason, and then the whole story unfolds before your eyes; just as when you open and read what you white men call a book. And some day, my son, if you try hard to learn, you, too, may be able to read the tales of the Strong-Woods-Country. Now listen to your grandfather and he will explain:
‘Under ordinary conditions a deep, clear track implies action; a faint, shallow one, inaction; the length of the stride indicates the speed; if, when travelling slow, hair is found upon the underwood, the animal passed at night, for in the daytime a bear is as careful as a lynx to avoid striking things; if the bear is young or middle aged, the claw marks are sharp and clean cut; if it is old, they are blunt and blurred. The tracks of the male, though larger, are not so round as those of the female, and the male’s toes are not only longer and spread farther apart, but the underside of his foot is not so hairy as that of his mate. Then, too, as you know, there are other signs by which a tracker tells the sex of his quarry.
Further Facts About Bear
"‘NOW if the bear was travelling with a definite purpose in mind, he would travel straight, or as nearly straight as he could through the woods, and in order to save time, he might even occasionally climb a tree to spy out the lie of the land—as he frequently does.
“Then again, if he were feeding, the ground and growth beside his trail would show it; if suddenly startled, he would leave the familiar sign that all large animals usually leave when frightened; and moreover, it would be left within fifty paces of the place where he took fright. Furthermore, if he were tired and wanted to rest, he would begin circling down wind, so that he could come about close to his back trail, and then lie down, facing down wind, in such a position that he could see anything he could not scent, and scent anything he could not see. ‘Thus if an enemy approached, his eyes would guard his front while his scent would guard his rear. And now, my son, as a bear usually travels up wind, even a monias of a white man could guess which way the wind was blowing when the track was made. And always remember, my son, that only fools laugh at common sense. But don’t get discouraged, keep on trying hard to learn, and then perhaps some day, if you live long enough, you may become almost as wise as an ordinary Indian.”
The perfect season for hunting the black bear, and in fact all other fur-bearing animals, is between the coming of the snow in late autumn, and the going of the snow in early spring, for during that intervening season the coat is in its prime; but as the bear spends much of the winter in hibernation, the hunter must make the best of his two short opportunities; that is, unless he already knows where the bear will “den up,” and is counting on killing him in his o-wazhe—or as the white hunters and traders call it “wash” —his den. His “wash” may consist of a hollow tree or a hollow log, a cave, or any suitable shelter formed by an uprooted tree.
The black bear’s coat is all of a glossy black, save just the muzzle, which is light brown. In weight the black bear runs from two hundred to five hundred pounds. Though he is found throughout the Great Northern Forest, he is a comparative stay-at-home, for he seldom roams, even in summer time, more than ten miles from his den, where, if undisturbed, he goes into the same winter-quarters year after year. Consequently, his paths are often clearly defined and well-beaten, for he has the habit of treading repeatedly in his old tracks, and occasionally he blazes his trail by clawing and biting, as high as he can reach, a neighboring tree. Then, too, he frequently leaves other signs—as a dog does at a post.
Dog-like, also, other bears that happen along manifest pleasure or rage according to whether the sign has been left by friend or foe. The mating season is in June, though the female rarely bears young except every second year. The young are born in January while the mother is hibernating; and the cubs, usually two in number, are at birth very small, weighing only about ten ounces. The she-bear makes a good mother, for though she shows great affection for her babies, she, nevertheless, reprimands them, and cuffs them as well, whenever they misbehave or fail to comply with her wishes.
Bear Cubs Whimper Just Like Children
THE cubs are easily tamed and, being natural little romps, they soon become proficient wrestlers and boxers, and in later years show so much agility in the manly art, that they strike and parry with amazing power, speed and skill. When hurt, however, the cubs whimper and cry just like children, and if the little tots are badly wounded, the distress of the mother is pitiful to see, for she moans and sheds tears just as any tender-hearted human mother would. Bear-cubs are droll little mischiefs. Not only do they, when tamed, frequently get into trouble through the pranks they play, but they like to imitate at any risk to themselves the doings of others.
Years ago, near Fort Pelly, on the Assiniboine River, an old Indian killed a she-bear that was followed by two cubs. Though he skinned and cut up the carcass of the mother, he did not touch the whimpering babes, and on going to camp, he sent his wife out with a horse to bring in the meat. When the woman arrived at the spot, she found the two cubs cuddled up against the dressed meat of their mother, and crying as if their poor hearts would break. Their affectionate behaviour so touched the motherly heart of the old woman, that, after loading the meat aboard the travois—a framework of poles stretched out behind the hofse—she picked up the sobbing children and, wrapping them in a blanket to keep them from falling off the travois, bestrode her horse, and brought them whimpering into camp.
For some time she kept them tethered beside her lodge where she took good care of them, but when they grew larger and seemed well behaved, she released them and allowed them to run and play with the dogs around camp. In the fall, it was her habit to take a hand-net and go down to the river to fish. Standing upon a rock and every once in a while casting in her net, she would land a fish on the bank. For several days the cubs watched her with interest, and then one day, it seems, they decided they ought to try and help their foster-mother; so wading in on their hind legs till the water covered their little round tummies, they would stand perfectly still until a fish would swim near. Then they would make a violent lunge for it, and striking lightning-like blows with their paws, they, too, would land a fish upon the bank. Over and over they repeated the manoeuvre with evident excitement and pleasure. At last, every time the old woman picked up her net to go fishing, these two went along and helped her with her work. So fond of the sport did they become that, presently, they didn’t even wait for her to accompany them, but scurried down to the river by themselves and would often have a day’s fishing caught and ready for her, before she had put in her appearance.
Those Shocking Bear Stories
BUT a few months later, when the cubs had grown still larger and stronger, they became so boisterous and mischievous that they not only handled the dogs too roughly, but when the old Indian and his wife left camp at any time, they went on the rampage; chasing the dogs about, ransacking the larder, turning the camp topsy-turvy and scattering everything in confusion. So the old couple decided that it was now high time to put their skins upon the skin-stretcher in readiness to sell to the fur-trader.
The black bear is a good swimmer and an excellent tree climber, and the speed with which he can rush up a hillside is surprising. His diet is a varied one, for he is always ready to eat vegetables, roots, berries, insects, nuts, fish, eggs, meat, fruit, and of course, sugar or honey; furthermore, he is a killer of small game—when he is extra-hungry. The black bear has been given so bad a name by uninformed writers and dishonest story-tellers that most people dread to meet him in the woods; whereas, in truth, he is usually more frightened at meeting human beings than they are of meeting him—for man is always his greatest and most dangerous enemy. Though I have seen many bears in the bush—seventeen on one trip— they never caused me any anxiety and at once took flight. But on one or two rare occasions they did not run, perhaps because they were three in number, and all full-grown. As usual, I was armed—as I always take care to be—with a penknife and a pocket handkerchief.
Occasionally, one reads in the daily press shocking stories of the ferocity of bears. What a pity that the truth of these stories cannot always be run to earth. Billy Le Heup, a prospector and guide of Northern Ontario, once having occasion to call for his mail in a little backwoods settlement, opened a newspaper and was shocked to learn that a most harrowing affliction had befallen an old friend of his, by name—but I’m sorry I have forgotten it, so let us call him Jones. The paper reported that while several of Jones’ children were out berry-picking, a great, black bear had attacked them, and killing the youngest, a little girl, had devoured her entirely, save only one tiny fragment; for when the rescue party went in search of the poor little child they found nothing but her blood-stained right-hand. And, on inquiry, he learned there was not a word of truth in the story.
But though the black bear is a shy, playful brute, usually ready for flight if danger approaches, the tyro should remember that if wounded or cornered, he will readily fight. Furthermore, if one is unlucky enough to get between a bear cub and its mother, and if the cub should cry out as though you were giving it pain, the mother will attack you as readily as any mother would—be she chicken, moose or woman.
A few days later Oo-koo-hoo and Amik set out to hunt beavers—those wonderful amphibious animals of the Northland that display more intelligence, perseverance, prudence and morality than many a highly civilized human being. In appearance the beaver somewhat resembles a greatly magnified muskrat, save that the beaver’s hairless scaly tail is very broad and fiat. The coat of the beaver is brown, and the darker the color the higher the price it brings. An adult beaver may measure from thirty-five to forty-five inches in length, and weigh anywhere from thirty to sixty pounds. The beaver’s home is usually in the form of an island house, built in the waters of a small lake or slowly running stream, to afford protection from prowling enemies, much in the same way that the old feudal lords surrounded the ramparts of their castles with broad moats and flooded the intervening space with a deep canal of water, in order to check the advance of enemy raiders. The surrounding shores of the beaver’s castle are nearly always wooded with poplars, as it is upon the bark of that tree that the beaver depends most for his food; though, at times, other hardwoods contribute to his feast as well as water-lily roots and other vegetation.
The beaver’s island-like lodge is a dome-shaped structure that rises from four to seven feet above the water, and measures from ten to thirty feet in diameter on the water line. It is composed mostly of barkless sticks and poles from one to four inches in diameter, although at times much heavier material is used; and it is tightly chinked with stones and mud and matted vegetation.
Frequently I have watched the building of their lodges. A foundation of waterlogged poles and sticks is laid upon the lake or river bottom, next mud and stones are added, then another lot of branches, thus the structure rises in a fairly solid mound until its dome-like top reaches the desired height above the water-line. Then the beavers tunnel their two runways into the centre of the mass from an underwater level on the outside, to an overwater level on the inside of the mound. Next, by gnawing away the inside sticks and excavating the inner mass, the inside chamber is formed, measuring anywhere from four to fourteen feet in width, and a little over two feet in height, with its walls finished fairly smooth. Furthermore, the chamber is provided with two floors, each of which covers about half the room. While the lower floor rises from three to six inches above the water level, the upper floor rises from four to eight inches above the lower floor. The tunnels open in the lower floor and it is the lower floor or level that is used as a drying place and a dining-room. The upper level, covered with a mattress of shredded wood, grass or moss, forms the living and sleeping half of the chamber. Though, in winter time, most of their meals are eaten in the house, the green bark-covered sticks being brought into the chamber through the straightest tunnel, the house is kept quite clean and free of all rubbish or filth. In fact, beavers are better housekeepers than some human beings I have known.
Even a Moose Could Stand on Roof
A CERTAIN amount of ventilation is derived from a few little chinks in the apex of the roof. During the first freezing nights of late fall, the beavers plaster the above-water dome of their houses with mud which they carry up between their fore-legs and chin from the lake bottom, and placing it upon the roof of their house, spread it about in a thick coating, not with their tails, but with their fore-feet, where it soon freezes into so solid a mass that it protects the inmates from the attacks of both the severest winter weather and the most savage of four-footed enemies. So strong, indeed, does the roof then become, that even a moose could stand upon it without it giving way. While some writers doubt that beavers plaster the outside of their house with mud, I wish to add that I have not only examined their houses before and after the plastering was done, but on several moonlight nights I have actually sat within forty feet of them and watched them do it.
The winter supply of food, being mostly poplar bark, is derived from the branches of green trees which the beavers cut down in the autumn for that very purpose. While engaged in gnawing down trees the beavers usually work. In pairs—one cutting while the other rests and also acts as a sentinel to give warning in case an enemy approaches. While cutting down trees they stand or sit in an upright position upon their hind legs and are firmly supported by the tripod formed by the spreading out of their hind feet and tail. They generally choose trees nearest the water on an inclined bank, and usually leaning toward the stream; and while they show no particular skill in felling trees in a certain position, they show great perseverance, for when it happens, as it sometimes does, that a tree in its descent is checked and eventually held up by its neighbors, the beavers will cut the trunk for the second time, and in some cases even for the third time, in order to bring it down.
At night I have frequently sat by the hour at a time, with the brush-screened bow of my canoe within ten feet of a party of beavers, while they were busily engaged in cutting the branches off a tree that they had felled into the water the previous evening. They work quickly too, for some mornings I have paddled past a big tree lying in the water—which they had dropped the night before—and returning next day have found all the branches removed, though some of them would have measured five inches in diameter. But watching beavers work at night is not only interesting, it is easy to do, and I have frequently taken both women and children to share in the sport. Sometimes, right in the heart of the wilderness, I have placed children within fifteen feet of beavers while they were engaged in cutting up a tree.
The Busy Beavers’ Ideal Home
WHEN branches measure from one to three inches in diameter, they are usually cut in lengths of from five to ten feet, and the thicker the branch the shorter they cut the lengths. If the cutting is done on land, the butt of the long thinner length is seized by the beaver’s teeth and with the weight resting upon the animal’s back, is dragged along the ground—over a specially cleared road—and eventually deposited in the water. The shorter lengths, sometimes no longer than a couple of feet, but measuring perhaps six or eight inches in diameter, are rolled along the ground by the beaver, pushing the log with the forefeet or shoulder. When the wood is placed in the water, the beaver propels it to its underwater storage place near its lodge, where—the wood being green and heavy—it is easily secured from floating up and away, by placing a little mud over one end by interlocking the stick with the rest of the pile. The green wood, however, soon becomes waterlogged and gives no further trouble. Thus, when the lake or river is frozen over, the beaver—for it does not hibernate --may live in comfort all winter long in its weather proof lodge with plenty of food stored beneath the ice and just beyond the home.
The hunters, arriving at a small lake that lay about three miles to the northwest of Bear Lake, crossed it, and turning up a winding creek, followed the little river until they came to a beaver dam which caused the stream to expand into another little lake that flooded far beyond its old water line. In it were to be seen three beaver lodges.
Oo-koo-hoo said the scene was somewhat altered since he had visited it four years before, as the dam had been increased both in height and length, and the pond, increasing too, had reached out close to many a tree that formerly stood some distance from the water. It was a beautiful little mere containing a few spruce-crowned islands, and surrounded by thickly wooded hills whose bases were well fringed with poplars, birches, willows and alders—an ideal home for beaver. Among the little islands stood three snow-capped beaver lodges. Here and there wide-spreading, wind-packed carpets of snow covered the glare ice, while in between big stretches of clear glassy ice, acting as skylghts, lit up the beavers’ submarine gardens around their ice-locked homes.
The hunters were accompanied by three of their dogs, and before they had time to decide where they should first begin work, the dogs began barking at a point between the west lodge and the bank; so they went over to investigate. Evidently the dogs had spied a beaver, for now, and forth in great excitement over a fairly deep submarine runway or clear passage-way, through the shallow, rush-matted water under the ice.
Knocking For The Beaver
CHOPPING a hole through the ice with his axe, Oo-koohoo drove down a couple of crossed poles to block the passage-way, and Amik finding other runways did likewise at other places. Several of the passage-ways led to “bank lodges" -- natural cavities in the river bank to which the beavers had counted on resorting in case their house was raided. In other places, where the snow obscured the view, the Indians knocked on the ice with the backs of their axes, to find and follow the hollow sounding ice that down. The rapping sound, however, instead of driving the beavers out of their lodge, had a tendency to make them remain at home, for as Oo-koo-hoo explained, cutting ice and working around their homes does not always frighten the beavers.
Securing two stouter poles, the hunters now chopped the butts into wedge-shaped chisels, with which they proposed to break open the beavers’ lodge. Work was begun about a foot above the level of the snow on the south side, as they explained that the lodge would not only be thinner on that side, but that the sun would make it slightly softer too and before much headway was made the dogs, all alert, discovered that several of the beavers had rushed out of their house, but finding the passage-ways blocked had returned home.
Now, strange to say, as soon as the side of the house was broken open and daylight let in, the beavers, becoming curious over the inflowing light that dazzled their eyes, actually came toward the newly-made hole to investigate. Then Oo-koo-hoo, with the aid of a crooked stick, suddenly jerked one of the unsuspecting animals out of the hole and Amik knocked it on the head. Thus they secured four large ones, but left a number of smaller ones unharmed, as Oo-koo-hoo never made a practice of taking a whole family.
In that house the portion of the chamber used for sleeping quarters was covered with a thick mattress of dry snake-grass,” and the whole interior was remarkably clean. After blocking and patching up the hole and covering the place with snow, the hunters threw water over it until it froze into a solid mass, then they removed the stakes from the runways and left the rest of the beavers in peace. Loading their catch upon their sleds, all set out for home.
Besides erecting their remarkably strong houses, there are two other ways in which the beavers display wonderful skill in the building of their dams and in the excavating of flood a wider area so that the far reaching waters of their pond may lap close to the roots of many otherwise inaccessible trees and thus enable them to fell and float them to their lodge; and—in winter time—to raise the water high enough to secure their pond from freezing solid and imprisoning them in their lodges where they would starve to death, or if they gnawed their way to freedom, the intense cold of mid-winter would freeze their hairless tails and cause their death; furthermore, should they escape from the weather, they would be at the mercy of all their enemies and would not long survive.
How A Beaver Dam is Built
ADAM, in the beginning, is usually erected in a small way, just to raise and expand the waters of some small creek or even those of a spring; then as the years go by, it is constantly added to, to increase the depth and expansion of the pond, and thus the dam grows from a small one of a few yards in length, to a big one of several hundred feet— sometimes to even four or five hundred feet in length— that may bank up the water four or five feet above the stream just outside the dam, and turn the pond into a great reservoir covering hundreds of acres of land.
The dam is more often built of branches laid parallel to the current with their butts pointing up stream, and weighted down with mud and stones; thus layer after layer is added until the structure rises to the desired height and strength. Some dams contain hundreds of tons of material. They are usually built upon a solid bottom, not of rock— though big, stationary boulders often are included in the construction for the extra support they furnish. When thus used, boulders often cause the beavers to divert the line of the dam out of its usual graceful and scientific curve that well withstands the pressure from even a large body of water.
The beavers excavate canals—sometimes hundreds of feet in length—to enable them to reach more easily and float home the wood they have cut from freshly felled trees lying far beyond the reaches of their pond. The canals measure from two to three feet in width and a foot to a foot and a half in depth, and are not only surprisingly clean-cut and straight, but occasionally they are even provided with locks, or rather little dams, to raise the water from one level to another—generally about a foot at a time—to offset the disadvantage of the wood lying on higher and more distant ground than is reached by the waters of the residential pond. Sometimes their canals are fed by springs, but more often by the drainage of rainwater. The building of many of their dams and canals displays remarkable skill and a fine sense of engineering, together with a spirit of perseverance that is astounding. Is it any wonder that the Indians say that the beavers were once human beings, whom, for the punishment of some misconduct, the Master of Life condemned to get down and grovel upon the ground as four-footed animals for the rest of their days.
“Yes, my son,” replied Oo-koo-hoo, when we were discussing beavers. “They are a very clever and a very wise people, and it would be better for us if we emulated them more than we do, for as you know, they believe in not talking but in working and making good use of the brains the Master of Life has given them, and that is the only way to be really happy in this world. Besides, he is always true to his wife—a fine example to men—furthermore, he is a good provider who looks after his children and is a decent, clean-living fellow who never goes out of his way to quarrel with anyone, but just minds his own business and cuts wood.” Could any nation choose a creature more fit for a national emblem? I believe not. For would any wise man compare a useless, screeching eagle, or a useless roaring lion—each a creature of prey—to a silent, hard-working and useful beaver who remains true to his wife all hie life, who builds a comfortable home for his children, provides them well with food and teaches them. . . . not how to kill other creatures. . . but how to work, work, work, how to construct strong, comfortable houses, how to build dams to protect, not only their children, but their homes too, how to chop down trees for food, how to dig canals to float the food home, how to store it for the winter, how to keep the home clean and in good order, how to mind their own business and never seek a quarrel, and at the same time, how to defend themselves desperately if an enemy attacks them?
For his size, the beaver is powerful, so powerful indeed, that Oo-koo-hoo said: “Remember, my son, the beaver is a very strong animal, he can drag a man after him and the only way for a hunter to hold him—if he is caught in a trap—is to lift him off his feet.”
Notwithstanding his great strength, however, he is a peace-loving chap, but when a just occasion arises, you ought to see him fight!
One spring while hunting along a river, some years ago, Oo-koo-hoo discovered a beaver at work upon the bank, and wishing to observe him for a while, kept perfectly still. The beaver was cutting poplar sticks to take them through a hole in the ice to the underwater entrance of his nearby home for his family to feed upon. But presently Ooo-koo-hoo discovered another moving object; it was a wolverine, and it was stalking the beaver. When it drew near enough to the unsuspecting worker, it made a sudden spring and landed upon his back. A desperate fight ensued. The wolverine was trying to cut the spinal cord at the back of the beaver’s neck; but the short, stout neck caused trouble, and before the wolverine had managed it, the beaver, realizing that the only chance for life was to make for the water-hole, lunged toward it, and with the wolverine still on his back, dived in. On being submerged, the wolverine let go and swam around and around in an effort to get out; but the beaver, now in his element, took advantage of the fact, and rising beneath the foe, leaped at it, and with one bite of his powerful, chisel-like teeth, gripped it by the throat, then let go and sank to watch it bleed to death. A little later, the beaver had the satisfaction of seeing old Oo-koo-hoo walk off with the wolverine’s skin.
No. . . beavers do not believe in divorce. . . and on their wedding day—usually in February—they promise to be true to each other for the rest of their lives, and moreover, unlike many human beings, they keep their promise. About three months later the husband, seeing his wife is getting ready to welcome new relations, leaves his comfortable home—just to be out of the way—and takes up new quarters in a hole in the river bank. While he is there, the children—any number from one to six—arrive, and then can be heard much gentle whimpering, just as though human babies were now living in the old homestead.
Beaver Children Romp Like Puppies
WHEN the beaver children grow older they romp in the water much as puppies do on land. If danger approaches, the first beaver to sense it slaps the surface the water with his broad, powerful tail, making a noise that resounds through the forest as though a strong man had struck the water a violent blow with the broad side of a paddle blade. Instantly the first beaver’s nearest companion signals the danger to others by doing the same; then a second later they plunge out of sight in the water and leave behind nothing but a great sound—as though an elephant had fallen in.
When married and settled down, the beaver is very domestic—a great stay-at-home—but when seeking a mate, he travels far and wide, and leaves here and there along the shore scent signals, in the hope of more easily attracting and winning a bride. Beavers are full grown at three years of age, and by that time they have learned how to erect houses, build dams, dig canals, chop down trees, cut up wood, float it home and store it for the winter; and by that time too, they have, no doubt, learned that man is their worst enemy, though the wolverine, wolf, otter, lynx, and fisher are ever ready to pounce upon them whenever a chance offers.
But I had almost forgotten that I owed the reader an explanation when I said that the beaver was a very useful creature. I was not thinking of the value of his fur, because that is as nothing compared to the great service he has been rendering mankind, not only to-day, but for endless generations. How? By the great work he has been doing during the past hundreds and thousands of years. How? By going into rocky, useless valleys and building the dams that checked the rushing rivers that were constantly robbing much rich soil from the surrounding country and carrying it down and out to sea. And his dams, moreover, not only held up those treacherous highwaymen, but took their loot away and let it settle in' the valleys, where as years rolled on, it grew and grew into endless great expansions of level meadow lands that now afford much of the most fertile farming soil to be found in North America; and thus, the great industry of those silent workers, who lived ages and ages ago, is even to-day benefiting mankind. And thus, too, that great work is being steadily carried on by the living beavers of to-day. Could any country in the world have chosen a more inspiring creature than Canada has chosen for her national symbol?
When on his fall and spring expedition Oo-koo-hoo was hunting beavers with the waters free of ice, he placed steel traps on their runways, either just below the surface of the water, or on the bank; and the only bait he used in both cases was the rubbing of castorum on nearby bushes. Also, he built deadfalls much like those he built for bear, but of course much smaller; and again the bait was castorum, but this time it was rubbed on a bit of rabbit skin which was then attached to the bait : stick of the deadfall. The deadfalls he built for beavers were nearly always made of dead tamarack—never of green poplar—otherwise the beavers would have pulled them to pieces for the sake of the wood.
Further, Oo-koohoo told me that in the spring he sometimes broke open beaver dams and set traps near the breaks in order to catch the beavers when they came to repair the damage. Such a mode of trapping was, he said, equally successful whether or not there was ice upon the water. He also told me that he had seen other Indians catch beaver with a net made of No. 10 twine, with a three-and-a-half inch mesh, but that, though the method worked rather well, he had never tried it. The way of all others that he liked best was to hunt them by calling, and the best time for that was during the mornings and evenings of the rutting season.
Later in the year, when the ice is gone, and the beaver is swimming, say a foot under water, the hunter can easily follow his course from the appearance of the surface. The same applies to the muskrat, mink and otter. Muskrats and beavers swim much alike, as they are usually going in search of roots, and, knowing exactly where to find them, they swim straight; but minks and otters swim a zig-zag course for the reason that they are always looking for fish and therefore are constantly turning their heads about; and that rule applies whether their heads are above or below the surface.
When a beaver—providing he has not slapped the water with his tail—or an otter dives, an observant hunter can judge fairly well as to where the animal is heading for by simply noting the twist of the tail, a point that helps the hunter to gauge the place where it may rise. The same applies to whales when they sound, though I found--while whale-hunting—that few whalers realized it, and fewer still took advantage of it, for much time was lost while waiting for the whale to rise before the boa! could be headed in the right direction. But then the average Indian in much more observant than the average white man.
If a beaver is caught in a steel trap, he will do his inmost to plunge into water and remain there even though ha should drown, yet his house may not be in that river or pond; but if he is wounded, he will either try to reach his house or take to the woods.
When in pursuit of beavers it is advisable to watch for them on moonlight nights .-.bout eight or nine o’clock and it is best to be in a canoe, as then there is less danger of the beaver sinking before he can be removed from the water. The hunter, while waiting for a shot, makes a noise with the handle of his knife against a stick in imitation of a beaver cutting wood—a sound somewhat similar to the boring sound of a large auger. It is astonishing how far, on a still night, beavers will hear such a sound and come to help their friends at work. When Oo-koo-hoo shot beaver he charged his gun with four slugs and fired for the head, as he explained that ordinary shot was too fine and scattered too much, while a single ball was too large.
The following morning Oo-koo-hoo and I set out to go the round of the northern trapping-trail which for some distance followed the valley of Beaver River, upon the bank of which traps, snares and dead falls for bears were set. Along that section of the river there were also traps set for otters, beavers, and muskrats; but the hunting of these amphibious animals was pursued with more diligence in the spring than in the winter. Though we hauled a hunting sled the snow was not yet deep enough for snowshoes, but what a feast of reading the forest afforded us! What tragedies were written in the snow!
Beaver River was now frozen firmly to bear a man, except in a few places where rapid water kept the ice thin or left the stream open; and as we tramped along we examined a number of traps, from two of which we took an otter and a beaver. But the bear and the wolf traps remained undisturbed though we saw a number of wolf tracks near at hand. Turning westward we ascended a slope and came suddenly upon the fresh track of a bear. It was fairly large, and was travelling slowly; merely sauntering along as though looking for a den in which to pass the winter.
At once, Oo-koohoo was all alert. Carefully re-charging his gun with hall, and seeing that his knife and axe were at hand, he left the sled behind lest it make a noise among the trees and alarm the quarry. In less than a quarter of a mile, however, we came upon a sign that the bear had passed but a few minutes ago. The hunter paused to suggest that it would better his approach if I were to follow a little further in the rear; then he noiselessly continued his pursuit. Slowly he moved forward, cautiously avoiding the snapping of a twig, or the scraping of underbrush. After peering through the shrubbery ahead or halting a moment to re-examine the track, he would move on again, but with scarcely any perceptible motion of the upper part of his body. When in doubt, he would stand stock-still and thy by sight or hearing to get news of the bear. Luckily, there was no wind, so it made little difference which way we turned in following the trail. But just then there happened a disturbing and irritating thing, for a whiskey jack— Canada jay—took to following us, and chirping about it too. Crossing a rocky patch on the hillside, the bear came into view as it circled a little in order to descend. Presently it left the shadow of the forest and emerging into sunlight on a snow-covered ledge, turned its head as though it had heard a sound in the rear. It was Oo-koo-hoo speaking:
“Turn your head away, my brother. . .” but the report of his gun cut short his sentence, and the bear, leaping forward, disappeared among the growth below.
“I am About to Kill You”
RELOADING his gun, the hunter slowly followed, more cautiously than ever, for he saw from the blood upon the snow that the beast was wounded, and, therefore, dangerous. As he went he covered every likely place with his gun, lest the bear should be lurking there and rush at him. At last I saw him pause much longer than usual, then move forward again. Finally he turned and in a satisfied tone exclaimed: “It’s dead!”
The ball had struck just behind the left shoulder and had entered the heart; and the hunter explained that when he saw his best chance, he spoke to the bear to make it pause in order to better his aim.
“And what did you say to him?”
“My son, I said: ‘Turn your eyes away, my brother, for I am about to kill you.’ I never care to fire at a bear without first telling him how sorry I am that I need his coat."
After spending three days upon the trapping-trail we returned to camp; but because our sled was loaded with game, and also because we did not return by our out-going route, the grandmother and the two boys set out to bring in the bear meat and the bear’s head.
One sunny day, late in November, while tobogganing with the children on the hillside, our sport was interrupted by the approach of a young stranger, an Indian youth of about seventeen. He came tramping along on snow-shoes with his little hunting sled behind him on which was lashed his caribou robe, his tea-pail, his kit bag and a haunch of young moose as a present to Amik and his wife. In his hand he carried his gun in a moose-skin case. He was a good-looking young fellow, and wore the regulation cream colored H. B. capote with hood and turned-back cuffs of dark blue. He wore no cap, but his hair was fastened back by a broad, yellow ribbon that encircled his head. At first I thought he was the advance member of a hunting party, but when I saw the bashful, yet persistent way in which he sidled up to Neykia and when I observed, too, the shy, radiant glance of welcome she gave him, I understood; so also did the children, but the little rogues, instead of leaving the young couple alone, teased their sister aloud, and followed[the teasing with boisterous laughter.
IT WAS then that I obtained my first impression of the mating of the natives of the northern forest. The sylvan scene reminded me of the mating, too, of the white people of that same region, and I thought again of the beautiful Athabasca. Was it in the same way that her young white man had come so many miles on snow-shoes through the winter woods just to call upon her? It set me thinking. Again, I wondered who “Son-in-law” could be? When did he come? But, perhaps, after all he was no super-man, or, rather, super-lover, for had not Neykia’s beau travelled alone in the dead of winter over ninety miles, just to see her once again and to speak to her? Shingwauk—The Little Pine—as the Indians called him, stayed three days, but I did not see much of him, for I left early the following morning on another round of another trapping-path.
As a faint gray light crept through the upper branches of the eastern trees and warned the denizens of the winter wilderness of approaching day, the door-skin flapped aside and a tall figure stepped from the cozy fire-lit lodge into the outer sombreness of the silent forest. It was Oo-koo-hoo. His form, clad in fox-skin cap, blanket capote and leggings, made a picturesque silhouette of lighter tone against the darker shadows of the woods, as he stood for a moment scanning the starry sky. Re-entering the lodge, he partook of the breakfast his wife had cooked for him, then he kissed her and went outside. Going to the stage, he took down his five-foot snow-shoes, slipped his moccasined feet into the thongs, and with his gun resting in the hollow of his bemittened hand, and the sled’s hauling-line over his shoulder, strode off through the vaulted aisles between the boles of the evergreens; while through a tiny slit in the wall of his moose-skin home two loving eyes watched the stalwart figure vanishing among the trees.
Trapping the Wolf
LATER on, though the sun was already shining, it was still intensely cold. As we went along Oo-koo-hoo’s breath rose like a cloud of white smoke fifteen or twenty feet in the air before it disappeared. Only the faintest whisper of scuffling snow-shoes and scrunching snow could be heard; the sound of the occasional snapping of a twig came as a startling report compared with the almost noiseless tread of the hunter. A little cloud of powdery snow rose above the dragging heels of his snow-shoes, and, whirling about, covered the back of his leggings with a coating of white. Onward he strode, twisting through the tangled scrub, stooping under a fallen tree, stepping over a snow-capped log, or pacing along a winter-locked stream.
When Oo-koo-hoo came to a district overgrown with willows interspersed with poplars, he stopped to examine a snare set for lynx. It had not been disturbed, but a little farther on we saw the form of a dead lynx hanging from a tossing-pole above the trail. The carcass was frozen stiff, and the face still showed the ghastly expression it had worn in its death struggle. The rigid body was taken down and lashed to the sled. Resetting the snare, we continued our way. Farther on, in a hilly country timbered with spruce, where there was not much undergrowth, we came to marten traps. In swampy places, or where there were creeks and small lakes, we examined traps and deadfalls set for mink, muskrat, beaver, fisher, and otter. Where the country was fairly open and marked with rabbit runways we came upon traps sot for foxes an devolves.
Axe Saves His Life
WHEN a wolf is caught in a trap and he sees a hunter approaching, he will, at first, lie down, close his eyes and keep as still as possible to escape notice; but should he find that the hunter is still coming on, say to within twenty paces from him, he will fly into a rage, show his fangs, bristle his hair and get ready for a spring. The hunter usually takes a green stick about a yard long by two inches thick, and instead of striking a great, swinging blow with both hands, he holds the stick in one hand and strikes a short, quick, though powerful blow, hitting the brute on the snout close to the eyes. That stuns him, and then the hunter, with either foot or knee, presses over the heart until death ensues. But clubbing the wolf is dangerous work, for the hunter may hit the trap and set the captive free, or it may bite him. So the gun is frequently used, but only to shoot the wolf in the head, as a wound anywhere else would injure the fur.
Late in the afternoon, as we were approaching a wolf-trap, Oo-koo-hoo, who was leading the way, suddenly stopped and gazed ahead. A large wolf was lying in the snow, evidently pretending to be dead. One of its fore-paws was held by the trap, and the hunter drew his axe and moved forward. As we came near, the beast could stand the strain no longer, but rose up with bristling hair, champing fangs, and savage growl. When Oo-koohoo had almost reached the deeply marked circle in the snow where the wolf had been struggling to gain its freedom, he paused and said:
“My brother, I need your coat, so turn your eyes away while I strike.” A momentary calmness came over the beast, but as the hunter raised his axe it suddenly crouched, and with its eyes flashing with rage, sprang for Oo-koo-hoo’s throat. Its mighty leap, however, ended three feet short of the mark, for the trap chain grew taut, jerked it down and threw it violently upon its back. Instantly regaining its feet, it dashed away on three legs, and in its effort to escape dragged the clog through the snow. The bounding clog sent the snow flying, and the hunter rushed in pursuit, while the wolf dodged among the trees to escape a blow from Oo-koo-hoo. Then it bolted again, and ran straight for a few yards until the clog caught and held fast. The hunter, pressing on with raised axe, had no time to draw back when the brute sprang for him as it did; luckily, however, his aim was true: the back of the axe descended upon the wolf’s head, and it fell dead. This was fortunate for the hunter, as unwarily he had allowed himself so to get between the clog and the beast, that the chain almost swung over his snowshoes. If he had missed his aim, no doubt it would have gone hard with him.
Voices of the Wilderness
THERE are several voices of the wilderness that cause some city people alarm and dread, and they are the voices of the owl, the loon, and the timber-wolf. But to me their voices bring a solemn, at times, an eerie charm, that I would gladly go miles to renew. Though much of the wolf-howling has been of little appeal, I have heard wolf concerts that held me spellbound. On some occasions—but always at night—they lasted without scarcely any intermission for three or four hours. The first part of the program was usually rendered—according to the sound of their voices—by the youngest of the pack, later the middle-aged seemed to take the stage, but of all the performance nothing equalled in greatness of volume or in richness of tone the closing numbers, and they were always rendered by what seemed to be some mighty veteran, the patriarch of the pack, for his effort was so thrilling and awe-inspiring that it always sent the gooseflesh rushing up and down my back. Many a time, night after night, beneath the northern lights, I have gone out to the edge of a lake to listen to them.
A few nights later Oo-koo-hoo said to his grandsons: “Ne-geek and Ah-ginggoes, my grandchildren, the fur-runner is coming soon. To-morrow do you both take the dogs and break a two-days’ trail on Otter River in order to hasten his coming.”
Next morning the boys set out to break the trail. When they camped on Otter River on the afternoon of the second day, they cached in the river ice some fish for the trader’s dogs. They chopped a hole and, after placing the fish in, filled it up with water, which they allowed to freeze, with the tail of a single fish protruding, in order to show the fur-runner what was cached below. To mark the spot, they planted a pole with its butt in the hole, and rigged up a tripod of sticks to support it. At the top of the pole they tied a little bag of tea and a choice piece of meat for the trader. At the bend of the river below, where he would surely pass, they erected another pole with a bunch of fir-twigs attached, for the purpose of attracting his attention to their tracks.
Awaiting the Fur-Runner
ON THEIR return home they found Oo-koo-hoo and Amik sorting their furs in anticipation of the fur-runner’s arrival. Before them lay among the other skins the skin of the black fox, and when the boys entered the lodge Oo-koo-hoo addressed the whole family, saying :
“Do not mention the black fox to the runner, since I intend keeping it until I go to the Post, in the hope of making a better bargain there. Now sort your skins, and set aside those you wish to give in payment on your debt to the Great Company.”
During the afternoon of the following day, Lawson, the fur-runner for the Hudson’s Bay Company, arrived with his dog train. He shook hands with Oo-koohoo and Amik and the boys, and kissed the women and the girls, as the custom of the traders is. It being late in the day, Oo-koo-hoo decided not to begin trading until next morning. So they spent the evening in spinning yarns around the fire. Shortly after breakfast, strange dogs were heard. The boys ran out and saw an unknown man approaching. When the new-comer —a French-Canadian half-breed—had eaten, and had joined the others in a smoke, he gave me a letter from Free Trader Spear. Then Oo-koo-hoo began questioning him:
“My brother, you are a stranger in this country; so I have given you fire and food and tobacco in friendship. Tell me now why and whence you come?”
The half-breed replied: “My brother, I come from the Border Lands—where the plains and the forests meet—and my name is Gibeault. I have come to trade regularly with you as I am now working for Free Trader Spear, whose post, as you know, is near Fort Consolation. You will do well to encourage opposition to the Great Company, and thus raise the price of furs.”
The half-breed then presented the hunters with several plugs of “T & B,” some matches, tea, sugar, flour, and a piece of sow-belly.” For some time Oo-koo-hoo sat holding a little fresh-cut tobacco in his hand, until Gibeault, taking notice, asked him why he did not smoke it.
“The Great Company always gives me a pipe, replied the hunter.
The Bargaining Begins
THE runner for the free-trader, not to be outdone, gave him a pipe.
“I suppose,” began Oo-koo-hoo, “that your heart is glad to see me.”
“Yes,” replied Gibeault, “and I want to get some of your fur.”
“That is all very well, but I will see which way you lock at me,” returned the Indian.
“Have you much fur?” asked the half-breed.
“I have enough to pay my debt to the Great Company.”
“Yes, I know, but you will have some left, and I want to do business with you, so bring out your furs and I will treat you right.”
“That sounds well, but you must remember that though the Great Company charges more, their goods are the best goods, while yours are all cheap rubbish.”
Thinking the opportunity a favorable one, Gibeault assumed an air of friendly solicitude and said:
“The Company has cheated your people so many hundred years that they are now very rich. No wonder they can afford to give you high prices for your furs. Free Trader Spear is a poor but honest man. It is to your great advantage to trade part of your furs with me in order to make it worth his while to send me here every winter. As you know, my presence here compels the Company to pay full value for your furs and so you are the one who reaps the greatest benefit.”
“That is partly true,” answered Oo-koo-hoo, “but I must be loyal to the Company. You are here to-day and away to-morrow; but the Company is here forever. But I will not be hard on you; I will wait and see how you look at me.”
For a while the dignified Indian sat puffing at his pipe and gazing at the fire. Every line of his weather-beaten and wrinkled, but handsome, face was full of sterling character. At times his small eyes twinkled as a flash of cunning crept into them and a keen sense of humor frequently twitched the corners of his determined mouth. Then he brought out a pack of furs and, handing it to Lawson, said:
“This is to pay the Great Company for the advances they gave us last summer.
What the H. B. Has Done
LAWSON took the bundle without opening it, as it would not be checked over until he delivered it at Fort Consolation. Resenting the Indian’s attitude toward Gibeault he began:
“I see, now that there’s another trader here, it’s easy for you to forget your old friends. The free-trader comes and goes. Give him your furs, an’ he doesn’t care whether you’re dead to-morrow. It’s not like that with the Great Company. The Company came first among your people and since then it has been like a father, not only to all your people before you, but to you as well. Whenever your forefathers were smitten with hunger or disease, who looked after them? It wasn’t the free-trader; it was the Company. Who sells you the best goods? It isn’t the free-trader; it’s the Company. Who gave you your debt last fall and made it possible for you to hunt this winter? It wasn’t the free-trader; it was the Company. My brother, you have none to thank but the Great Company that you’re alive to-day.”
With a grunt of disapproval, Oo-koo-hoo sullenly retorted:
“The priest says it is the Master of Life we have to thank for that. I am sure that the commissioner of the Great Company is not so great as God. It is true you give us good prices now, but it is also true that you have not given us back the countless sums you stole from our fathers and grandfathers and all our people before them; for did you not wait until the coming of the free-traders before you would give us the worth of our skins? No wonder you are great masters; it seems to me that it takes great rogues to become great masters.”
The angry Lawson, to save a quarrel, bit his moustache, smiled faintly and, presenting the hunter with even more than Gibeault had given, said:
“Never mind, my brother, you’re a pretty smart man.”
Without replying, Oo-koo-hoo accepted the present so eagerly that he jerked it out of the trader’s hand. That pleased Lawson. Presently the Indian threw down a bear skin, saying:
“My brother, this is to see how you look at me.”
Now the way of the experienced fur-runner is to offer a big price—often an excessive price—for the first skin. He calculates that it puts the Indian in a good humor and in the end gives the trader a chance of getting ahead of the native. That is just what Lawson did, and Gibeault refused to raise the bid.
“My brother,” said the Indian addressing the latter, “you had better go home if you cannot pay better prices than the Great Company.”
Then They Swap Even
GIBEAULT, nettled, outbid his rival for the next skin, and thus it went on, first one and then the other raising the prices higher and higher, much to the delight of the Indians. Oo-koo-hoo had already sold a number of skins for more than their market value before it dawned on the white men that they were playing a losing game. Though glaring savagely at each other, both were ready to capitulate. Lawson, pretending to examine some of Gibeault’s goods, stooped and whispered:
“We’re actin’ like fools. If we keep this up our bosses will fire us both.” “Let’s swap even—you take every other skin at your own figure,” returned the French half-breed.
“Agreed,” said Lawson, straightening up.
No longer outbidding one another, they got the next few skins below the market price. But, before the traders had made good their loss, the Indian gathered up his furs and turning to the fur-runners with a smile, said:
“My brothers, as I see that you have agreed to cheat me, I have decided that I and my people will keep all our furs until we go out next spring; so it is now useless for you to remain any longer.”
Having read the note Gibeault brought me from Free-Trader Spear, I hastened to hand the half-breed my reply, accepting Mr. and Mrs. Spear’s invitation to be their guest for a few days when every one would he gathering at Fort Consolation to attend the New Year’s dance; and again I wondered if "son-in-law” would be there.
To be Continued, in February 15th Issue