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BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

The story of the trapper Laut, Agnes C., 1871-1936 1902

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THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER     Copyright, 1902
Published November, 1901 TO ALL WHO KNOW
The picturesque figure of the trapper follows close
behind the Indian in the unfolding of the panorama
of the West. There is the explorer, but the trapper
himself preceded the explorers—witness Lewis's and
Clark's meetings with trappers on their journey. The
trapper's hard-earned knowledge of the vast empire
lying beyond the Missouri was utilized by later com-
ers, or in a large part died with him, leaving occasional records in the documents of fur companies, or
reports of military expeditions, or here and there in
the name of a pass, a stream, a mountain, or a fort.
His adventurous warfare upon the wild things of the
woods and streams was the expression of a primitive
instinct old as the history of mankind. The development of the motives which led the first pioneer trappers afield from the days of the first Eastern settlements, the industrial organizations which followed, the
commanding commercial results which were evolved
from the trafficking of Radisson and Groseilliers in the ▼Ill
North, the rise of the great Hudson's Bay Company,
and the American enterprise which led, among other
results, to the foundation of the Astor fortunes, would
form no inconsiderable part of a history of North
America. The present volume aims simply to show
the type-character of the Western trapper, and to sketch
in a series of pictures the checkered life of this adventurer of the wilderness.
The trapper of the early West was a composite figure. From the Northeast came a splendid succession of
French explorers like La Verendrye, with coureurs des
bois, and a multitude of daring trappers and traders
pushing west and south. From the south the Spaniard,
illustrated in figures like Garces and others, held
out hands which rarely grasped the waiting commerce.
From the north and northeast there was the steady
advance of the sturdy Scotch and English, typified in
the deeds of the Henrys, Thompson, MacKenzie, and the
leaders of the organized fur trade, explorers, traders,
captains of industry, carrying the flags of the Hudson's
Bay and North-West Fur companies across Northern
America to the Pacific. On the far Northwestern coast
the Russian appeared as fur trader in the middle of
the eighteenth century, and the close of the century
saw the merchants of Boston claiming their share of
the fur traffic of that coast* The American trapper
becomes a conspicuous figure in the early years of the
nineteenth century.   The emporium of his traffic was EDITOR'S PREFACE
St. Louis, and the period of its greatest importance
and prosperity began soon after the Louisiana Purchase
and continued for forty years. The complete history
of the American fur trade of the far West has been
written by Captain H. M. Chittenden in volumes which
will be included among the classics of early Western
history. Although,his history is a publication designed for limited circulation, no student or specialist
in this field can fail to appreciate the value of his faithful and comprehensive work.
In The Story of the Trapper there is presented for
the general reader a vivid picture of an adventurous
figure, which is painted with a singleness of purpose
and a distinctness impossible of realization in the large
and detailed histories of the American fur trade and
the Hudson's Bay and North-West companies, or the
various special relations and journals and narratives.
The author's wilderness lore and her knowledge of the
life, added to her acquaintance with its literature, have
borne fruit in a personification of the Western and
Northern trappers who live in her pages. It is the man
whom we follow not merely in the evolution of the Western fur traffic, but also in the course of his strange life
in the wilds, his adventures, and the contest of his craft
against the cunning of his quarry. It is a most picturesque figure which is sketched in these pages with
the etcher's art that selects essentials while boldly
disregarding details.   This figure as it is outlined here THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
will be new and strange to the majority of readers, and
the relish of its piquant flavour will make its own appeal. A strange chapter in history is outlined for those
who would gain an insight into the factors which had
to do with the building of the West. Woodcraft, exemplified in the calling of its most skilful devotees, is
painted in pictures which breathe the very atmosphere
of that life of stream and forest which has not lost its
appeal even in these days of urban centralization. The
flash of the paddle, the crack of the rifle, the stealthy
tracking of wild beasts, the fearless contest of man
against brute and savage, may be followed throughout
a narrative which is constant in its fresh and personal
The Hudson's Bay Company still flourishes, and
there is still an American fur trade; but the golden
days are past, and the heroic age of the American
trapper in the West belongs to a bygone time. Even
more than the cowboy, his is a fading figure, dimly
realized by his successors. It is time to tell his story,
to show what manner of man he was, and to preserve
for a different age the adventurous character of a Romany of the wilderness, fascinating in the picturesque-
ness and daring of his primeval life, and also, judged
by more practical standards, a figure of serious historical import in his relations to exploration and commerce, and even affairs of politics and state.
If, therefore, we take the trapper as a typical figure EDITOR'S PREFACE
in the early exploitation of an empire, his larger significance may be held of far more consequence to us
than the excesses and lawlessness so frequent in his
life. He was often an adventurer pure and simple.
The record of his dealings with the red man and with
white competitors is darkened by many stains. His
return from his lonely journeys afield brought an outbreak of license like that of the cowboy fresh from the
range, but with all this the stern life of the old frontier
bred a race of men who did their work. That work was
the development of the only natural resources of vast
regions in this country and to the Northward, which
were utilized for long periods. There was also the task
of exploration, the breaking the way for others, and as
pioneer and as builder of commerce the trapper's part
in our early history has a significance which cloaks the
frailties characteristic of restraintless life in untrodden
wilds.  CONTENTS
-Gamesters of the wilderness      .... 1
-Three companies in conflict        .... 8
-The Nor' Westers' coup  22
-The ancient Hudson's Bat Company wakens up 28
-Mr. Astor's company encounters new opponents 38
-The French trapper .50
-The buffalo-runners  65
-The mountaineers  81
-The taking of the beaver   ..... 102
-The making 6f the moccasins      .... 117
-The Indian trapper  128
-Ba'tiste, the bear hunter  144
-John Colter—Free trapper  160
-The greatest fur company of the world .      . 181
-Other little  animals  besides  Wahboos  the
Rabbit  222
-The rare furs—How the trapper takes them . 240
-Under the North Star—Where fox and ermine
run       ......... 258
-What the trapper stands for    .... 275
Appendix       .      .      . 281
With eye and ear alert the man paddles silently on
» Frontispiece
Indian voyagevrs "packing" over long portage      .      .     30
Traders running a mackinaw or keel-boat down the
#apids 57
The buffalo-hunt 78
They dodge the coming sweep of the uplifted arm      .   143
Carrying goods over long portage with the old-fashioned Red River ox-carts 198
Fort MacPherson, the  most   northerly post of   the
Hudson's Bay Company 228
Types of fur presses   .      ...      .      .      .      .   250
Fearing nothing, stopping at nothing, knowing no
law, ruling his stronghold of the wilds like a despot,
checkmating rivals with a deviltry that beggars parallel, wassailing with a shamelessness that might have
put Rome's worst deeds to the blush, fighting—fighting
—fighting, always fighting with a courage that knew
no truce but victory, the American trapper must ever
stand as a type of the worst and the best in the militant
heroes of mankind.
Each with an army at his back, Wolfe and Napoleon
won victories that upset the geography of earth. The
fur traders never at any time exceeded a few thousands
in number, faced enemies unbacked by armies and sallied out singly or in pairs; yet they won a continent
that has bred a new race.
Like John Colter,* whom Manuel Lisa met coming
from the wilds a hundred years ago, the trapper
strapped a pack to his back, slung a rifle over his shoul-
* Whom Bradbury and Irving and Chittenden have all conspired to make immortal.
der, and, without any fanfare of trumpets, stepped
into the pathless shade of the great forests. Or else,
like Williams of the Arkansas, the trapper left the
moorings of civilization in a canoe, hunted at night,
hid himself by day, evaded hostile Indians by sliding
down-stream with muffled paddles, slept in mid-current screened by the branches of driftwood, and if a
sudden halloo of marauders came from the distance,
cut the strap that held his craft to the shore and got
away under cover of the floating tree. Hunters crossing the Cimarron desert set out with pack-horses, and,
like Captain BecknelFs party, were often compelled
to kill horses and dogs to keep from dying of thirst.
Frequently their fate Was that of Kocky Mountain
Smith, killed by the Indians as he stooped to scoop out
a drinking-hole in the sand. Men who brought down
their pelts to the mountain rendezvous of Pierre's
Hole, or went over the divide like Fraser and Thompson of the North-West Fur Company, had to abandon
both horses and canoes, scaling canon walls where the
current was too turbulent for a canoe and the precipice
too sheer for a horse, with the aid of their hunting-
knives stuck in to the haft.* Where the difficulties
were too great for a few men, the fur traders clubbed
# While Lewis and Clark were on the Upper Missouri, the
former had reached a safe footing along a narrow pass, when he
heard a voice shout, " Good God, captain, what shall I do ?"
Turning, Lewis saw Windsor had slipped to the verge of a precipice, where he lay with right arm and leg over it, the other arm
clinging for dear life to the bluff. With his hunting-knife he
cut a hole for his right foot, ripped off his moccasins so that his
toes could have the prehensile freedom of a monkey's tail, and
thus crawled to safety like a fly on a wall. I GAMESTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
together under a master-mind like John Jacob Astor
of the Pacific Company, or Sir Alexander MacKenzie
of the Nor' Westers. Banded together, they thought
no more of coasting round the sheeted ant arctics, or
slipping down the ice-jammed current of the MacKenzie
Eiver under the midnight sun of the arctic circle, than
people to-day think of running from New York to Newport. When the conflict of 1812 cut off communication
between western fur posts and New York by the overland route, Farnham, the Green Mountain boy, didn't
think himself a hero at all for sailing to Kamtchatka
and crossing the whole width of Asia, Europe, and the
Atlantic, to reach Mr. Astor.
The American fur trader knew only one rule of existence—to go ahead without any heroics, whether the
going cost his own or some other man's life. That is
the way the wilderness.was won; and the winning is
one of the most thrilling pages in history.
About the middle of the seventeenth century Pierre
Eadisson and Chouart Groseillers, two French adventurers from Three Kivers, Quebec, followed the chain of
waterways from the Ottawa and Lake Superior northwestward to the region of Hudson Bay.* Eeturning
with tales of fabulous wealth to be had in the fur trade
of the north, they were taken in hand by members of
the British Commission then in Boston, whose influence secured the Hudson's Bay Company charter in
1670; and that ancient and honourable body—as the
company was caUed—reaped enormous profits from the
* Whether they actually reached the shores of the bay on this
trip is still a dispute among French-Canadian savants. THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
IE    i
bartering of pelts. But the bartering went on in a
prosy, half-alive way, the traders sitting snugly in
their forts on Rupert and Severn Eivers, or at York
Factory (PoTt Nelson) and ChurchiU (Prince of
Wales). The French governor down in Quebec issued
only a limited number of licenses for the fur trade
in Canada; and the old English company had no fear
of rivalry in the north. It never sought inland tribes,
but waited with serene apathy for the Indians to come
down to its fur posts on the bay. Young Le Moyne
d'Iberville * might march overland from Quebec to the
bay, catch the English company nodding, Scale the
stockades, capture its forts, batter down a wall or two,
and sail off like a pirate with ship-loads of booty for
Quebec. What did the ancient company care? European treaties restored its forts, and the honourable adventurers presented a bill of damages to their government for lost furs.
But came a sudden change. Great movements westward began simultaneously in all parts of the east.
This resulted from two events—England's victory
over France at Quebec, and the American colonies'
Declaration of Independence. The downfall of French
ascendency in America meant an end to that license
system which limited the fur trade to favourites of
the governor. That threw an army of some two
thousand men—voyageurs, coureurs des bois, mangeurs
♦1685-87; the same Le Moyne d'Iberville who died in
Havana after spending his strength trying to colonize the Mississippi for France—one instance which shows how completely
the influence of the fur trade connected every part of America,
from the Gulf to the pole, as in a network irrespective of
de lard,* famous hunters, traders, and trappers—on
their own resources. The MacDonalds and MacKenzies
and MacGillivrays and Frobishers and MacTavishes—
Scotch merchants of Quebec and Montreal—were quick
to seize the opportunity. Uniting under the names of
North-West Fur Company and X. Y. Fur Company,
they re-engaged the entire retinue of cast-off Frenchmen, woodcraftsmen who knew every path and stream
from Labrador to the Eocky Mountains. Giving
higher pay and better fare than the old French traders,
the Scotch merchants prepared to hold the field against
all comers in the Canadas. And when the X. Y. amalgamated with the larger company before the opening of the
nineteenth century, the Nor' Westers became as famous
for their daring success as their unscrupulous ubiquity.
But at that stage came the other factor—American
Independence. Locked in conflict with England, what
deadlier blow to British power could France deal than
to turn over Louisiana with its million square miles
and ninety thousand inhabitants to the American Be-
public ? The Lewis and Clark exploration up the Missouri, over the mountains, and down the Columbia to
the Pacific was a natural sequel to the Louisiana Purchase, and proved that the United States had gained
a world of wealth for its fifteen million dollars. Before Lewis and Clark's feat, vague rumours had come
to the New England colonies of the riches to be had
in the west. The Eussian Government had organized
a strong company to trade for furs with the natives of
the Pacific coast.   Captain Vancouver's report of the
* The men employed in mere rafting and barge work in contradistinction to the trappers and voyageurs.
north-west coast was corroborated by Captain Grey, who
had stumbled into the mouth of the Columbia; and before 1800 nearly thirty Boston vessels yearly sailed to
the Northern Pacific for the fur trade.
Eager to forestall the Hudson's Bay Company, now
beginning to rub its eyes and send explorers westward
to bring Indians down to the bay,* Alexander MacKenzie of the Nor' Westers pushed down the great
river named after him,f and forced his way across the
northern Eockies to the Pacific. FlotiUas of North-
West canoes quickly foUowed MacKenzie's lead north
to the arctics, south-west down the Columbia. At
Miehjlimackinac—one of the most lawless and roaring
of the fur posts—was an association known as the Mackinaw Company, made up of old French hunters under
English management, trading westward from the Lakes
to the Mississippi. Hudson Bay, Nor' Wester, and
Mackinaw were daily pressing closer and closer to that
vast unoccupied Eldorado—the fur country between
the Missouri and the Saskatchewan, bounded eastward
by the Mississippi, west by the Pacific.
Possession is nine points out of ten. The question
was who would get possession first.
Unfortunately that question presented itself to three
alert rivals at the same time and in the same Hght.
And the war began.
* This was probably the real motive of the Hudson's Bay
Company sending Hearne to explore the Coppermine in 1769-71.
Hearne, unfortunately, has never reaped the glory for this, owing
to his too-ready surrender of Prince of Wales Fort to the French
in La Perouse's campaign of 1772.
f To the mouth of the MacKenzie River in 1789, across the
Rockies in 1793, for which feats he was knighted. GAMESTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
The Mackinaw traders had aU they could handle
from the Lakes to the Mississippi. Therefore they did
little but try to keep other traders out of the western
preserve. The Hudson's Bay remained in its somnolent state tiU the very extremity of outrage brought
such a mighty awakening that it put its rivals to an
eternal sleep. But the Nor' Westers were not asleep.
And John Jacob Astor of New York, who had accumulated what was a gigantic fortune in those days as a
purchaser of furs from America and a seller to Europe,
was not asleep. And Manual Lisa, a Spaniard, of New
Orleans, engaged at St. Louis in fur trade with the
Osage tribes, was not asleep. CHAPTER II
If only one company had attempted to take possession of the vast fur country west of the Mississippi,
the fur trade would not have become international history; but three companies were at strife for possession
of territory richer than Spanish Eldorado, albeit the
coin was "beaver"—not gold. Each of three companies was determined to use all means fair or foul to exclude its rivals from the field; and a fourth company
was drawn into the strife because the conflict menaced
its own existence.
From their Canadian headquarters at Fort William
on Lake Superior, the Nor' Westers had yearly moved
farther down the Columbia towards the mouth, where
Lewis and Clark had wintered on the Pacific. In New
York, Mr. Astor was formulating schemes to add to his
fur empire the territory west of the Mississippi. At
St. Louis was Manuel Lisa, the Spanish fur trader,
already reaching out for the furs of the Missouri. And
leagues to the north on the remote waters of Hudson
Bay, the old English company lazily blinked its eyes
open to the fact that competition was telling heavily on
its returns, and that it would be compelled to take a
hand in the merry game of a fur traders' war, though
the real awakening had not yet come.
Lisa was the first to act on the information brought
back by Lewis and Clark. Forming a partnership with
Morrison and Menard of Kaskaskia, 111., and engaging
DrouiUard, one of Lewis and Clark's men, as interpreter, he left St. Louis with a heavily laden keel-boat in
the spring of 1807. Against the turbulent current of
the Missouri in the full flood-tide of spring this unwieldy craft was slowly hauled or " cordelled," twenty
men along the shore pulling the clumsy barge by means
of a line fastened high enough on the mast to be above
brushwood. Where the water was shallow the voyageurs
poled single file, facing the stern and pushing with
full chest strength.   In deeper current oars were used.
Launched for the wilderness, with no certain knowledge but that the wilderness was peopled by hostiles,
poor Bissonette deserted when they were only at the
Osage Biver. Lisa issued orders for DrouiUard to
bring the deserter back dead or alive—orders that were
filled to the letter, for the poor fellow was brought
back shot, to die at St. Charles. Passing the mouth
of the Platte, the company descried a solitary white
man drifting down-stream in a dugout. When it was
discovered that this lone trapper was John Colter, who
had left Lewis and Clark on their return trip and
remained to hunt on the Upper Missouri, one can
imagine the shouts that welcomed him. Having now
been in the upper country for three years, he was
the one man fitted to guide Lisa's party, and was
promptly persuaded to turn back with the treasure-
Past Blackbird's grave, where the great chief of the
Omahas had been buried astride his war-horse high on
the crest of a hill that his spirit might see the canoes 10
of the French voyageurs going up and down the river;
past the lonely grave of Floyd,* whose death, like that
of many a New World hero marked another milestone
in the westward progress of empire; past the Aricaras,
with their three hundred warriors gorgeous in vermilion, firing voUeys across the keel-boat with fusees got
from rival traders; f past the Mandans, threatening
death to the intruders; past five thousand Assiniboine
hostiles massed on the bank with weapons ready; up
the YeUowstone to the mouth of the Bighorn—went
Lisa, stopping in the very heart of the Crow tribe, those
thieves and pirates and marauders of the western wilderness. Stockades were hastily stuck in the ground,
banked up with a miniature parapet, flanked with the
two usual bastions that could send a raking fire along
all four waUs; and Lisa was ready for trade.
In 1808 the keel-boat returned to St. Louis, loaded
to the water-line with furs. The Missouri Company
was formally organized, % and yearly expeditions were
sent not only to the Bighorn, but to the Three Forks
of the Missouri, among the ferocious Blackfeet. Of
the two hundred and fifty men employed, fifty were
trained riflemen for the defence of the trappers; but
this did not prevent more than thirty men losing their
lives at the hands of the Blackfeet within two years.
Among the victims was DrouiUard, struck down wheel-
* Of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
f Either the Nor* Westers or the Mackinaws, for the H. B. C.
were not yet so far south.
\ In it were the two original partners, Clark, the Chouteaus
of Missouri fame, Andrew Henry, the first trader to cross the
northern continental divide, and others of whom Chittenden
gives full particulars. THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
ing his horse round and round as a shield, literally
torn to pieces by the exasperated savages and eaten ac^
cording to the hideous superstition that the flesh of a
brave man imparts bravery. All the plundered clothing,
ammunition, and peltries were carried to the Nor'
Westers' trading posts north of the boundary.* Not
if the West were to be baptized in blood would the
traders retreat. Crippled, but not beaten, the Missouri men under Andrew Henry's leadership moved
south-west over the mountains into the region that was
to become famous as Pierre's Hole.
Meanwhile neither the Nor' Westers nor Mr. Astor
remained idle. The same year that Lisa organized his
Missouri Fur Company Mr. Astor obtained a charter
from the State of New York for the American Fur
Company. To lessen competition in the great scheme
gradually framing itself in his mind, he bought out
that half of the Mackinaw Company's trade J which
was within the United States, the posts in the British
dominions falling into the hands of the all-powerful
Nor' Westers. Intimate with the leading partners of
the Nor' Westers, Mr. Astor proposed to avoid rivalry
on the Pacific coast by giving the Canadians a third
interest in his plans for the capture of the Pacific trade.
Lords of their own field, the Nor' Westers rejected
Mr. Astor's proposal with a scorn born of unshaken
* This on the testimony of a North-West partner, Alexander
Henry, a copy of whose diary is in the Parliamentary Library,
Ottawa. Both Coues and Chittenden, the American historians,
note the corroborative testimony of Henry's journal.
f Henceforth known as the South-West Company, in distinction to the North-West. 12
confidence, and at once prepared to anticipate American possession of the Pacific coast. Mr. Astor countered by engaging the best of the dissatisfied Nor' Westers for his Pacific Fur Company. Duncan MacDougall,
a little pepper-box of a Scotchman, with a bumptious
idea of authority which was always making other eyes
smart, was to be Mr. Astor's proxy on the ship to
round the Horn and at the headquarters of the company on the Pacific. Donald MacKenzie was a relative
of Sir Alexander of the Nor' Westers, and must have
left the northern traders from some momentary pique;
for he soon went back to the Canadian companies, became chief factor at Fort Garry,* the headquarters of
the Hudson's Bay Company, and was for a time governor of Bed Biver. Alexander MacKay had accompanied
Sir Alexander MacKenzie on his famous northern
trips, and was one Nor' Wester who served Mr. Astor
with fidelity to the death. The elder Stuart was a
rollicking winterer from The Labrador, with the hail-
fellow-well-met-air of an equal among the mercurial
French-Canadians. The younger Stuart was of the
game, independent spirit that made Nor' Westers
Of the Tonquin's voyage round the Horn—with its
crew of twenty, and choleric Captain Thorn, and four f
partners headed by the fussy little MacDougall in mutiny against the captain's discipline, and twelve clerks
always getting their landlubber clumsiness in the sailors' way, and thirteen voyageurs ever grumbling at the
ocean swell that gave them qualms unknown on inland
* The modern Winnipeg.
f MacKay, MacDougall, and the two Stuarts THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
waters—little need be said. Washington Irving has
told this story; and what Washington Irving leaves untold, Captain Chittenden has recently unearthed from
the files of the Missouri archives.
The Tonquin sailed from New York, September 6,
1810. The captain had been a naval officer, and cursed
the partners for their easy familiarity with the men
before the mast, and the note-writing clerks for a lot
of scribbling blockheads, and the sea-sick voyageurs for
a set of fresh-water braggarts. And the captain's amiable feelings were reciprocated by every Nor' Wester
on board.
Cape Horn was doubled on Christmas Day, Hawaii
sighted in February, some thirty Sandwich Islanders
engaged for service in the new company, and the Columbia entered at the end of March, 1811. Eight lives
were lost attempting to run small boats against the
turbulent swell of tide and current. The place to land,
the site to build, details of the new fort, Astoria—all
were subjects for the jangling that went on between
the fuming little Scotchman MacDougall and Captain
Thorn, till the Tonquin weighed anchor on the 1st of
June and sailed away to trade on the north coast, accompanied by only one partner, Alexander MacKay,
and one clerk, James Lewis.
The obstinacy that had dominated Captain Thorn
continued to dictate a wrong-headed course. In spite
of Mr. Astor's injunction to keep Indians off the ship
and MacKay's warning that the Nootka tribes were
treacherous, the captain allowed natives to swarm over
his decks. Once, when MacKay was on shore, Thorn
lost his temper, struck an impertinent chief in the face
with a bundle of furs, and expelled the Indian from the 14
ship. When MacKay came back and learned what had
happened, he warned the captain of Indian vengeance
and urged him to leave the harbour. These warnings
the captain scorned, welcoming back the Indians, and
no doubt exulting to see that they had become almost
One morning, when Thorn and MacKay were yet
asleep, a pirogue with twenty Indians approached the
ship. The Indians were unarmed, and held up furs to
trade. They were welcomed on deck. Another canoe
glided near and another band mounted the ship's ladder. Soon the vessel was completely surrounded with
canoes, the braves coming aboard with furs, the squaws
laughing and chatting and rocking their crafts at the
ship's side. This day the Indians were neither pertinacious nor impertinent in their trade. Matters went
swimmingly till some of the Tonquin's crew noticed
with alarm that all the Indians were taking knives and
other weapons in exchange for their furs and that
groups were casuaUy stationing themselves at positions
of wonderful advantage on the deck. MacKay and
Thorn were quickly caUed.
This is probably what the Indians were awaiting.
MacKay grasped the fearful danger of the situation
and again warned the captain. Again Thorn slighted
the warning. But anchors were hoisted. The Indians
thronged closer, as if in the confusion of hasty trade.
Then the dour-headed Thorn understood. With a
shout he ordered the decks cleared. His shout was answered by a counter-shout—the wild, shriU shriekings
of the Indian war-cry! All the newly-bought weapons
flashed in the morning sun. Lewis, the clerk, feU first,
bending over a pile of goods, and rolled down the com- THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
panion-way with a mortal stab in his back. MacKay
was knocked from his seat on the taffrail by a war-club
and pitched overboard to the canoes, where the squaws
received him on their knives. Thorn had been roused
so suddenly that he had no weapon but his pocket-knife.
With this he was trying to fight his way to the firearms of the cabin, when he was driven, faint from loss
of blood, to the wheel-house. A tomahawk clubbed
down, and he, too, was pitched overboard to the knives
of the squaws.
While the officers were falling on the quarter-deck,
sailors and Sandwich Islanders were fighting to the
death elsewhere. The seven men who had been sent
up the ratlins to rig sails came shinning down ropes
and masts to gain the cabin. Two were instantly killed.
A third fell down the main hatch fatally wounded; and
the other four got into the cabin, where they broke
holes and let fly with musket and rifle. This sent the
savages scattering overboard to the waiting canoes.
The survivors then fired charge after charge from the
deck cannon, which drove the Indians to land with tremendous loss of life.
All day the Indians watched the Tonquin's sails flapping to the wind; but none of the ship's crew appeared
on the deck. The next morning the Tonquin still lay
rocking to the tide; but no white men emerged from
below. Eager to plunder the apparently deserted
ship, the Indians launched their canoes and cautiously
paddled near. A white man—one of those who had
fallen down the hatch wounded—staggered up to the
deck, waved for the natives to come on board, and
dropped below. Gluttonous of booty, the savages beset
the sides of the Tonquin like flocks of carrion-birds. 16
Barely were they on deck when sea and air were rent
with a terrific explosion as of ten thousand cannon!
The ship was blown to atoms, bodies torn asunder, and
the sea scattered with bloody remnants of what had been
living men but a moment before.
The mortally wounded man, thought to be Lewis,
the clerk,* had determined to effect the death of his
enemies on his own pyre. Unable to escape with the
other four refugees under cover of night, he had
put a match to four tons of powder in the hold. But
the refugees might better have perished with the Tonquin; for head-winds drove them ashore, where they
were captured and tortured to death with all the prolonged cruelty that savages practise. Between twenty
and thirty lives were lost in this disaster to the Pacific
Fur Company; and MacDougall was left at Astoria
with but a handful of men and a Weakly-built fort to
wait the coming of the overland traders whom Mr.
Astor was sending by way of the Missouri and Columbia.
* Franchere, one of the scribbling clerks whom Thorn so
detested, says this man was Weekes, who almost lost his life
entering the Columbia. Irving, who drew much of his material
from Franchere, says Lewis, and may have had special information from Mr. Astor ; but all accounts—Franchere's, and Ross
Cox's, and Alexander Ross's—are from the same source, the
Indian interpreter, who, in the confusion of the massacre, sprang
overboard into the canoes of the squaws, who spared him on
account of his race. Franchere became prominent in Montreal,
Cox in British Columbia, and Ross in Red River Settlement of
Winnipeg, where the story of the fur company conflict became
folk-lore to the old settlers. There is scarcely a family but has
some ancestor who took part in the contest among the fur companies at the opening of the nineteenth century, and the tale is
part of the settlement's traditions. THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
Indian runners brought vague rumours of thirty
white men building a fort on the Upper Columbia. If
these had been the overland party, they would have
come on to Astoria. Who they were, MacDougall, who
had himself been a Nor' Wester, could easily guess. As
a countercheck, Stuart of Labrador was preparing to
go up-stream and build a fur post for the Pacific Company; but Astoria was suddenly electrified by the apparition of nine white men in a canoe flying a British
The North-West Company arrived just three months
too late!
David Thompson, the partner at the head of the
newcomers, had been delayed in the mountains by the
desertion of his guides. Much to the disgust of Labrador Stuart, who might change masters often but was
loyal to only one master at a time, MacDougall and
Thompson hailed each other as old friends. Every
respect is due Mr. Thompson as an explorer, but to the
Astorians living under the ruthless code of fur-trading
rivalry, he should have been nothing more than a
North-West spy, to be guardedly received in a Pacific
Company fort. As a matter of fact, he was welcomed
with open arms, saw everything, and set out again with
a supply of Astoria provisions.
History is not permitted to jump at conclusions,
but unanswered questions will always cling round
Thompson's visit. Did he bear some message from the
Nor' Westers to MacDougall? Why was Stuart, an
honourable, fair-minded man, in such high dudgeon
that he shook free of Thompson's company on their
way back up the Columbia ? Why did MacDougall lose
his tone of courage with such surprising swiftness?
3 18
How could the next party of Nor' Westers take him
back into the fold and grant him a partnership ostensibly without the knowledge of the North-West annual
council, held in Fort William on Lake Superior?
Early in August wandering tribes brought news
of the Tonquin's destruction, and Astoria bestirred itself to strengthen pickets, erect bastions, mount four-
pounders, and drill for war. MacDougall's North-West
training now came out, and he entered on a policy
of conciliation with the Indians that culminated in his
marrying Comcomly,s daughter. He also perpetrated
the world-famous threat of letting small-pox out of a
bottle exhibited to the chiefs unless they maintained
good behaviour. Traders established inland posts, the
schooner Dolly was built, and New Year's Day of 1812
ushered in with a firing of cannon and festive allowance
of rum. On January 18th arrived the forerunners of
the overland party, ragged, wasted, starving, with a tale
of blundering and mismanagement that must have been
gall to MacKenzie, the old Nor' Wester accompanying
them. The main body under Hunt reached Astoria in
February, and two other detachments later.
The management of the overlanders had been intrusted to Wilson Price Hunt of New Jersey, who at
once proceeded to Montreal with Donald MacKenzie,
the Nor* Wester. Here the fine hand of the North-
West Company was first felt. Bum, threats, promises, and sudden orders whisking them away prevented
capable voyageurs from enlisting under the Pacific
Company. Only worthless fellows could be engaged,
which explains in part why these empty braggarts so
often failed Mr. Hunt.   Pushing up the Ottawa in THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
a birch canoe, Hunt and MacKenzie crossed the lake
to Michilimackinac.
Here the hand of the North-West Company was
again felt. Tattlers went from man to man telling
yarns of terror to frighten engages back. Did a man
enlist ? Sudden debts were remembered or manufactured, and the bill presented to Hunt. Was a voyageur
on the point of embarking? A swarm of naked brats
with a frouzy Indian wife set up a howl of woe. Hunt
finally got off with thirty men, accompanied by Mr.
Bamsay Crooks, a distinguished Nor' Wester, who afterward became famous as the president of the American Fur Company. Going south by way of Green Bay
and the Mississippi, Hunt reached St. Louis, where
the machinations of another rival were put to work.
Having rejected Mr. Astor's suggestion to take part
in the Pacific Company, Mr. Manuel Lisa of the Missouri traders did not propose to see his field invaded.
The same difficulties were encountered at St. Louis in
engaging men as at Montreal, and when Hunt was
finally ready in March, 1811, to set out with his sixty
men up the Missouri, Lisa resurrected a liquor debt
against Pierre Dorion, Hunt's interpreter, with the
fluid that cheers a French-Canadian charged at ten
dollars a quart. Pierre slipped Lisa's coil by going
overland through the woods and meeting Hunt's party
farther up-stream, beyond the law.
Whatever his motive, Lisa at once organized a
search party of twenty picked voyageurs to go up the
Missouri to the rescue of that Andrew Henry who had
fled from the Blackfeet over the mountains to Snake
Biver. Traders too often secured safe passage through
hostile territory in those lawless days by giving the 20
savages muskets enough to blow out the brains of the
next comers. Lisa himself was charged with this by
Crooks and MacLellan.* Perhaps that was his reason
for pushing ahead at all speed to overtake Hunt before
either party had reached Sioux territory.
Hunt got wind of the pursuit. The faster Lisa
came, the harder Hunt fled. This curious race lasted
for a thousand miles and ended in Lisa coming up with
the Astorians on June 2d. For a second time the Spaniard tampered with Dorion. Had not two English
travellers intervened, Hunt and Lisa would have settled their quarrel with pistols for two. Thereafter the
rival parties proceeded in friendly fashion, Lisa helping
to gather horses for Hunt's party to cross the
That overland journey was one of the most pitiful,
fatuous, mismanaged expeditions in the fur trade.
Why a party of sixty-four well-armed, well-provisioned
men failed in doing what any two voyageurs or trappers
were doing every day, can only be explained by comparison to a bronco in a blizzard. Give the half-wild
prairie creature the bit, and it will carry its rider
through any storm. Jerk it to right, to left, east, and
west till it loses its confidence, and the bronco is as
helpless as the rider. So with the voyageur. Crossing
the mountains alone in his own way, he could evade
famine and danger and attack by lifting a brother
traders cache—hidden provisions—or tarrying in Indian lodges till game crossed his path, or marrying the
daughter of a hostile chief, or creeping so quietly
* A partner in trade with Crooks, both of whom lost everything going up the Missouri in Lisa's wake. THREE COMPANIES IN CONFLICT
through the woods neither game nor Indian scout
could detect his presence. With a noisy cavalcade of
sixty-four all this was impossible. Broken into detachments, weak, emaciated, stripped naked, on the
verge of dementia and cannibalism, now shouting to
each other across a roaring canon, now sinking in despair before a blind wall, the overlanders finally reached
Astoria after nearly a year's wanderings.
Mr. Astor's second ship, the Beaver, arrived with
re-enforcements of men and provisions. More posts
were established inland. After several futile attempts,
despatches were sent overland to St. Louis. Under
direction of Mr. Hunt, the Beaver sailed for Alaska
to trade with the Russians. Word came from the
North-West forts on the Upper Columbia of war with
England. Mr. Astor's third ship, the Lark, was
wrecked. Astoria was now altogether in the hands of
men who had been Nor' Westers.
And what was the alert North-West Company
doing ? *
* Doings in the North-West camp have only become known
of late from the daily journals of two North-West partners—
MacDonald of Garth, whose papers were made public by a
descendant of the MacKenzies, and Alexander Henry, whose
account is in the Ottawa Library. CHAPTER III
It had been decided in council at Fort William
that the company should send the Isaac Todd to the
Columbia River, where the Americans had established
Astoria, and that a party should proceed from Fort
William (overland) to meet the ship on the coast,"
wrote MacDonald of Garth, a North-West partner, for
the perusal of his children.
This was decided at the North-West council of 1812,
held annually on the shores of Lake Superior. It was
just a year from the time that Thompson had discovered the American fort in the hands of former Nor*
Westers. At this meeting Thompson's report must
have been read.
The overland party was to be led by the two partners, John George MacTavish and Alexander Henry,
the sea expedition on the Isaac Todd by Donald MacTavish, who had actually been appointed governor of
the American fort in anticipation of victory. On the
Isaac Todd also went MacDonald of Garth.*
The overland expedition was to thread that labyrinth of water-ways connecting Lake Superior and the
* A son of the English officer of the Eighty-fourth Regiment
in the American War of Independence.
Saskatchewan, thence across the plains to Athabasca,
over the northern Bockies, past Jasper House, through
Yellow Head Pass, and down half the length of the
Columbia through Kootenay plains to Astoria. One
has only to recall the roaring canons of the northern
Bockies, with their sheer cataracts and bottomless
precipices, to realize how much more hazardous this
route was than that followed by Hunt from St. Louis
to Astoria. Hunt had to cross only the plains and the
width of the Bockies. The Nor' Westers not only did
this, but passed down the middle of the Bockies for
nearly a thousand miles.
Before doubling the Horn the Isaac Todd was to
sail from Quebec to England for convoy of a war-ship.
The Nor' Westers naive assurance of victory was only
exceeded by their utter indifference to danger, difficulty, and distance in the attainment of an end. In
view of the terror which the Isaac Todd was alleged to
have inspired in MacDougall's mind, it is interesting
to know what the Nor' Westers thought of their ship.
" A twenty-gun letter of marque with a mongrel crew,"
writes MacDonald of Garth, "a miserable sailor with
a miserable commander and a rascally crew" On the
way out MacDonald transferred to the British convoy
Raccoon, leaving the frisky old Governor MacTavish
with his gay barmaid Jane * drinking pottle deep on
the Isaac Todd, where the rightly disgusted captain
was not on speaking terms with his Excellency. I We
were nearly six weeks before we could double Cape
Horn, and were driven half-way to the Cape of Good
* Jane Barnes,  an adventuress from Portsmouth, the first
white woman on the Columbia. 24
Hope; . . . at last doubled the cape under topsails,
. . . the deck one sheet of ice for six weeks, . . . our
sails one frozen sheet; . . . lost sight of the Isaac
Todd in a gale," wrote MacDonald on the Raccoon.
It will be remembered that Hunt's overlanders arrived at Astoria months after the Pacific Company's
ship. Such swift coasters of the wilderness were the
Nor' Westers, this overland party came sweeping down
the Columbia, ten canoes strong, hale, hearty, singing as they paddled, a month before the Raccoon had
come, six months before their own ship, the Isaac
Todd. § §     §ff |
And what did MacDougall do? Threw open his
gates in welcome, let an army of eighty rivals camp
under shelter of his fort guns, demeaned himself into
a pusillanimous, little, running fetch-and-carry at the
beck of the Nor' Westers, instead of keeping sternly
inside his fort, starving rivals into surrender, or training his cannon upon them if they did not decamp.
Alexander Henry, the partner at the head of these
dauntless Nor' Westers, says their provisions were
"nearly aU gone." But, oh! the bragging voyageurs
told those quaking Astorians terrible things of what the
Isaac Todd would do. There were to be British convoys and captures and prize-money and prisoners of
war carried off to Sainte Anne alone knew where. The
American-born scorned these exaggerated yarns, knowing their purpose, but not so MacDougall. All his
pot-valiant courage sank at the thought of the Isaac
Todd, and when the campers Tan up a British flag he
forbade the display of American colours above Astoria.
The end of it was that he sold out Mr. Astor's interests
at forty cents on the dollar, probably salving his con- THE NOR' WESTERS' COUP
science with the excuse that he had saved that percentage of property from capture by the Raccoon.
At the end of November a large ship was sighted
standing in over the bar with all sails spread but no
ensign out. Three shots were fired from Astoria.
There was no answer. What if this were the long-lost
Mr. Hunt coming back from Alaskan trade on the
Beaver? The doughty Nor' Westers hastily packed
their furs, ninety-two bales in all, and sent their voy-
ageurs scampering up-stream to hide and await a signal. But MacDougall was equal to the emergency.
He launched out for the ship, prepared to be an American if it were the Beaver with Mr. Hunt, a Nor'
Wester if it were the Raccoon with a company partner.
It was the Baccoon, and the British captain addressed the Astorians in words that have become historic: "Is this the fort Tve heard so much about?
D me, I could batter it down in two hours with a
four-pounder! "
Two weeks later the Union Jack was hoisted above
Astoria, with traders and marines drawn up under arms
to fire a volley. A bottle of Madeira was broken against
the flagstaff, the country pronounced a British possession by the captain, cheers given, and eleven guns fired
from the bastions.
At this stage all accounts, particularly American
accounts, have rung down the curtain on the catastrophe, leaving the Nor' Westers intoxicated with success.
But another act was to complete the disasters of Astoria, for the very excess of intoxication brought swift
judgment on the revelling Nor' Westers.
The Baccoon left on the last day of 1813. MacDougall had been appointed partner in the North-West 26
Company, and the other Canadians re-engaged under
their own flag. When Hunt at last arrived in the
Pedler, which he had chartered after the wreck of
Mr. Astor's third vessel, the Lark, it was too late to do
more than carry away those Americans still loyal to
Mr. Astor. Farnham was left at Kamtchatka, whence
he made his way to Europe. The others were captured
off California and they afterward scattered to all parts
of the world. Early in April, 1814, a brigade of Nor'
Westers, led by MacDonald of Garth and the younger
MacTavish, set out for the long journey across the
mountains and prairie to the company's headquarters
at Fort William. In the flotilla of ten canoes went
many of the old Astorians. Two weeks afterward came
the belated Isaac Todd with the Nor' Westers' white
flag at its foretop and the dissolute old Governor MacTavish holding a high carnival of riot in the cabin.
No darker picture exists than that of Astoria—or
Fort George, as the British called it—under Governor
MacTavish's regime. The picture is from the hand of
a North-West partner himself. "Not in bed till 2 a.m.;
. . . the gentlemen and the crew all drunk; . . . famous fellows for grog they are; . . . diced for articles
belonging to Mr. M." Alexander Henry had written
when the Baccoon was in port; and now under Governor MacTavish's vicious example every pretence to decency was discarded.
f Avec les loups il faut hurler " was a common saying among Nor' Westers, and perhaps that very assimilation to the native races which contributed so much to
success also contributed to the trader's undoing. White
men and Indians vied with each other in mutual debasement.    Chinook and Saxon and Frenchmen alike THE NOR' WESTERS' COUP
lay on the sand sodden with corruption; and if one
died from carousals, companions weighted neck and
feet with stones and pushed the corpse into the river.
Quarrels broke out between the wassailing governor
and the other partners. Emboldened, the underlings
and hangers-on indulged in all sorts of theft. tj All the
gentlemen were intoxicated," writes one who was present ; seven hours rowing one mile, innocently states the
record of another day, the tide running seven feet high
past the fort.
The spring rains had ceased. Mountain peaks
emerged from the empurpled horizon in domes of opal
above the clouds, and the Columbia was running its
annual mill-race of spring floods, waters milky from
the silt of countless glaciers and turbulent from the
rush of a thousand cataracts. Governor MacTavish*
and Alexander Henry had embarked with six voyageurs
to cross the river. A blustering wind caught the sail.
A tidal wave pitched amidships. The craft filled and
sank within sight of the fort.
So perished the conquerors of Astoria!
♦Injustice to the many descendants of the numerous clan
MacTavish in the service of the fur companies, this MacTavish
should be distinguished from others of blameless lives. CHAPTEB IV
Those eighty f Astorians and Nor' Westers who
set inland with their ten canoes and boats under protection of two swivels encountered as many dangers on
the long trip across the continent as they had left at
Fort George.
FoUowing the wandering course of the Columbia,
the traders soon passed the international boundary
northward into the Arrow Lakes with their towering
sky-line of rampart walls, on to the great bend of the
Columbia where the river becomes a tumultuous torrent milky with glacial sediment, now raving through
a narrow canon, now teased into a white whirlpool by
obstructing rocks, now tumbling through vast shadowy
forests, now foaming round the green icy masses of
some great glacier, and always mountain-girt by the
tent-like peaks of the eternal snows.
"A plain, unvarnished tale, my dear Beliefeuille,"
wrote the mighty MacDonald of Garth in his eighty-
sixth year for a son; 'but the old trader's tale needed
no varnish of rhetoric. " Nearing the mountains we
got scarce of provisions; . . . bought horses for beef.
. . . Here (at the Great Bend) we left canoes and be-
* Some say seventy-four.
gan a mountain pass (Yellow Head Pass). ... The
river meanders much, . . . and we cut across, . . .
holding by one another's hands, . . . wading to the
hips in water, dashing in, frozen at one point, thawed
at the next, . . . frozen before we dashed in, . . . our
men carrying blankets and provisions on their heads;
. . . four days* hard work before we got to Jasper
House at the source of the Athabasca, sometimes camping on snow twenty feet deep, so that the fires we made
in the evening were fifteen or twenty feet below us in
the morning."
They had now crossed the mountains, and taking to
canoes again paddled down-stream to the portage between Athabasca Biver and the Saskatchewan. Tramping sixty miles, they reached Fort Augustus (Edmonton) on the Saskatchewan, where canoes were made on
the spot, and the voyageurs launched down-stream a
trifling distance of two thousand miles by the windings
of the river, past Lake Winnipeg southward to Fort
William, the Nor' Westers' headquarters on Lake Superior.
Here the capture of Astoria was reported, and bales
to the value of a million dollars in modern money sent
east in fifty canoes with an armed guard of three hundred men.* Coasting along the north shore of Lake
Superior, the voyageurs came to the Sault and found
Mr. Johnston's establishment a scene of smoking
ruins. It was necessary to use the greatest caution
not to attract the notice of warring parties on the
* The enormous returns made up largely of the Astoria capture.   The unusually large guard was no doubt owing to the
War of 1812. 30
" Overhauled a canoe going eastward, ... a Mackinaw trader and four Indians with a dozen fresh American scalps," writes MacDonald, showing to what a pass
things had come. Two days later a couple of boats
were overtaken and compelled to halt by a shot from
MacDonald's swivels. The strangers proved to be the
escaping crew of a British ship which had been captured
by two American schooners, and the British officer bore
bad news. The American schooners were now on the
lookout for the rich prize of furs being taken east;
in the North-West canoes. Slipping under the nose
of these schooners in the dark, the officer hurried to
Mackinac, leaving the Nor? Westers hidden in the
mouth of French Biver. William MacKay, a Nor'
West partner, at once sallied out to the defence of
the furs.
Determined to catch the brigade, one schooner was
hovering about the Sault, the other cruising into the
countless recesses of the north shore. Against the latter the Mackinaw traders directed their forces, boarding her, and, as MacDonald tells with brutal frankness,
"pinning the crew with fixed bayonets to the deck"
Lying snugly at anchor, the victors awaited the con>
ing of the other unsuspecting schooner, let her cast anchor, bore down upon her, poured in a broadside, and
took both schooners to Mackinac. Freed from aU apprehension of capture, the North-West brigade proceed*
ed eastward to the Ottawa River, and without further
adventure came to Montreal, where all was wild confusion from another cause.
At the very time when war endangered the entire
route of the Nor* Westers from Montreal to the Pacific,
the Hudson's Bay Company awakened from its long Indian voyageurs "packing" over long portage, each packet
containing from fifty to one hundred pounds.  ANCIENT HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY WAKENS UP   31
sleep. While Mr. Astor was pushing his schemes in
the United States, Lord Selkirk was formulating plans
for the control of all Canada's fur trade. Like Mr.
Astor, he too had been the guest at the North-West banquets in the Beaver Club, Montreal, and had heard
fabulous things from those magnates of the north about
wealth made in the fur trade. Beturning to England,
Lork Selkirk bought up enough stock of the Hudson's
Bay Company to give him full control, and secured
from the shareholders an enormous grant of land
surrounding the mouths of the Bed and Assiniboine
Where the Assiniboine joins the northern Bed were
situated Fort Douglas (later Fort Garry, now Winnipeg), the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company,
and Fort Gibraltar, the North-West post whence supplies were sent all the way from the Mandans on the
Missouri to the Eskimo in the arctics.
Not satisfied with this coup, Lord Selkirk engaged
Colin Bobertson, an old Nor' Wester, to gather a brigade of voyageurs two hundred strong at Montreal and
proceed up the Nor' Westers' route to Athabasca, MacKenzie Biver, and the Bockies. This was the noisy,
blustering, bragging company of gaily-bedizened fellows that had turned the streets of Montreal into a
roistering booth when the Astorians came to the end
of their long eastward journey. Poor, fool-happy revellers ! Eighteen of them died of starvation in the far,
cold north, owing to the conflict between Fort Douglas and Gibraltar, which delayed supplies.
Beginning in 1811, Lord Selkirk poured a stream
of colonists to his newly-acquired territory by way of
Churchill and York Factory on Hudson Bay.   These 32 THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
people were given lands, and in return expected to defend the Hudson's Bay Company from Nor' Westers.
The Nor' Westers struck back by discouraging the colonists, shipping them free out of the country, and getting possession of their arms.
Miles MacDonell, formerly of the King's Boyal Begi-
ment, New York, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Douglas, at once issued proclamations
forbidding Indians to trade furs with Nor' Westers
and ordering Nor' Westers from the country. On the
strength of these proclamations two or three outlying
North-West forts were destroyed and North-West fur
brigades rifled. Duncan Cameron,* the North-West
partner at Fort Gibraltar, countered by letting his
Bois-Brules, a ragged half-breed army of wild plain
rangers under Cuthbert Grant, canter across the two
miles that separated the rival forts, and pour a volley of musketry into the Hudson Bay houses. To
save the post for the Hudson's Bay Company, Miles
MacDonell gave himself up and was shipped out of
the country.
But the Hudson's Bay fort was only biding its time
till the valiant North-West defenders had scattered to
their winter posts. Then an armed party seized Duncan
Cameron not far from the North-West fort, and with
pistol cocked by one man, publicly horsewhipped the
Nor* Wester. Afterward, when Semple, the new Hudson's Bay governor, was absent from Fort Douglas and
could not therefore be held responsible for consequences,
the Hudson's Bay men, led by the same Colin Bobertson
* An antecedent of the late Sir Roderick Cameron of New
who had brought the large brigade from Montreal,
marched across the prairie to Fort Gibraltar, captured
Mr. Cameron, plundered all the Nor' Westers' stores,
and burned the fort to the ground. By way of retaliation for MacDonell's expulsion, the North-West partner
was shipped down to Hudson Bay, where he might as
well have been on Devil's Island for all the chance of
One company at fault as often as the other, similar
outrages were perpetrated in all parts of the north fur
country, the blood of rival traders being spilt without a qualm of conscience or thought of results. The
effect of this conflict among white men on the bloodthirsty red-skins one may guess. The Bois-Brules were
clamouring for Cuthbert Grant's permission to wipe
the English—meaning the Hudson's Bay men—off the
earth; and the Swampy Crees and Saulteaux undef
Chief Peguis were urging Governor Semple to let
them defend the Hudson's Bay—meaning kill the Nor'
The crisis followed sharp on the destruction of
Fort Gibraltar. That post had sent all supplies to
North-West forts. If Fort Douglas of the Hudson's
Bay Company, past which North-West canoes must paddle to turn westward to the plains, should intercept the
incoming brigade of Nor' Westers' supplies, what
would become of the two thousand North-West traders
and voyageurs and engages inland ? Whether the Hudson's Bay had such intentions or not, the Nor' Westers
were determined to prevent the possibility.
Like the red cross that called ancient clans to arms,
scouts went scouring across the plains to rally the Bois-
Brules from Portage la Prairie and Souris and Qu'Ap-
4 34
pelle.* Led by Cuthbert Grant, they skirted north of
the Hudson's Bay post to meet and disembark supplies
above Fort Douglas. It was but natural for the settlers
to mistake this armed cavalcade, red with paint and
chanting war-songs, for hostiles.
Bushing to Fort Douglas, the settlers gave the
alarm. Ordering a field-piece to follow, Governor
Semple marched out with a little army of twenty-eight
Hudson's Bay men. The Nor' Westers thought that he
meant to obstruct their way till his other forces had
captured their coming canoes. The Hudson's Bay
thought that Cuthbert Grant meant to attack the Selkirk settlers.
It was in the evening of June 19, 1816. The two
parties met at the edge of a swamp beside a cluster of
trees, since called Seven Oaks. Nor' Westers say that
Governor Semple caught the bridle of their scout and
tried to throw him from his horse. The Hudson's Bay
say that the governor had no sooner got within range
than the half-breed scout leaped down and fired from
the shelter of his horse, breaking Semple's thigh.
It is well known how the first blood of battle has
the same effect on all men of whatever race. The human is eclipsed by that brute savagery which comes
down from ages when man was a creature of prey. In
a trice twenty-one of the Hudson's Bay men lay dead.
While Grant had turned to obtain carriers to bear the
wounded governor off the field, poor Semple was bru-
* More of the voyageurs' romance; named because of a voice
heard calling and calling across the lake as voyageurs entered
the valley—said to be the spirit of an Indian girl calling her
lover, though prosaic sense explains it was the echo • of the
voyageurs* song among the hills. ANCIENT HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY WAKENS UP   35
tally murdered by one of the Deschamps family, who
ran from body to body, perpetrating the crimes of
ghouls. It was in vain for Grant to expostulate. The
wild blood of a savage race had been roused. The soft
velvet night of the summer prairie, with the winds
crooning the sad monotone of a limitless sea, closed
over a scene of savages drunk with slaughter, of men
gone mad with the madness of murder, of warriors
thinking to gain courage by drinking the blood of the
Grant saved the settlers' lives by sending them
down-stream to Lake Winnipeg, where dwelt the friendly Chief Peguis. On the river they met the indomitable
Miles MacDonell, posting back to resume authority. He
brought news that must have been good cheer. Moved
by the expelled governor's account of disorders, Lord
Selkirk was hastening north, armed with the authority
of a justice of the peace, escorted by soldiers in full
regalia as became his station, with cannon mounted
on his barges and stores of munition that ill agreed
with the professions of a peaceful justice.
The time has gone past for quibbling as to the
earl's motives in pushing north armed like a lord of
war. MacDonell hastened back and met him with his
army of Des Meurons * at the Sault. In August Lord
Selkirk appeared before Fort William with uniformed
soldiers in eleven boats. The justice of the peace set
his soldiers digging trenches opposite the Nor' Westers' fort. As for the Nor' Westers, they had had
enough of blood. They capitulated without one blow.
Selkirk took full possession.
* Continental soldiers disbanded after the Napoleonic wars. 36
Six months later (1817), when ice had closed the
rivers, he sent Captain d'Orsennens overland westward
to Bed River, where Fort Douglas was captured back
one stormy winter night by the soldiers scaling the
fort walls during a heavy snowfall. The conflict had
been just as ruthless on the Saskatchewan. Nor* Westers were captured as they disembarked to pass Grand
Bapids and shipped down to York Factory, where
Franklin the explorer saw four Nor* Westers maltreated. One of them was the same John George MacTavish
who had helped to capture Astoria; another, Frobisher,
a partner, was ultimately done to death by the abuse*
The Deschamps murderers of Seven Oaks fled south,
where their crimes brought terrible vengeance from
American traders.
Victorious all along the line, the Hudson's Bay
Company were in a curious quandary* Suits enough
were pressing in the courts to ruin both companies; and
for the most natural reason in the world, neither Hudson Bay nor Nor' Wester could afford to have the truth
told and the crimes probed. There was only one way
out of the dilemma. In March, 1821, the companies
amalgamated under the old title of Hudson's Bay. In
April, 1822, a new fort was built half-way between the
sites of Gibraltar and Fort Douglas, and given the new
name of Fort Garry by Sir George Simpson, the governor, to remove all feeling of resentment. The thousand men thrown out of employment by the union at
once crossed the line and enlisted with American
The Hudson's Bay was now strong with the strength
that comes from victorious conflict—so strong, indeed,
that it not only held the Canadian field, but in spite  CHAPTEB Y
I "\'
That -Andrew Henry whom Lisa had sought when
he pursued the Astorians up the Missouri continued to
be dogged by misfortune on the west side of the mountains. Game was scarce and his half-starving followers were scattered, some to the British posts in the
north, some to the Spaniards in the south, and some
to the nameless graves of the mountains. Henry forced
his way back over the divide and met Lisa in the Ari-
cara country. The British war broke out and the Missouri Company were compelled to abandon the dangerous territory of the Blackfeet, who could purchase arms
from the British traders, raid the Americans, and
scurry back to Canada.
When Lisa died in 1820 more than three hundred
Missouri men were again in the mountains; but they
suffered the same ill luck. Jones and Immel's party
were annihilated by the Blackfeet; and Pilcher, who
succeeded to Lisa's position and dauntlessly crossed
over to the Columbia, had all his supplies stolen,
reaching the Hudson's Bay post, Fort Colville, almost
destitute. The British rivals received him with
that hospitality for which they were renowned when
trade was not involved, and gave him escort up the
Columbia, down the Athabasca and Saskatchewan to
Bed Biver, thence overland to the Mandan country and
St. Louis.
These two disasters marked the wane of the Missouri Company.
But like the shipwrecked sailor, no sooner safe on
land than he must to sea again, the indomitable Andrew
Henry linked his fortunes with General Ashley of St.
Louis. Gathering to the new standard Campbell,
Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Beckworth, Smith, and the Sub-
lettes—men who made the Bocky Mountain trade
famous—-Ashley and Henry led one hundred men to
the mountains the first year and two hundred the
next. In that time not less than twenty-five lives were
lost among Aricaras and Blackfeet. Few pelts were
obtained and the expeditions were a loss.
But in 1824 came a change. Smith met Hudson's
Bay trappers loaded with beaver pelts in the Columbia
basin, west of the Bockies. They had become separated
from their leader, Alexander Boss, an old Astorian.
Details of this bargain will never be known; but when
Smith came east he had the Hudson's Bay furs. This
was the first brush between Bocky Mountain men and
the Hudson's Bay, and the mountain trappers scored.
Henceforth, to save time, the active trappers met
their supplies annually at a rendezvous in the mountains, in Pierre's Hole, a broad valley below the Tetons,
or Jackson's Hole, east of the former, or Ogden's Hole
at Salt Lake. Seventeen Bocky Mountain men had been
massacred by the Snake Indians in the Columbia basin;
but that did not deter General Ashley himself from
going up the Platte, across the divide to Salt Lake.
Here he found Peter Ogden, a Hudson's Bay trapper,
with an enormous prize of beaver pelts.   When the Hud- 40
son's Bay man left Salt Lake, he had no furs; and when
General Ashley came away, his packers were laden with
a quarter of a million dollars worth of pelts. This
was the second brush between Kocky Mountain and
Hudson's Bay, and again the mountaineers scored.
The third encounter was more to the credit of both
companies. After three years' wanderings, Smith
found himself stranded and destitute at the British post
of Fort Vancouver. Fifteen of his men had been killed,
his horses taken and peltries stolen. The Hudson's Bay
sent a punitive force to recover his property, gave him
a $20,000 draft for the full value of the recovered furs,
and sent him up the Columbia. Thenceforth Bocky
Mountain trappers and Hudson's Bay respected each
other's rights in the valley of the Columbia, but southward the old code prevailed. Fitzpatrick, a Bocky
Mountain trader, came on the same poor Peter Ogden
at Salt Lake trading with the Indians, and at once
plied the argument of whisky so actively that the furs
destined for Bed Kiver went over the mountains to St.
The trapper probably never heard of a Nemesis;
but a curious retribution seemed to follow on the heels
of outrage.
Lisa had tried to balk the Astorians, and the Missouri Company went down before Indian hostility.
The Nor' Westers jockeyed the Astorians out of their
possessions and were in league with murderers at the
massacre of Seven Oaks; but the Nor' Westers were
jockeyed out of existence by the Hudson's Bay under
Lord Selkirk. The Hudson's Bay had been guilty of
rank outrage—particularly on the Saskatchewan, where
North-West partners were seized, manacled, and sent ASTOR ENCOUNTERS NEW OPPONENTS
to a wilderness—and now the Hudson's Bay were cheated, cajoled, overreached by the Bocky Mountain trappers. And the Bocky Mountain trappers, in their turn,
met a rival that could outcheat their cheatery.
In 1831 the mountains were overrun with trappers
from all parts of America. Men from every State in
the Union, those restless spirits who have pioneered
every great movement of the race, turned their faces
to the wilderness for furs as a later generation was to
scramble for gold.
In the summer of 1832, when the hunters came down
to Pierre's Hole for their supplies, there were trappers
who had never before summered away from Detroit
and Mackinaw and Hudson Bay.* There were half-
wild Frenchmen from Quebec who had married Indian wives and cast off civilization as an ill-fitting
garment. There were Indian hunters with the mellow, rhythmic tones that always betray native blood.
There were lank New Englanders under Wyeth of Boston, erect as a mast pole, strong of jaw, angular of motion, taking clumsily to buckskins. There were the
Bocky Mountain men in tattered clothes, with unkempt
hair and long beards, and a trick of peering from their
bushy brows like an enemy from ambush. There were
probably odd detachments from Captain Bonneville's
adventurers on the Platte, where a gay army adventurer
was trying his luck as fur trader and explorer. And
there was a new set of men, not yet weather-worn by
the wilderness, alert, watchful, ubiquitous, scattering
themselves among all groups where they could hear
everything, see all, tell nothing, always shadowing the
Bocky Mountain men who knew every trail of the wilds
* For example, the Deschamps of Red River. 42
and should be good pilots to the best hunting-grounds.
By the middle of July aU business had been completed,
and the trappers spent a last night round camp-fires,
spinning yarns of the hunt.
Early in the morning when the Bocky Mountain
men were sallying from the valley, they met a cavalcade
of one hundred and fifty Blackfeet. Each party halted
to survey its opponent. In less than ten years the
Bocky Mountain men had lost more than seventy comrades among hostiles. Even now the Indians were
flourishing a flag captured from murdered Hudson's.
Bay hunters.
The number of whites disconcerted the Indians.
Their warlike advance gave place to friendliness. One
chief came forward with the hand of comity extended.
The whites were not deceived. Many a time had Bocky
Mountain trappers been lured to their death by such
No excuse is offered for the hunters. The code of
the wilderness never lays the unction of a hypocritical
excuse to conscience. The trappers sent two scouts to
parley with the detested enemy. One trapper, with Indian blood in his veins and Indian thirst for the avenge-
ment of a kinsman's death in his heart, grasped the
chief's extended hand with the clasp of a steel trap.
On the instant the other scout fired. The powerless
chief fell dead; and using their horses as a breastwork,
the Blackfeet hastily threw themselves behind some
timber, cast up trenches, and shot from cover.
All the trappers at the rendezvous spurred to the
fight, priming guns, casting off valuables, making their
wills as they rode. The battle lasted aU day; and when
under cover of night the Indians withdrew, twelve men ASTOR ENCOUNTERS NEW OPPONENTS
lay dead on the trappers' side, as many more were
wounded; and the Blackfeet's loss was twice as great.
For years this tribe exacted heavy atonement for the
death of warriors behind the trenches of Pierre's
Hole. I %     0
Leaving Pierre's Hole the mountaineers scattered
to their rocky fastnesses, but no sooner had they pitched
camp on good hunting-grounds than the strangers who
had shadowed them at the rendezvous came up. Breaking camp, the Bocky Mountain men would steal away
by new and unknown passes to another valley. A day
or two later, having followed by tent-poles dragging
the ground, or brushwood broken by the passing packers, the pertinacious rivals would reappear. This went
on persistently for three months.
Infuriated by such tactics, the mountaineers
planned to lead the spies a dance. Plunging into
the territory of hostiles they gave their pursuers the
slip. Neither party probably intended that matters
should become serious; but that is always the fault of
the white man when he plays the dangerous game of
war with Indians. The spying party was ambushed, the
leader slain, his flesh torn from his body and his skeleton thrown into the river. A few months later the
Bocky Mountain traders paid for this escapade. Fitz-
patrick, the same trapper who had "lifted" Ogden's
furs and led this game against the spies, was robbed
among Indians instigated by white men of the American
Fur Company. This marked the beginning of the end
with the Bocky Mountain trappers.
The American Fur Company, which Mr. Astor had
organized and stuck to through good repute and evil
repute, was now officered by Bamsay Crooks and Farn- 44
ham and Bobert Stuart, who had remained loyal to Mr.
Astor in Astoria and been schooled in a discipline that
offered no quarter to enemies. The purchase of the
Mackinaw Company gave the American Company all
those posts between the Great Lakes and the height of
land dividing the Mississippi and Missouri. When
Congress excluded foreign traders in 1816, all the Nor'
Westers' posts south of the boundary fell to the American Fur Company; and sturdy old Nor' Westers, who
had been thrown out by the amalgamation with the
Hudson's Bay, also added to the Americans' strength.
Kenneth MacKenzie, with Laidlaw, Lamont, and Kipp,
had a line of posts from Green Bay to the Missouri
held by an American to evade the law, but known as
the Columbia Company.
This organization * the American Fur Company
bought out, placing MacKenzie at the mouth of the Yellowstone, where he built Fort Union and became the
Pooh-Bah of the whole region, living in regal style like
his ancestral Scottish chiefs. " King of the Missouri"
white men called him, " big Indian me " the Blackfeet
said; and " big Indian me " he was to them, for he was
the first trader to win both their friendship and the
Here MacKenzie entertained Prince Maximilian of
Wied and Catlin the artist and Audubon the naturalist,
and had as his constant companion Hamilton, an English nobleman living in disguise and working for the
fur company. Many an unmeant melodrama was en-
acter under the walls of Union in MacKenzie's reign.
Once a free trapper came floating down the Mis-
souri with his canoe full of beaver-pelts, which he
quickly exchanged for the gay attire to be obtained at
Fort Union. Oddly enough, though the fellow was a
French-Canadian, he had long, flaxen hair, of which he
was inordinately vain. Strutting about the court-yard,
feeling himself a very prince of importance, he saw
MacKenzie's pretty young Indian wife. Each paid the
other the tribute of adoration that was warmer than
it was wise. The denouement was a vision of the flaxen-
haired Siegfried sprinting at the top of his speed
through the fort gate, with the irate MacKenzie flourishing a flail to the rear. The matter did not end here.
The outraged Frenchman swore to kill MacKenzie on
sight, and haunted the fort gates with a loaded rifle
till MacKenzie was obliged to hire a mulatto servant to
| wing" the fellow with a shot in the shoulder, when
he was brought into the fort, nursed back to health, and
sent away*jjj|§
At another time two Bocky Mountain trappers built
an opposition fort just below Union and lay in wait
for the coming of the Blackfeet to trade with the American Fur Company. MacKenzie posted a lookout on his
bastion. The moment the Indians were descried, out
sallied from Fort Union a band in full regalia, with
drum and trumpet and piccolo and fife—wonders that
would have lured the astonished Indians to perdition.
Behind the band came gaudy presents for the savages,
and what was not supposed to be in the Indian country
—liquor. When these methods failed to outbuy rivals,
MacKenzie did not hesitate to pay twelve dollars for
a beaver-skin not worth two. The Bocky Mountain
trappers were forced to capitulate, and their post
passed over to the American Fur Company. 46
In the ruins of their post was enacted a fitting finale
to the turbulent conflicts of the American traders. The
Deschamps family, who had perpetrated the worst
butcheries on the field of Seven Oaks, in the fight between Hudson's Bay and Nor' Westers, had acted as interpreters for the Bocky Mountain trappers. Boastful of their murderous record in Canada, the father,
mother, and eight grown children were usually so violent in their carousals that Hamilton, the English
gentleman, used to quiet their outrage and prevent
trouble by dropping laudanum in their cups. Once they
slept so heavily that the whole fort was in a panic lest
their sleep lasted to eternity; but the revellers came
to life defiant as ever. At Union was a very handsome
young half-breed fellow by the name of Gardepie, whose
life the Deschamps harpies attempted to take from
sheer jealousy and love of crime. Joined by two free
trappers, Gardepie killed the elder Deschamps one
morning at breakfast with all the gruesome mutilation
of Indian custom. He at the same time wounded a
younger son. Spurred by the hag-like mother and
nerved to the deed with alcohol, the Deschamps undertook to avenge their father's death by killing all the
whites of the fur post. One man had fallen when the
alarm was carried to Fort Union.
Twice had the Deschamps robbed Fort Union.
Many trappers had been assassinated by a Deschamps.
Indians had been flogged by them for no other purpose
than to inflict torture. Beating on the doors of Fort
Union, the wife of their last victim caUed out that the
Deschamps were on the war-path.
The traders of Fort Union solemnly raised hands
and took an oath to exterminate the murderous clan. ASTOR ENCOUNTERS NEW OPPONENTS
The affair had gone beyond MacKenzie's control. Seizing cannon and ammunition, the traders crossed the
prairie to the abandoned fort of the Bocky Mountain
trappers, where the murderers were intrenched. All
valuables were removed from the fort. Time was given
for the family to prepare for death. Then the guns
were turned on the house. Suddenly that old harpy of
crime, the mother, rushed out, holding forward the Indian pipe of peace and begging for mercy.
She got all the mercy that she had ever given, and
fell shot through the heart.
At last the return firing ceased. Who would enter
and learn if the Deschamps were all dead ? Treachery
was feared. The assailants set fire to the fort. In the
light of the flames one man was espied crouching in the
bastion. A trader rushed forward exultant to shoot
the last of the Deschamps; but a shot from the bastion
sent him leaping five feet into the air to fall back dead,
and a yell of fiendish victory burst from the burning
Again the assailants fired a volley. No answering
shot came from the fort. Bushing through the smoke
the traders found Frangois Deschamps backed up in
a corner like a beast at bay, one wrist broken and all
ammunition gone. A dozen rifle-shots cracked sharp.
The fellow fell and his body was thrown into the
flames. The old mother was buried without shroud
or coffin in the clay bank of the river. A young boy
mortally wounded was carried from the ruins to die
in Union.
* Larpentenr, who was there, has given even a more circumstantial account of this terrible tragedy. 48
This dark act marked the last important episode
in the long conflict among traders. A decline of values
followed the civil war. Settlers were rushing overland
to Oregon, and Fort Union went into the control of the
militia. To-day St. Louis is stiU a centre of trade in
manufactured furs, and St. Paul yet receives raw pelts
from trappers who wander through the forests of Minnesota and Idaho and the mountains. Only a year ago
the writer employed as guides in the mountains three
trappers who have spe^it their lives ranging the northern wilds and the Upper Missouri; but outside the
mountain and forest wastes, the vast hunting-grounds
of the famous old trappers have been chalked off by
the fences of settlers.
In Canada, too, bloodshed marked the last of the
conflict—once in the seventies when Louis Biel, a half-
breed demagogue, roused the Metis against the surveyors sent to prepare Bed Biver for settlement, and again
in 1885 when this unhanged rascal incited the half-
breeds of the Saskatchewan to rebellion over title-deeds
to their lands. Though the Hudson's Bay Company
had nothing to do with either complaint, the conflict
waged round their forts.
In the first affair the ragged army of rebels took
possession of Fort Garry, and for no other reason than
the love of killing that riots in savage blood as in a
wolfs, shot down Scott outside the fort gates. In the
second rebellion Biel's aUies came down on the far-
isolated Fort Pitt three hundred strong, captured the
fort, and took the factor, Mr. MacLean, and his family
to northern wastes, marching them through swamps
breast-high with spring floods, where General Middle-
ton's troops could not foUow.   The children of the fam- ASTOR ENCOUNTERS NEW OPPONENTS
ily had been in the habit of bribing old Indian gossips
into telling stories by gifts of tobacco; and the friendship now stood the white family in good stead. Day
and night in all the weeks of captivity the friendly Indians never left the side of the trader's family, slipping
between the hostiles and the young children, standing
guard at the tepee door, giving them weapons of defence
till all were safely back among the whites.
This time Biel was hanged, and the Hudson's Bay
Company resumed its sway of all that realm between
Labrador and the Pacific north of the Saskatchewan.
Traders' lives are like a white paper with a black
spot.   The world looks only at the black spot.
In spite of his faults when in conflict with rivals,
it has been the trader living alone, unprotected and un-^
fearing, one voice among a thousand, who has restrained the Indian tribes from massacres that would
have rolled back the progress of the West a quarter of
a century. CHAPTEB YI
To live hard and die hard, king in the wilderness
and pauper in the town, lavish to-day and penniless
to-morrow—such was the life of the most picturesque
figure in America's history.
Take a map of America. Put your finger on any
point between the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay,
or the Great Lakes and the Bockies. Ask who was the
first man to blaze a trail into this wilderness; and
wherever you may point, the answer is the same—the
French trapper.
Impoverished English noblemen of the seventeenth
century took to freebooting, Spanish dons to piracy
and search for gold; but for the young French noblesse
the way to fortune was by the fur trade. Freedom from
restraint, quick wealth, lavish spending, and adventurous living all appealed to a class that hated the menial
and slow industry of the farm. The only capital required for the fur trade was dauntless courage. Merchants were keen to supply money enough to stock
canoes with provisions for trade in the wilderness.
What would be equivalent to $5,000 of modern money
was sufficient to stock four trappers with trade enough
for two years.
At the end of that time the sponsors looked for re-
turns in furs to the value of eight hundred per cent on
their capital. The original investment would be deducted, and the enormous profit divided among the
trappers and their outfitters. In the heyday of the fur
trade, when twenty beaver-skins were got for an axe, it
was no unusual thing to see a trapper receive what
would be equivalent to $3,000 of our money as his
share of two years' trapping. But in the days when
the French were only beginning to advance up the
Missouri from Louisiana and across from Michili-
mackinac to the Mississippi vastly larger fortunes were
Two partners * have brought out as much as $200,-
000 worth of furs from the great game preserve between Lake Superior and the head waters of the Missouri after eighteen months' absence from St. Louis
or from Montreal. The fur country was to the young
French nobility what a treasure-ship was to a pirate.
In vain France tried to keep her colonists on the land
by forbidding trade without a license. Fines, the galleys for life, even death for repeated offence, were the
punishments held over the head of the illicit trader.
The French trapper evaded all these by staying in the
wilds till he amassed fortune enough to buy off punishment, or till he had lost taste for civilized life and
remained in the wilderness, coureur des bois, voyageur,
or leader of a band of half-wild retainers whom he
ruled like a feudal baron, becoming a curious connecting link between the savagery of the New World and
the noblesse of the Old.
Duluth, of the Lakes region; La Salle, of the Mis-
* Radisson and Groseillers, from regions westward of Duluth. f '■<
M   »     i   .-
; l:
sissippi; Le Moyne d'Iberville, ranging from Louisiana
to Hudson Bay; La Mothe Cadillac in Michilimackinac,
Detroit, and Louisiana; La Verendrye exploring from
Lake Superior to the Bockies; Badisson on Hudson
Bay—all won their fame as explorers and discoverers
in pursuit of the fur trade. A hundred years before
any English mind knew of the Missouri, French voyageurs had gone beyond the Yellowstone. Before the
regions now called Minnesota, Dakota, and Wisconsin
were known to New Englanders, the French were trapping about the head waters of the Mississippi; and two
centuries ago a company of daring French hunters went
to New Mexico to spy on Spanish trade.
East of the Mississippi were two neighbours whom
the French trapper shunned—the English colonists and
the Iroquois. North of the St. Lawrence was a power
that he shunned still more—the French governor, who
had legal right to plunder the peltries of all who traded
and trapped without license. But between St. Louis
and MacKenzie Biver was a great unclaimed wilderness, whence came the best furs.
Naturally, this became the hunting-ground of the
French trapper.      .ft
There were four ways by which he entered his hunting-ground: (1) Sailing from Quebec to the mouth of
the Mississippi, he ascended the river in pirogue or
dugout, but this route was only possible for a man with
means to pay for the ocean voyage. (2) From Detroit
overland to the Illinois, or Ohio, which he rafted down
to the Mississippi, and then taking to canoe turned
north. (3) From Michilimackinac, which was always
a grand rendezvous for the French and Indian hunters,
to Green Bay on Lake Michigan, thence up-stream to THE FRENCH TRAPPER
Fox Biver, overland to the Wisconsin, and down-stream
to the Mississippi. (4) Up the Ottawa through "the
Soo I to Lake Superior and westward to the hunting-
ground. Whichever way he went his course was mainly
up-stream and north: hence the name Pays d'en Haut
vaguely designated the vast hunting-ground that lay
between the Missouri and the MacKenzie Biver.
The French trapper was and is to-day as different
from the English as the gamester is from the merchant.
Of all the fortunes brought from the Missouri to St.
Louis, or from the Pays d'en Haut to Montreal, few
escaped the gaming-table and dram-shop. Where the
English trader saves his returns, Pierre lives high and
plays high, and lords it about the fur post till he must
pawn the gay clothing he has bought for means to exist to the opening of the next hunting season.
It is now that he goes back to some birch tree
marked by him during the preceding winter's hunt,
peels the bark off in a great seamless rind, whittles out
ribs for a canoe from cedar, ash, or pine, and shapes
the green bark to the curve of a canoe by means of
stakes and stones down each side. Lying on his back
in the sun spinning yarns of the great things he has
done and will do, he lets the birch harden and dry to
the proper form, when he fits the gunwales to the ragged edge, lines the inside of the keel with thin pine
boards, and tars the seams where the bark has crinkled
and split at the junction with the gunwale.
It is in the idle summer season that he and his
squaw-^for the Pierre adapts, or rather adopts, himself to the native tribes by taking an Indian wife—
design the wonderfully bizarre costumes in which the 54
French trapper appears: the beaded toque for festive
occasions, the gay moccasins, the buckskin suit fringed
with horse-hair and leather in lieu of the Indian scalp-
locks, the white caribou capote with horned head-gear
to deceive game on the hunter's approach, the powder-
case made of a buffalo-horn, the bullet bag of a young
otter-skin, the musk-rat or musquash cap, and great
gantlets coming to the elbow.
None of these things does the English trader do.
If he falls a victim to the temptations awaiting the
man from the wilderness in the dram-shop of the trading-post, he takes good care not to spend his all on
the spree. He does not affect the hunter's decoy dress,
for the simple reason that he prefers to let the Indians
do the hunting of the difficult game, while he attends
to the trapping that is gain rather than game. For
clothes, he is satisfied with cheap material from the
shops. And if, like Pierre, the Englishman marries
an Indian wife, he either promptly deserts her when he
leaves the fur country for the trading-post or sends
her to a convent to be educated up to his own level.
With Pierre the marriage means that he has cast off
the last vestige of civilization and henceforth identifies himself with the life of the savage.
After the British conquest of Canada and the American Declaration of Independence came a change in the
status of the French trapper. Before, he had been
lord of the wilderness without a rival. Now, powerful
English companies poured their agents into his hunting-grounds. Before, he had been a partner in the
fur trade. Now, he must either be pushed out or enlist as servant to the newcomer. He who had once
come to Montreal and St. Louis with a fortune of pel- THE FRENCH TRAPPER
tries on his rafts and canoes, now signed with the great
English companies for a paltry one, two, and three
hundred dollars a year.
It was but natural in the new state of things that
the French trapper, with all his knowledge of forest
and stream, should become coureur des bois and voy-
ageur, while the Englishman remained the barterer.
In the Mississippi basin the French trappers mainly
enlisted with four companies: the Mackinaw Company,
radiating from Michilimackinac to the Mississippi; the
American Company, up the Missouri; the Missouri
Company, officered by St. Louis merchants, westward
to the Bockies; and the South-West Company, which
was John Jacob Astor's amalgamation of the American
and Mackinaw. In Canada the French sided with the
Nor' Westers and X. Y.'s, who had sprung up in opposition to the great English Hudson's Bay Company.
Though he had become a burden-carrier for his
quondam enemies, the French trapper still saw life
through the glamour of la gloire and noblesse, still
lived hard and died game, still feasted to-day and
starved to-morrow, gambled the clothes off his back
and laughed at hardship; courted danger and trolled
off one of his chansons brought over to America by
ancestors of Normandy, uttered an oath in one breath
at the whirlpool ahead and in the next crossed himself
reverently with a prayer to Sainte Anne, the voyageurs'
saint, just before his canoe took the plunge.
Your Spanish grandee of the Missouri Company,
like Manuel Lisa of St. Louis, might sit in a counting-
house or fur post adding up rows of figures, and your
Scotch merchant chaffer with Indians over the value 56
of a beaver-skin. As for Pierre, give him a canoe
eliding past wooded banks with a throb of the keel to
the current and the whistle of wild-fowl overhead;
clear sky above with a feathering of wind clouds, clear
sky below with a feathering of wind clouds, and the
canoe between like a bird at poise. Sometimes a fair
wind livens the pace; for the voyageurs hoist a blanket
sail, and the canoe skims before the breeze like a sea-
guU. I ||'     I 'I!
Where the stream gathers force and whirls forward in sharp eddies and racing leaps each voyageur
knows what to expect. No man asks questions. The
bowman stands up with his eyes to the fore and steel-
shod pole ready. Every eye is on that pole. Presently
comes a roar, and the green banks begin to race. The
canoe no longer glides. It vaults—springs—bounds,
with a shiver of live waters under the keel and a buoyant rise to her prow that mounts the crest of each
Wave fast as wave pursues wave. A fanged rock thrusts
up in mid-stream. One deft push of the pole. Each
paddler takes the cue; and the canoe shoots past the
danger straight as an arrow, righting herself to a new
course by another lightning sweep of the pole and
But the waters gather as if to throw themselves forward. The roar becomes a crash. As if moved by one
mind the paddlers brace back. The lightened bow lifts.
A white dash of spray. She mounts as she plunges;
and the voyageurs are whirling down-stream below a
small waterfall. Not a word is spoken to indicate that
it is anything unusual to sauter les rapides, as the voyageurs say. The men are soaked. Now, perhaps, some
one laughs; for Jean, or Ba'tiste, or the dandy of the   THE FRENCH TRAPPER
crew, got his moccasins wet when the canoe took water.
They all settle forward. One paddler pauses to bail
out water with his hat.
Thus the lowest waterfalls are run without a portage. Coming back this way with canoes loaded to the
water-line, there must be a disembarking. If the rapids
be short, with water enough to carry the loaded
canoe high above rocks that might graze the bark, all
hands spring out in the water, but one man who remains to steady the craft; and the canoe is "tracked"
up-stream, hauled along by ropes. If the rapids be at
all dangerous, each voyageur lands, with pack on his
back and pack-straps across his forehead, and runs
along the shore. A long portage is measured by the
number of pipes the voyageur smokes, each lighting
up meaning a brief rest; and a portage of many
1 pipes " will be taken at a running gait on the hottest
days without one word of complaint. Nine miles is
the length of one famous portage opposite the Chau-
diere Falls on the Ottawa.
In winter the voyageur becomes coureur des bois
to his new masters. Then for six months endless reaches, white, snow-padded, silent; forests wreathed and
bossed with snow; nights in camp on a couch of pines
or rolled in robes with a roaring fire to keep the wolves
off, melting snow steaming to the heat, meat sputtering at the end of a skewered stick; sometimes to the
marche done! marche done! of the driver, with crisp
tinkling of dog-bells in frosty air, a long journey overland by dog-sled to the trading-post; sometimes that
blinding fury which sweeps over the northland, turning earth and air to a white darkness; sometimes a
belated  traveller  cowering  under  a  snow-drift  for H^^at-.
warmth and wrapping his blanket about him to cross
life's Last Divide.
These things were the every-day life of the French
At present there is only one of the great fur companies remaining—the Hudson's Bay of Canada. In
the United States there are only two important centres
of trade in furs which are not imported—St. Paul and
St. Louis. For both the Hudson's Bay Company and
the fur traders of the Upper Missouri the French trapper still works as his ancestors did for the great companies a hundred years ago.
The roadside tramp of to-day is a poor representative of Bobin Hoods and Bob Boys; and the Freneh
trapper of shambling gait and baggy clothes seen at
the fur posts of the north to-day is a poor type of the
class who used to stalk through the baronial halls * of
Montreal's governor like a lord and set the rafters of
Fort William's council chamber ringing, and make the
wine and the money and the brawls of St. Louis a
And yet, with all his degeneracy, the French trapper retains a something of his old traditions. A few
years ago I was on a northern river steamer going
to one of the Hudson's Bay trading-posts. A brawl
seemed to sound from the steerage passengers. What
was the matter ? " Oh," said the captain, " the French
trappers going out north for the winter, drunk as
* Especially the Ch&teau de Ramezay, where great underground vaults were built for the storing of pelts in case of attack
from New Englander and Iroquois. These vaults may still be
seen under Chateau de Ramezay. THE FRENCH TRAPPER
As he spoke, a voice struck up one of those chansons
populaires, which have been sung by every generation
of voyageurs since Frenchmen came to America, A La
Claire Fontaine, a song which the French trappers'
ancestors brought from Normandy hundreds of years
ago, about the fickle lady and the faded roses and the
vain regrets. Then—was it possible?—these grizzled
fellows, dressed in tinkers' tatters, were singing—
what? A song of the Grand Monarque which has led
armies to battle, but not a song which one would expect to hear in northern wilds—
"Malbrouck s'on va-t-cn guerre
Mais quand reviendra a-t-il ?"
Three foes assailed the trapper alone in the wilds.
The first danger was from the wolf-pack. The second was the Indian hostile egged on by rival traders.
This danger the French trapper minimized by identifying himself more completely with the savage than
any other fur trader succeeded in doing. The third
foe was the most perverse and persevering thief known
outside the range of human criminals.
Perhaps the day after the trapper had shot his
first deer he discovered fine footprints like a child's
hand on the snow around the carcass. He recognises
the trail of otter or pekan or mink. It would be
useless to bait a deadfall with meat when an' unpolluted
feast lies on the snow. The man takes one of his small
traps and places it across the line of approach. This
trap is buried beneath snow or brush. Every trace of
man-smell is obliterated. The fresh hide of a deer
may be dragged across the snow. Pomatum or casto-
reum may be daubed on everything touched.   He may 60
even handle the trap with deer-hide. Pekan travel in
pairs. Besides, the dead deer wiU be likely to attract
more than one forager; so the man sets a circle of
traps round the carcass.
The next morning he comes back with high hope.
Very little of the deer remains. All the flesh-eaters
of the forest, big and little, have been there. Why,
then, is there no capture? One trap has been puUed
up, sprung, and partly broken. Another carried a little
distance off and dumped into a hollow. A third had
caught a pekan; but the prisoner had been worried and
torn to atoms. Another was tampered with from behind and exposed for very deviltry. Some have disappeared altogether.
Among forest creatures few are mean enough to
kill when they have fuU stomachs, or to eat a trapped
brother with untrapped meat a nose-length away.
The French trapper rumbles out some maledictions
on le sacre carcajou. Taking a piece of steel like a
cheese-tester's instrument, he pokes grains of strychnine into the remaining meat. He might have saved
himself the trouble. The next day he finds the poisoned meat mauled and spoiled so that no animal will
touch it. There is nothing of the deer but picked bones.
So the trapper tries a deadfaU for the thief. Again he
might have spared himself the trouble. His next visit
shows the deadfall torn from behind and robbed without danger to the thief.
Several signs teU the trapper that the marauder is
the carcajou or wolverine. All the stealing was done
at night; and the wolverine is nocturnal. AU the traps
had been approached from behind. The wolverine will
not cross man's track.   The poison in the meat had THE FRENCH TRAPPER
been scented. Whether the wolverine knows poison,
he is too wary to experiment on doubtful diet. The
exposing of the traps tells of the curiosity which characterizes the wolverine. Other creatures would have
had too much fear. The tracks run back to cover, and
not across country like the badger's or the fox's.
Fearless, curious, gluttonous, wary, and suspicious,
the mischief-maker and the freebooter and the criminal
of the animal world, a scavenger to save the northland
from pollution of carrion, and a scourge to destroy
wounded, weaklings, and laggards—the wolverine has
the nose of a fox, with long, uneven, tusk-like teeth
that seem to be expressly made for tearing. The eyes
are weU set back, greenish, alert with almost human
intelligence of the type that preys. Out of the fulness
of his wrath one trapper gave a perfect description of
the wolverine. He didn't object, he said, to being outrun by a wolf, or beaten by a respectable Indian, but to
be outwitted by a little beast the size of a pig with the
snout of a fox, the claws of a bear, and the fur of a
porcupine's quills, was more than he could stand.
In the economy of nature the wolverine seems to
have but one design—destruction. Beaver-dams two
feet thick and frozen like rock yield to the ripping onslaught of its claws. He robs everything: the musk-
rats' haycock houses; the gopher burrows; the cached
elk and buffalo calves under hiding of some shrub
while the mothers go off to the watering-place; the
traps of his greatest foe, man; the cached provisions of
the forest ranger; the graves of the dead; the very
tepees and lodges and houses of Indian, half-breed, and
white man. While the wolverine is averse to crossing
man's track, he will follow it for days, like a shark 62
behind a ship; for he knows as weU as the man knows
there will be food in the traps when the man is in his
lodge, and food in the lodge when the man is at the
But the wolverine has two characteristics by which
he may be snared—gluttony and curiosity.
After the deer has disappeared the trapper finds
that the wolverine has been making as regular rounds
of the traps as he has himself. It is then a question
whether the man or the wolverine is to hold the hunting-ground. A case is on record at Moose Factory, on
James Bay, of an Indian hunter and his wife who were
literally brought to the verge of starvation by a wolverine that nightly destroyed their traps. The contest
ended by the starving Indians travelling a hundred
miles from the haunts of that "bad devil—oh—be-—
bad devil—carcajou!" Bemembering the curiosity and
gluttony of his enemy, the man sets out his strongest
steel-traps. He takes some strong-smelling meat, bacon
or fish, and places it where the wolverine tracks run.
Around this he sets a circle of his traps, tying them
securely to poles and saplings and stakes. In all likelihood he has waited his chance for a snowfall which
will cover traces of the man-smell.
Night passes. In the morning the man comes to
his traps. The meat has been taken. All else is as
before. Not a track marks the snow; but in midwinter
meat does not walk off by itself. The man warily feels
for the hidden traps. Then he notices that one of the
stakes has been puUed up and carried off. That is a
sign. He prods the ground expectantly. It is as he
thought. One trap is gone. It had caught the wolverine; but the cunning beast had pulled with all his THE FRENCH TRAPPER
strength, snapped the attached sapling, and escaped.
A fox or beaver would have gnawed the imprisoned
limb off. The wolverine picks the trap up in his teeth
and hobbles as hard as three legs will carry him to the
hiding of a bush, or better still, to the frozen surface
of a river, hidden by high banks, with glare ice which
will not reveal a trail. But on the river the man finds
only a trap wrenched out of all semblance to its proper
shape, with the spring opened to release the imprisoned leg.
The wolverine had been caught, and had gone to the
river to study out the problem of unclinching the
One more device remains to the man. It is a gun
trick. The loaded weapon is hidden full-cock under
leaves or brush. Directly opposite the barrel is the
bait, attached by a concealed string to the trigger.
The first pull will blow the thief's head off.
The trap experience would have frightened any
other animals a week's run from man's tracks; but the
wolverine grows bolder, and the trapper knows he will
find his snares robbed until carcajou has been killed.
Perhaps he has tried the gun trick before, to have
the cord gnawed through and the bait stolen. A
wolverine is not to be easily tricked; but its gluttony
and curiosity bring it within man's reach.
The man watches until he knows the part of the
woods where the wolverine nightly gallops. He then
procures a savoury piece of meat heavy enough to balance a cocked trigger, not heavy enough to send it off.
The gun is suspended from some dense evergreen,
which will hide the weapon. The bait hangs from the
trigger above the wolverine's reach.
1 f
Then a curious game begins.
One morning the trapper sees the wolverine tracks
round and round the tree as if determined to ferret
out the mystery of the meat in mid-air.
The next morning the tracks have come to a stand
below the meat. If the wolverine could only get up to
the bait, one whiff would teU him whether the man-
smeU was there. He sits studying the puzzle till his
mark is deep printed in the snow.
The trapper smiles.   He has only to wait.
The rascal may become so bold in his predatory
visits that the man may be tempted to chance a shot
without waiting.
But if the man waits Nemesis hangs at the end of
the cord. There comes a night when the wolverine's
curiosity is as rampant as his gluttony. A quick
clutch of the ripping claws and a blare of fire-smoke
blows the robber's head into space.
The trapper will hold those hunting-grounds.
He has got rid of the most unwelcome visitor a
solitary man ever had; but for the consolation of those
whose sympathies are keener for the animal than the
man, it may be said that in the majority of such contests it is the wolverine and not the man that wins. CHAPTEB VII
If the trapper had a crest like the knights of the
wilderness who lived lives of daredoing in olden times,
it should represent a canoe, a snow-shoe, a musket, a
beaver, and a buffalo. While the beaver was his quest
and the coin of the fur-trading realm, the buffalo was
the great staple on which the very existence of the
trapper depended.
Bed and blankets and clothing, shields for wartime, sinew for bows, bone for the shaping of rude
lance-heads, kettles and bull-boats and saddles, roof
and rug and curtain wall for the hunting lodge, and,
most important of all, food that could be kept in any
climate for any length of time and combined the lightest
weight with the greatest nourishment—all these were
supplied by the buffalo.
From the Gulf of Mexico to the Saskatchewan and
from the Alleghanies to the Bockies the buffalo was to
the hunter what wheat is to the farmer. Moose and
antelope and deer were plentiful in the limited area of
a favoured habitat. Provided with water and grass
the buffalo could thrive in any latitude south of the
sixties, with a preference for the open ground of the
great central plains except when storms and heat drove
the herds to the shelter of woods and valleys.
6 65 66
Besides, in that keen struggle for existence which
goes on in the animal world, the buffalo had strength
to defy all enemies. Of aU the creatures that prey,
only the full-grown grisly was a match against the
buffalo; and according to old hunting legends, even the
grisly held back from attacking a beast in the prime
of its power and sneaked in the wake of the roving
herds, like the coyotes and timber-wolves, for the chance
of hamstringing a calf, or breaking a young cow's neck,
or tackling some poor old king worsted in battle and
deposed from the leadership of the herd, or snapping
up some lost buffalo staggering blind on the trail of
a prairie fire. The buffalo, like the range cattle, had a
quality that made for the persistence of the species.
When attacked by a beast of prey, they would line up
for defence, charge upon the assailant, and trample
life out. Adaptability to environment, strength excelling all foes, wonderful sagacity against attack—these
were factors that partly explained the vastness of the
buffalo herds once roaming this continent.
Proofs enough remain to show that the size of the
herds simply could not be exaggerated. In two great
areas their multitude exceeded anything in the known
world. These were: (1) between the Arkansas and the
Missouri, fenced in, as it were, by the Mississippi and
the Bockies; (2) between the Missouri and the Saskatchewan, bounded by the Bockies on the west and on the
east, that depression where lie Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegoosis. In both regions the prairie
is scarred by trails where the buffalo have marched single file to their watering-places—trails trampled by
such a multitude of hoofs that the groove sinks to the
depth of a rider's stirrup or the hub of a wagon-wheel. THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
At fording-places on the Qu'Appelle and Saskatchewan
in Canada, and on the Upper Missouri, YeUowstone,
and Arkansas in the Western States, carcasses of buffalo have been found where the stampeding herd
trampled the weak under foot, virtually building a
bridge of the dead over which the vast host rushed.
Then there were "the fairy rings," ruts like the
water trail, only running in a perfect circle, with the
hoof prints of countless multitudes in and outside the
ring. Two explanations were given of these. When
the calves were yet little, and the wild animals ravenous with spring hunger, the bucks and old leaders
formed a cordon round the mothers and their young.
The late Colonel Bedson of Stony Mountain, Manitoba,
who had the finest private collection of buffalo in
America until his death ten years ago, when the herd
was shipped to Texas, observed another occasion when
the buffalo formed a circle. Of an ordinary winter
storm the herd took small notice except to turn backs
to the wind; but if to a howling blizzard were added
a biting north wind, with the thermometer forty degrees below zero, the buffalo lay down in a crescent as
a wind-break to the young. Besides the % fairy rings "
and the fording-places, evidences of the buffaloes' numbers are found at the salt-licks, alkali depressions on
the prairie, soggy as paste in spring, dried hard as
rock in midsummer and retaining footprints like a
plaster cast; while at the wallows, where the buffalo
have been taking mud-baths as a refuge from vermin
and summer heat, the ground is scarred and ploughed
as if for ramparts.
The comparison of the buffalo herds to the north-
land caribou has become almost commonplace; but it Hi
is the sheerest nonsense. From Hearne, two hundred
years ago, to Mr. Tyrrel or Mr. Whitney in the Barren
Lands in 1894-96, no mention is ever made of a caribou herd exceeding ten thousand. Few herds of one
thousand have ever been seen.
What are the facts regarding the buffalo?
In the thirties, when the American Fur Company
was in the heyday of its power, there were sent from St.
Louis alone in a single year one hundred thousand
robes. The company bought only the perfect robes.
The hunter usually kept an ample supply for his own
needs; so that for every robe bought by the company,
three times as many were taken from the plains. St.
Louis was only one port of shipment. Equal quantities of robes were being sent from Mackinaw, Detroit,
Montreal, and Hudson Bay. A million would not cover
the number of robes sent east each year in the thirties
and forties. In 1868 Inman, Sheridan, and Custer
rode continuously for three days through one herd in
the Arkansas region. In 1869 trains on the Kansas
Pacific were held from nine in the morning till six at
night to permit the passage of one herd across the
tracks. Army officers related that in 1862 a herd moved
north from the Arkansas to the Yellowstone that covered an area of seventy by thirty miles. Catlin and
Inman and army men and employees of the fur companies considered a drove of one hundred thousand buffalo
a common sight along the line of the Santa Fe trail.
Inman computes that from St. Louis alone the bones
of thirty-one million buffalo were shipped between
1868 and 1881. Northward the testimony is the same.
John MacDonell, a partner of the North-West Company, tells how at the beginning of the last century a THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
herd stampeded across the ice of the Qu'Appelle valley. In some places the ice broke. When the thaw
came, a continuous line of drowned buffalo drifted
past the fur post for three days. Mr. MacDonell
counted up to seven thousand three hundred and
sixty: there his patience gave out. And the number
of the drowned was only a fringe of the travelling
To-day where are the buffalo ? A few in the public
parks of the United States and Canada. A few of
Colonel Bedson's old herd on Lord Strathcona's farm
in Manitoba and the rest on a ranch in Texas. The
railway more than the pot-hunter was the power that
exterminated the buffalo. The railway brought the
settlers; and the settlers fenced in the great ranges
where the buffalo could have galloped away from all the
pot-hunters of earth combined. Without the railway
the buffalo could have resisted the hunter as they resisted Indian hunters from time immemorial; but when
the iron line cut athwart the continent the herds only
stampeded from one quarter to rush into the fresh
dangers of another.
Much has been said about man's part in the destruction of the buffalo; and too much could not be said
against those monomaniacs of slaughter who went into
the buffalo-hunt from sheer love of killing, hiring the
Indians to drive a herd over an embankment or into
soft snow, while the valiant hunters sat in some sheltered spot, picking off the helpless quarry. This was
not hunting. It was butchery, which none but hungry
savages and white barbarians practised. The plainsman—who is the true type of the buffalo-runner—entered the lists on a fair field with the odds a hundred 70
to one against himself, and the only advantages over
brute strength the dexterity of his own aim.
Man was the least cruel of the buffalo's foes. Far
crueler havoc was worked by the prairie fire and the
fights for supremacy in the leadership of the herd and
the sleuths of the trail and the wild stampedes often
started by nothing more than the shadow of a cloud on
the prairie. Natural history tells of nothing sadder
than a buffalo herd overtaken by a prairie fire! Flee
as they might, the fiery hurricane was fleeter; and when
the flame swept past, the buffalo were left staggering
over blackened wastes, blind from the fire, singed of
fur to the raw, and mad with a thirst they were helpless to quench.
In the fights for leadership of the herd old age
went down before youth. Colonel Bedson's daughter
has often told the writer of her sheer terror as a child
when these battles took place among the buffalo. The
first intimation of trouble was usuaUy a boldness
among the young fellows of maturing strength. On
the rove for the first year or two of their existence
these youngsters were hooked and butted back into place
as a rear-guard; and woe to the fellow whose vanity
tempted him within range of the leader's sharp, prun-
ing-hook horns! Just as the wolf aimed for the
throat or leg sinews of a victim, so the irate buffalo
struck at the point most vulnerable to his sharp, curved
horn—the soft flank where a quick rip meant torture
and death.
Comes a day when the young fellows refuse to be
hooked and hectored to the rear! Then one of the boldest braces himself, circling and guarding and wheeling
and keeping his lowered horns in line with the head THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
of the older rival. That is the buffalo challenge! And
there presently follows a bellowing like the rumbling
of distant thunder, each keeping his eye on the other,
circling and guarding and countering each other's
moves, like fencers with foils. When one charges, the
other wheels to meet the charge straight in front;
and with a crash the horns are locked. It is then a
contest of strength against strength, dexterity against
dexterity. Not unusually the older brute goes into a
fury from sheer amazement at the younger's presumption. His guarded charges become blind rushes, and
he soon finds himself on the end of a pair of
piercing horns. As soon as the rumbling and pawing began, Colonel Bedson used to send his herders out
on the fleetest buffalo ponies to part the contestants;
for, like the king of beasts that he is, the buffalo does
not know how to surrender. He fights till he can fight
no more; and if he is not killed, is likely to be mangled, a deposed king, whipped and broken-spirited and
relegated to the fag-end of the trail, where he drags
lamely after the subjects he once ruled.
Some day the barking of a prairie-dog, the rustle
of a leaf, the shadow of a cloud, startles a giddy young
cow. She throws up her head and is off. There is a
stampede—myriad forms lumbering over the earth
till the ground rocks and nothing remains of the buffalo
herd but the smoking dust of the far horizon—nothing
but the poor, old, deposed king, too weak to keep up
the pace, feeble with fear, trembling at his own shadow,
leaping in terror at a leaf blown by the wind.
After that the end is near, and the old buffalo must
realize that fact as plainly as a human being would.
Has he roamed the plains and guarded the calves from 72
sleuths of the trail and seen the devourers leap on a
faUen comrade before death has come, and yet does
not know what those vague, gray forms are, always
hovering behind him, always sneaking to the crest of a
hiU when he hides in tjio vaUey, always skulking
through the prairie grass when he goes to a lookout
on the crest of the hiU, always stopping when he stops,
creeping closer when he lies down, scuttling when he
wheels, snapping at his heels when he stoops for a drink ?
If the buffalo did not know what these creatures meant,
he would not have spent his entire life from calfhood
guarding against them. But he does know; and therein Hes the tragedy of the old king's end. He invaria-.
bly seeks out some steep background where he can
take his last stand against the wolves with a face to
the foe.
But the end is inevitable.
While the main pack baits him to the fore, skulkers
dart to the rear; and when, after a struggle that lasts
for days, his hind legs sink powerless under him, hamstrung by the snap of some vicious coyote, he stiU keeps
his face to the foe. But in sheer horror of the tragedy
the rest is untellable; for the hungry creatures that
prey do not wait till death comes to the victim.
Poor old king! Is anything that man has ever done
to the buffalo herd half as tragically pitiful as nature's
process of deposing a buffalo leader?
Catlin and Inman and every traveller familiar with
the great plains region between the Arkansas and Saskatchewan testify that the quick death of the buUet was,
indeed, the mercy stroke compared to nature's end of
her wild creatures. In Colonel Bedson's herd the
fighters were always parted before either was disabled; THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
but it was always at the sacrifice of two or three ponies'
In the park specimens of buffalo a curious deterioration is apparent. On Lord Strathcona's farm in
Manitoba, where the buffalo still have several hundred
acres of ranging-ground and are nearer to their wild
state than elsewhere, they still retain their leonine
splendour of strength in shoulders and head; but at
Banff only the older ones have this appearance, the
younger generation, like those of the various city parks,
gradually assuming more dwarfed proportions about
the shoulders, with a suggestion of a big, round-headed,
clumsy sheep.
Between the Arkansas and the Saskatchewan buffalo were always plentiful enough for an amateur's
hunt; but the trapper of the plains, to whom the hunt
meant food and clothing and a roof for the coming year,
favoured two seasons: (1) the end of June, when he
had brought in his packs to the fur post and the winter's trapping was over and the fort full of idle hunters
keen for the excitement of the chase; (2) in midwinter,
when that curious lull came over animal life, before
the autumn stores had been exhausted and before the
spring forage began.
In both seasons the buffalo-robes were prime: sleek
and glossy in June before the shedding of the fleece,
with the fur at its greatest length; fresh and clean and
thick in midwinter. But in midwinter the hunters
were scattered, the herds broken in small battalions,
the climate perilous for a lonely man who might be
tempted to track fleeing herds many miles from a
known course.   South of the Yellowstone the individual n
'm 'J'*'
hunter pursued the buffalo as he pursued deer—by still-
hunting; for though the buffalo was keen of scent, he
was dull of sight, except sideways on the level, and was
not easily disturbed by a noise as long as he did not see
its cause.
Behind the shelter of a mound and to leeward of
the herd the trapper might succeed in bringing down
what would be a creditable showing in a moose or
deer hunt; but the trapper was hunting buffalo for their
robes. Two or three robes were not enough from a
large herd; and before he could get more there was
likely to be a stampede. Decoy work was too slow for
the trapper who was buffalo-hunting. So was tracking on snow-shoes, the way the Indians hunted north
of the Yellowstone. A wounded buffalo at close range
was quite as vicious as a wounded grisly; and it did
not pay the trapper to risk his life getting a pelt for
which the trader would give him only four or five
dollars' worth of goods.
The Indians hunted buffalo by driving them over
a precipice where hunters were stationed on each side
below, or by luring the herd into a pound or pit by
means of an Indian decoy masking under a buffalo-hide.
But the precipice and pit destroyed too many hides; and
if the pound were a sort of cheval-de-frise or corral converging at the inner end, it required more hunters than
were ever together except at the incoming of the spring
When there were many hunters and countless buffalo, the white blood of the plains' trapper preferred
a fair fight in an open field—not the indiscriminate
carnage of the Indian hunt; so that the greatest buffalo-runs took place after the opening of spring.   The THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
greatest of these were on the Upper Missouri. This
was the Mandan country, where hunters of the Mackinaw- from Michilimackinac, of the Missouri from St.
Louis, of the Nor' Westers from Montreal, of the Hudson Bay from Fort Douglas (Winnipeg), used to congregate before the War of 1812, which barred out Canadian traders.
At a later date the famous, loud-screeching Bed
Biver ox-carts were used to transport supplies to the
scene of the hunt; but at the opening of the last century all hunters, whites, Indians, and squaws, rode to
field on cayuse ponies or broncos, with no more supplies than could be stowed away in a saddle-pack, and
no other escort than the old-fashioned muskets over
each white man's shoulder or attached to his holster.
The Indians were armed with bow and arrow only.
The course usually led north and westward, for the
reason that at this season the herds were on their great
migrations north, and the course of the rivers headed
them westward. From the first day out the hunter
best fitted for the captainship was recognised as leader,
and such discipline maintained as prevented unruly
spirits stampeding the buffalo before the cavalcade had
closed near enough for the wild rush.
At night the hunters slept under open sky with
horses picketed to saddles, saddles as pillows, and musket in hand. When the course led through the country
of hostiles, sentinels kept guard; but midnight usually
saw all hunters in the deep sleep of outdoor life, bare
faces upturned to the stars, a little tenuous stream of
uprising smoke where the camp-fire still glowed red,
and on the far, shadowy horizon, with the moonlit skyline meeting the billowing prairie in perfect circle, I
vague, whitish forms—the coyotes keeping watch,
stealthy and shunless as death.
The northward movement of the buffalo began with
the spring. Odd scattered herds might have roamed
the valleys in the winter; but as the grass grew deeper
and lush with spring rains, the reaches of the prairie
land became Hterally covered with the humpback, furry
forms of the roving herds. Indian legend ascribed
their coming directly to the spirits. The more prosaic
white man explained that the buffalo were only emerging from winter shelter, and their migration was a
search for fresh feeding-ground.
Be that as it may, northward they came, in straggling herds that covered the prairie like a flock of
locusts; in close-formed battalions, with leaders and
scouts and flank guards protecting the cows and the
young; in long lines, single file, leaving the ground,
soft from spring rains, marked with a rut like a ditch;
in a mad stampede at a lumbering gaUop that roared
like an ocean tide up hills and down steep ravines,
sure-footed as a mountain-goat, thrashing through the
swollen water-course of river and slough, up embankments with long beards and fringed dewlaps dripping
—on and on and on—tiH the tidal wave of life had
hulked over the sky-line beyond the heaving horizon.
Here and there in the brownish-black mass were white
and gray forms, light-coloured buffalo, freaks in the
animal world.
The age of the calves in each year's herd varied.
The writer remembers a sturdy little buffalo that arrived on the scene of this troublous life one freezing
night in January, with a howling blizzard and the thermometer at forty below—a combination that is suflS- THE BUFFALO-RUNNERS
cient to set the teeth of the most mendacious northerner
chattering. The young buffalo spent the first three
days of his life in this gale and was none the worse,
which seems to prove that climatic apology, 1 though
it is cold, you don't feel it." Another spindly-legged,
clumsy bundle of fawn and fur in the same herd counted its natal day from a sweltering afternoon in August.
Many signs told the buffalo-runners which way to
ride for the herd. There was the trail to the watering-
place. There were the salt-licks and the wallows and
the crushed grass where two young fellows had been
smashing each other's horns in a trial of strength.
There were the bones of the poor old deposed king,
picked clear by the coyotes, or, perhaps, the lonely outcast himself, standing at bay, feeble and frightened,
a picture of dumb woe! To such the hunter's shot
was a mercy stroke. Or, most interesting of all signs
and surest proof that the herd was near—a little bundle of fawn-coloured fur lying out flat as a door-mat
under hiding of sage-brush, or against a clay mound,
precisely the colour of its own hide.
Poke it! An ear blinks, or a big ox-like eye opens!
It is a buffalo calf left cached by the mother, who has
gone to the watering-place or is pasturing with the
drove. Lift it up! It is inert as a sack of wool. Let
it go! It drops to earth flat and lifeless as a doormat. The mother has told it how to escape the coyotes and wolverines; and the little rascal is § playing
dead." But if you fondle it and warm it—the Indians
say, breathe into its face—it forgets all about the
mother's warning and follows like a pup. W
At the first signs of the herd's proximity the squaws 78
parted from the cavalcade and all impedimenta remained behind. The best-equipped man was the man
with the best horse, a horse that picked out the largest
buffalo from one touch of. the rider's hand or foot, that
galloped swift as wind in pursuit, that jerked to a stop
directly opposite the brute's shoulders and leaped from
the sideward sweep of the charging horns. No sound
came from the hunters till all were within close range.
Then the captain gave the signal, dropped a flag, waved
his hand, or fired a shot, and the hunters charged.
Arrows whistled through the air, shots clattered
with the fusillade of artillery volleys. BuUets fell to
earth with the dull ping of an aim glanced aside by the
adamant head bones or the heaving shoulder fur of the
buffalo. The Indians shouted their war-cry of " Ah—
oh, ah—oh!" Here and there French voices screamed
S Voila! Les bceufs! Les bceufs! Sacre! Tonnerre!
Tir—tir—tir—done! By Gar!" And Missouri traders called out plain and less picturesque but more
forcible English. %
Sometimes the suddenness of the attack dazed the
herd; but the second volley with the smell of powder
and smoke and men started the stampede. Then followed such a wild rush as is unknown in the annals
of any other kind of hunting, up hills, down embankments, over cliffs, through sloughs, across rivers, hard
and fast and far as horses had strength to carry riders
in a boundless land!
Biders were unseated and went down in the melee;
horses caught on the horns of charging bulls and ripped
from shoulder to flank; men thrown high in mid-air to
alight on the back of a buffalo; Indians with dexterous
aim bringing down the great brutes with one arrow; un-
wary hunters trampled to death under a multitude of
hoofs; wounded buffalo turning with fury on their
assailants till the pursuer became pursued and only the
fleetness of the pony saved the hunter's life.
A retired officer of the North-West mounted police,
who took part in a Missouri buffalo-run forty years ago,
described the impression at the time as of an earthquake. The galloping horses, the rocking mass of fleeing buffalo, the rumbling and quaking of the ground
under the thunderous pounding, were all like a violent
earthquake. The same gentleman tells how he once
saw a wounded buffalo turn on an Indian hunter. The
man's horse took fright. Instead of darting sideways
to give him a chance to send a last finishing shot home,
the horse became wildly unmanageable and fled. The
buffalo pursued. Off they raced, rider and buffalo, the
Indian craning over his horse's neck, the horse blown
and fagged and unable to gain one pace ahead of the
buffalo, the great beast covered with foam, his eyes
like fire, pounding and pounding—closer and closer to
the horse till rider and buffalo disappeared over the
I To this day I have wondered what became of that
Indian," said the officer, j for the horse was losing and
the buffalo gaining when they went over the bluff."
The incident illustrates a trait seldom found in wild
animals—a persistent vindictiveness.
In a word, buffalo-hunting was not all boys' play.
After the hunt came the gathering of skins and
meat. The tongue was first taken as a delicacy for the
great feast that celebrated every buffalo-hunt. To this
was sometimes added the fleece fat or hump. White
hunters have been accused of waste, because they used if
only the skin, tongue, and hump of the buffalo. But
what the white hunter left the Indian took, making
pemmican by pounding the meat with tallow, drying
thinly-shaved slices into " jerked " meat, getting thread
from the buffalo sinews and implements of the chase
from the bones.
The gathering of the spoils was not the least dangerous part of the buffalo-hunt. Many an apparently
lifeless buffalo has lunged up in a death-throe that has
cost the hunter dear. The mounted police officer of
whom mention has been made was once camping with
a patrol party along the international line between
Idaho and Canada. Among the hunting stories told
over the camp-fire was that of the Indian pursued by
the wounded buffalo. Scarcely had the colonel finished
his anecdote when a great hulking buffalo rose to the
crest of a hillock not a gunshot away.
| Come on, men! Let us all have a shot," cried the
colonel, grasping his rifle.
The buffalo dropped at the first rifle-crack, and the
men scrambled pell-mell up the hill to see whose bullet
had struck vital. Just as they stooped over the fallen
buffalo it lunged up with an angry snort.
The story of the pursued Indian was still fresh in
all minds. The colonel is the only man of the party
honest enough to tell what happened next. He declares if breath had not given out every man would have
run till he dropped over the horizon, like the Indian and
the buffalo.
And when they plucked up courage to go back, the
buffalo was dead as a stone. CHAPTEB VIII
It was in the Bocky Mountains that American trapping attained its climax of heroism and dauntless daring and knavery that out-herods comparison.
The War of 1812 had demoralized the American fur
trade. Indians from both sides of the international
boundary committed every depredation, and evaded
punishment by scampering across the line to the protection of another flag. Alexander MacKenzie of the
North-West Company had been the first of the Canadian
traders to cross the Bockies, reaching the Pacific in
1793. The result was that in less than fifteen years
the fur posts of the North-West and Hudson's Bay
Companies were dotted like beads on a rosary down
the course of the mountain rivers to the boundary. Of
the American traders, the first to follow up Lewis and
Clark's lead from the Missouri to the Columbia were
Manuel Lisa the Spaniard and Major Andrew Henry,
the two leading spirits of the Missouri Company. John
Jacob Astor sent his Astorians of the Pacific Company
across the continent in 1811, and a host of St. Louis
firms had prepared to send free trappers to the mountains when the war broke out. The end of the war saw
Astoria captured by the Nor' Westers, the Astorians
scattered to all parts of the world, Lisa driven down
7 81 82
the Missouri to Council Bluffs, Andrew Henry a fugitive from the Blackfeet of the Yellowstone, and aU the
free trappers like an idle army waiting for a captain.
Their captain came.
Mr. Astor's influence secured the passage of a law
barring out British fur traders from the United States.
That threw all the old Hudson's Bay and North-West
posts south of the boundary into the hands of Mr.
Astor's American Fur Company. He had already
bought out the American part of the Mackinaw Company's posts, stretching west from Michilimackinac
beyond the Mississippi towards the head waters of the
Missouri. And now to his force came a tremendous
accession—all those dissatisfied Nor' Westers thrown
out of employment when their company amalgamated
with the Hudson's Bay.
If Mr. Astor alone had held the American fur trade,
there would have been none of that rivalry which ended
in so much bloodshed. But St. Louis, lying like a
gateway to the mountain trade, had always been jealous
of those fur traders with headquarters in New York.
Lisa had refused to join Mr. Astor's Pacific Company,
and doubtless the Spaniard chuckled over his own wisdom when that venture failed with a loss of nearly half
a million to its founder. When Lisa died the St. Louis
traders still held back from the American Fur Company. Henry and Ashley and the Sublettes and Campbell and Fitzpatrick and Bridger—-subsequently known
as the Bocky Mountain traders—swept up the Missouri with brigades of one hundred, two hundred, and
three hundred men, and were overrunning the mountains five years before the American Company's slowly
extending line of forts had reached as far west as the THE MOUNTAINEERS
Yellowstone. A clash was bound to ensue when these
two sets of rivals met on a hunting-field which the
Bocky Mountain men regarded as pre-empted by themselves.
The clash came from the peculiarities of the hunting-ground.
It was two thousand miles by trappers' trail from
the reach of law. It was too remote from the fur posts
for trappers to go down annually for supplies. Supplies were sent up by the fur companies to a mountain
rendezvous, to Pierre's Hole under the Tetons, or Jackson's Hole farther east, or Ogden's Hole at Salt Lake,
sheltered valleys with plenty of water for men and
horses when hunters and traders and Indians met at
the annual camp.
Elsewhere the hunter had only to follow the windings of a river to be carried to his hunting-ground.
Here, streams were too turbulent for canoes; and boats
were abandoned for horses; and mountain canons with
sides sheer as a wall drove the trapper back from the
river-bed to interminable forests, where windfall and
underbrush and rockslide obstructed every foot of progress. The valley might be shut in by a blind wall
which cooped the hunter up where was neither game nor
food. Out of this valley, then, he must find a way for
himself and his horses, noting every peak so that he
might know this region again, noting especially the
peaks with the black rock walls; for where the rock
is black snow has not clung, and the mountain face will
not change; and where snow cannot stick, a man cannot climb; and the peak is a good one for the trapper
to shun. n
One, two, three seasons have often slipped away be- 84:
fore the mountaineers found good hunting-ground.
Ten years is a short enough time to learn the lie of the
land in even a small section of mountains. It was
twenty years from the time Lewis and Clark first
crossed the mountains before the traders of St. Louis
could be sure that the trappers sent into the Bockies
would find their way out. Seventy lives were lost in
the first two years of mountain trapping, some at the
hands of the hostile Blackfeet guarding the entrance
to the mountains at the head waters of the Missouri,
some at the hands of the Snakes on the Upper Columbia,
others between the Platte and Salt Lake. Time and
money and life it cost to learn the hunting-grounds of
the Bockies; and the mountaineers would not see
knowledge won at such a cost wrested away by a spying rival.
Then, too, the mountains had bred a new type of
trapper, a new style of trapping.
Only the most daring hunters would sign contracts
for the " Up-Country," or Pays d'en Haut as the
French called it. The French trappers, for the most
part, kept to the river valleys and plains; and if one
went to the mountains for a term of years, when he
came out he was no longer the smug, indolent, laughing,
chattering voyageur. The great silences of a life hard
as the iron age had worked a change. To begin with,
the man had become a horseman, a climber, a scout, a
fighter of Indians and elements, lank and thin and
lithe, silent and dogged and relentless.
In other regions hunters could go out safely in
pairs or even alone, carrying supplies enough for the
season in a canoe, and drifting down-stream with a THE MOUNTAINEERS
canoe-load of pelts to the fur post. But the mountains
were so distant and inaccessible, great quantities of
supplies had to be taken. That meant long cavalcades
of pack-horses, which Blackfeet were ever on the alert
to stampede. Armed guards had to accompany the
pack-train. Out of a party of a hundred trappers sent
to the mountains by the Bock Mountain Company,
thirty were always crack rifle-shots for the protection
of the company's property. One such party, properly
officered and kept from crossing the animal's tracks,
might not drive game from a valley. Two such bands
of rival traders keen to pilfer each other's traps would
result in ruin to both.
That is the way the clash came in the early thirties
of the last century.
All winter bands of Bocky Mountain trappers under
Fitzpatrick and Bridger and Sublette had been sweeping, two hundred strong, like foraging bandits, from
the head waters of the Missouri, where was one mountain pass to the head waters of the Platte, where was
a second pass much used by the mountaineers. Summer came with the heat that wakens all the mountain
silences to a roar of rampant life. Summer came with
the fresh-loosened rocks clattering down the mountain
slopes in a landslide, and the avalanches booming over
the precipices in a Niagara of snow, and the swollen
torrents shouting to each other in a thousand voices
till the valleys vibrated to that grandest of all music
—the voice of many waters. Summer came with
the heat that drives the game up to the cool heights
of the wind-swept peaks; and the hunters of the
game   began   retracing   their   way   from   valley   to T
1  r
valley, gathering the furs cached during the winter
Then the cavalcade set out for the rendezvous: grizzled men in tattered buckskins, with long hair and unkempt beards and bronzed skin, men who rode as if
they were part of the saddle, easy and careless but
always with eyes alert and one hand near the thing in
their holsters; long lines of pack-horses laden with
furs climbing the mountains in a zigzag trail like a
spiral stair, crawling along the face of cliffs barely wide
enough to give a horse footing, skirting the sky-line
between lofty peaks in order to avoid the detour round
the broadened bases, frequently swimming raging torrents whose force carried them half a mile off their
trail; always following the long slopes, for the long
slopes were most easily climbed; seldom following a
water-course, for mountain torrents take short cuts
over precipices; packers scattering to right and left at
the fording-places, to be rounded back by the collie-dog
and the shouting drivers, and the old bell-mare darting
after the bolters with her ears laid flat.
Not a sign by the way escaped the mountaineer's
eye. Here the tumbling torrent is clear and sparkling
and cold as champagne. He knows that stream comes
from snow. A glacial stream would be milky blue or
milky green from glacial silts; and while game seeks
the cool heights in summer, the animals prefer the
snow-line and avoid the chiU of the iced masses in a
glacier. There will be game coming down from the
source of that stream when he passes back this way in
the fall. Ah! what is that little indurated line running up the side of the cliff—just a displacement of the
rock chips here, a hardening of the earth that winds THE MOUNTAINEERS
in and out among the devil's-club and painter's-brush
and mountain laurel and rock crop and heather?'
f| Something has been going up and down here to
a drinking-place," says the mountaineer.
Punky yellow logs lie ripped open and scratched
where bruin has been enjoying a dainty morsel of
ants' eggs; but the bear did not make that track. It is
too dainty, and has been used too regularly. Neither
has the bighorn made it; for the mountain-sheep seldom stay longer above tree-line, resting in the high,
meadowed Alpine valleys with the long grasses and
sunny reaches and larch shade.
Presently the belled leader tinkles her way round
an elbow of rock where a stream trickles down. This
is the drinking-place. In the soft mould is a little
cleft footprint like the ace of hearts, the trail of the
mountain-goat feeding far up at the snow-line where
the stream rises.
Then the little cleft mark unlocks a world of hunter's yarns: how at such a ledge, where the cataract
falls like wind-blown mist, one trapper saw a mother
goat teaching her little kid to take the leap, and how
when she scented human presence she went jump—
jump—jump—up and up and up the rock wall, where
the man could not follow, bleating and calling the
kid; and how the kid leaped and fell back and leaped,
and cried as pitifully as a child, till the man, having
no canned milk to bring it up, out of very sympathy
went away.
Then another tells how he tried to shoot a goat
running up a gulch, but as fast as he sighted his rifle
—"drew the bead"—the thing jumped from side to
side* criss-crossing up the gulch till she got above dan- ww   1!
ger and away. And some taciturn oracle comes out
with the dictum that | men hadn't ought to try to shoot
goat except from above or in front."
Every pack-horse of the mountains knows the trick
of planting legs like stanchions and blowing his sides
out in a balloon when the men are tightening cinches.
No matter how tight girths may be, before every climb
and at the foot of every slope there must be re-tightening. And at every stop the horses come shouldering
up for the packs to be righted, or try to scrape the
things off under some low-branched tree.
Night falls swiftly in the mountains, the long,
peaked shadows etching themselves across the valleys.
Shafts of sunlight slant through the mountain gaps
gold against the endless reaches of matted forest, red
as wine across the snowy heights. With the purpling
shadows comes a sudden chill, silencing the roar of
mountain torrents to an all-pervading ceaseless prolonged h—u—s—h—-!
Mountaineers take no chances on the ledges after
dark. It is dangerous enough work to skirt narrow
precipices in daylight; and sunset is often followed by
a thick mist rolling across the heights in billows of fog.
These are the clouds that one sees across the peaks at
nightfall like banners. How does it feel benighted
among those clouds ?
A few years ago I was saving a long detour round
the base of a mountain by riding along the saddle of
rock between two peaks. The sky-line rounded the
convex edge of a sheer precipice for three miles. Midway the inner wall rose straight, the outer edge above
blackness—seven thousand feet the mountaineer guiding us said it was, though I think it was nearer THE MOUNTAINEERS
five. The guide's horse displaced a stone the size of
a pail from the path. If a man had slipped in the
same way he would have fallen to the depths; but
when one foot slips, a horse has three others to regain
himself; and with a rear-end flounder the horse
got his footing. But down—down—down went the
stone, bouncing and knocking and echoing as it struck
against the precipice wall—down—down—down till it
was no larger than a spool—then out of sight—and
silence! The mountaineer looked back over his
"Always throw both your feet over the saddle to
the inner side of the trail in a place like this," he directed, with a curious meaning in his words.
I What do you do when the clouds catch you on this
sort of a ledge?"
I Get off—knock ahead with your rifle to feel where
the edge is—throw bits of rock through the fog so you
can tell where you are by the sound."
I And when no sound comes back ? |
" Sit still," said he. Then to add emphasis, | You
bet you sit still! People can say what they like, but
when no sound comes back, or when the sound's muffled as if it came from water below, you bet it gives
you chills!"
So the mountaineers take no chances on the ledges
after dark. The moon riding among the peaks rises
over pack-horses standing hobbled on the lee side of a
roaring camp-fire that will drive the sand-flies and
mosquitoes away, on pelts and saddle-trees piled carefully together, on men sleeping with no pillow but a
pack, no covering but the sky.
If a sharp crash breaks the awful stillness of a T
mountain night, the trapper is unalarmed. He knows
it is only some great rock loosened by the day's thaw
rolling down with a landslide. If a shrill, fiendish
laugh shrieks through the dark, he pays no heed. It
is only the cougar prowling cattishly through the underbrush perhaps still-hunting the hunter. The lonely call
overhead is not the prairie-hawk, but the eagle lilting
and wheeling in a sort of dreary enjoyment of utter
Long before the sunrise has drawn the tented shadows across the vaUey the mountaineers are astir, with
the pack-horses snatching mouthfuls of bunch-grass
as they travel off in a way that sets the old leader's bell
The mountaineers usually left their hunting-
grounds early in May. They seldom reached their
rendezvous before July or August. Three months
travelling a thousand miles! Three hundred miles a
month! Ten miles a day! It is not a record that shows
well beside our modern sixty miles an hour—a thousand
miles a day. And yet it is a better record; for if our
latter-day fliers had to build the road as they went
along, they would make slower time than the mountaineers of a century ago.
Bivers too swift to swim were rafted on pine logs,
cut and braced together while the cavalcade waited.
Muskegs where the industrious little beaver had flooded a valley by damming up the central stream often
mired the horses till all hands were called to haul out
the unfortunate; and where the mire was very treacherous and the surrounding mountains too steep for
foothold, choppers went to work and corduroyed a trail
across, throwing the logs on branches that kept them THE MOUNTAINEERS
afloat, and overlaying with moss to save the horses'
But the greatest cause of delay was the windfall,
pines and spruce of enormous girth pitched down by
landslide and storm into an impassable cheval-de-frise.
Turn to the right! . A matted tangle of underbrush
higher than the horses' head bars the way! Turn to
the left! A muskeg where horses sink through quaking
moss to saddle-girths! If the horses could not be
driven around the barrier, the mountaineers would try
to force a high jump. The high jump failing except
at risk of broken legs, there was nothing to do but
chop a passage through.
And were the men carving a way through the wilderness only the bushwhackers who have pioneered
other forest lands? Of the prominent men leading
mountaineers in 1831, Vanderburgh of the American
Fur Company was a son of a Fifth New York Begi-
ment officer in the Bevolutionary War, and himself a
graduate of West Point. One of the Bocky Mountain
leaders was a graduate from a blacksmith-shop. Another leader was a descendant of the royal blood of
France. All grades of life supplied material for the
mountaineer; but it was the mountains that bred the
heroism, that created a new type of trapper—the most
purely American type, because produced by purely
American conditions.
Green River was the rendezvous for the mountaineers in 1831; and to Green Biver came trappers of the
Columbia, of the Three Forks, of the Missouri, of the
Bighorn and Yellowstone and Platte. From St. Louis
came the traders to exchange supplies for pelts; and
from every habitable valley of the mountains native 92>
tribes to barter furs, sell horses for transport, carouse
at the merry meeting and spy on what the white hunters were doing. For a month all was the confusion
of a gipsy camp or Oriental fair.
French-Canadian voyageurs who had come up to
raft the season's cargo down-stream to St. Louis jostled
shoulders with mountaineers from the Spanish settlements to the south and American trappers from the
Columbia to the north and free trappers who had
ranged every forest of America from Labrador to Mexico.* Merchants from St. Louis, like General Ashley,
the foremost leader of Bocky Mountain trappers, descendants from Scottish nobility like Kenneth Mac-
Kenzie of Fort Union, miscellaneous gentlemen of adventure like Captain Bonneville, or Wyeth of Boston,
or Baron Stuart—all with retinues of followers like
mediasval lords—found themselves hobnobbing at the
rendezvous with mighty Indian sachems, Crows or
Pend d'Oreilles or Flat Heads, clad in little else than
moccasins> a buffalo-skin blanket, and a pompous
Among the underlings was a time of wild revel,
drinking daylight out and daylight in, decking themselves in tawdry finery for the one dress occasion of the
year, and gambling sober or drunk till all the season's
earnings, pelts and clothing and horses and traps, were
The partners—as the Rocky Mountain men called
themselves in distinction to the bourgeois of the French,
the factors of the Hudson's Bay, the partisans of the
* This is no exaggeration. Smith's trappers, who were scattered from Fort Vancouver to Monterey, the Astorians, Major
Andrew Henry's party—had all been such wide-ranging foresters. THE MOUNTAINEERS
American Fur Company—held confabs over crumpled
maps, planning the next season's hunt, drawing in
roughly the fresh information brought down each year
of new regions, and plotting out all sections of the
mountains for the different brigades.
This year a new set of faces appeared at the rendezvous, from thirty to fifty men with full quota of
saddle-horses, pack-mules, and traps. On the traps
were letters that afterward became magical in all the
Up-Country—A. F. C.—American Fur Company.
Leading these men were Vanderburgh, who had already
become a successful trader among the Aricaras and
had to his credit one victory over the Blackfeet; and
Drips, who had been a member of the old Missouri Fur
Company and knew the Upper Platte well. But the
Bocky Mountain men, who knew the cost of life and
time and money it had taken to learn the hunting-
grounds of the Bockies, doubtless smiled at these ten-
derfeet who thought to trap as successfully in the hills
as they had on the plains.
Two things counselled caution. Vanderburgh
would stop at nothing. Drips had married a native
woman of the Platte, whose tribe might know the
hunting-grounds as well as the mountaineers. Hunters
fraternize in friendship at holidaying; but they no more
tell each other secrets than rival editors at a banquet.
Mountaineers knowing the field like Bridger who had
been to the Columbia with Henry as early as 1822 and
had swept over the ranges as far south as the Platte,
or Fitzpatriek* who had made the Salt Lake region
* Fitzpatriek was late in reaching the hunting-ground this
year, owing to a disaster with Smith on the way back from
Santa Fe.
P 94:
his stamping-ground, might smile at the newcomers;
but they took good care to give their rivals the slip
when hunters left the rendezvous for the hills.
When the mountaineers scattered, Fitzpatriek led
his brigade to the region between the Black Hills on
the east and the Bighorn Mountains on the west. The
first snowfall was powdering the hills. Beaver were
beginning to house up for the winter. Big game was
moving down to the valley. The hunters had pitched a
central camp on the banks of Powder Biver, gathered
in the supply of winter meat, and dispersed in pairs
to trap all through the valley.
But forest rangers like Vanderburgh and Drips
were not to be so easily foiled. Every axe-mark on
windfall, every camp-fire, every footprint in the spongy
mould, told which way the mountaineers had gone.
Fitzpatrick's hunters wakened one morning to find
traps marked A. F. C. beside their own in the valley.
The trick was too plain to be misunderstood. The
American Fur Company might not know the hunting-
grounds of the Bockies, but they were deliberately dogging the mountaineers to their secret retreats.
Armed conflict would only bring ruin in lawsuits.
Gathering his hunters together under cover of
snowfall or night, Fitzpatriek broke camp, slipped
stealthily^ out of the valley, over the Bighorn range,
across the Bighorn Biver, now almost impassable in
winter, into the pathless foldings of the Wind Biver
Mountains, with their rampart walls and endless snow-
fields, westward to Snake Biver Valley, three hundred
miles away from the spies. Instead of trapping from
east to west, as he had intended to do so that the return to the rendezvous would lead past the caches, THE MOUNTAINEERS
Fitzpatriek thought to baffle the spies by trapping from
west to east.
Having wintered on the Snake, he moved gradually
up-stream. Crossing southward over a divide, they unexpectedly came on the very rivals whom they were
avoiding, Vanderburgh and Drips, evidently working
northward on the mountaineers' trail. By a quick
reverse they swept back north in time for the summer
rendezvous at Pierre's Hole.
Who had told Vanderburgh and Drips that the
mountaineers were to meet at Pierre's Hole in 1832?
Possibly Indians and fur trappers who had been notified
to come down to Pierre's Hole by the Bocky Mountain
men; possibly, too, paid spies in the employment of the
American Fur Company.
Before supplies had come up from St. Louis for
the mountaineers Vanderburgh and Drips were at the
rendezvous. Neither of the rivals could flee away to
the mountains till the supplies came. Could the mountaineers but get away first, Vanderburgh and Drips
could no longer dog a fresh trail. Fitzpatriek at once
set out with all speed to hasten the coming convoy.
Four hundred miles eastward he met the supplies, explained the need to hasten provisions, and with one
swift horse under him and another swift one as a relay,
galloped back to the rendezvous.
But the Blackfeet were ever on guard at the mountain passes like cats at a mouse-hole. Fitzpatriek had
ridden into a band of hostiles before he knew the
danger. Vaulting to the saddle of the fresh horse, he
fled to the hills, where he lay concealed for three days.
Then he ventured out. The Indians, still guarded the
passes.   They must have come upon him at a night 96
camp when his horse was picketed, for Fitzpatriek escaped to the defiles of the mountains with nothing but
the clothes on his back and a single ball in his rifle. By
creeping from shelter to shelter of rugged declivities
where the Indian ponies could not follow, he at last
got across the divide, living wholly on roots and berries.
Swimming one of the swollen mountain rivers, he lost
his rifle. Hatless—for his hat had been cut up to bind
his bleeding feet and protect them from the rocks—
and starving, he at last fell in with some Iroquois
hunters also bound for the rendezvous.
The convoy under Sublette had already arrived at
Pierre's Hole.
The famous battle between white men and hostile
Blackfeet at Pierre's Hole, which is told elsewhere,
does not concern the story of rivalry between mountaineers and the American Fur Company. The Bocky
Mountain men now realized that the magical A. F. C.
was a rival to be feared and not to be lightly shaken.
Some overtures were made by the mountaineers for an
equal division of the hunting-ground between the two
great companies. These Vanderburgh and Drips rejected with the scorn of utter confidence. Meanwhile
provisions had not come for the American Fur Company. The mountaineers not only captured all trade
with the friendly Indians, but in spite of the delay
from the fight with the Blackfeet got away to their
hunting-grounds two weeks in advance of the American
What the Bocky Mountain men decided when the
American Company rejected the offer to divide the
hunting-ground can only be inferred from what was
Vanderburgh and Drips knew that Fitzpatriek and
Bridger had led a picked body of horsemen northward
from Pierre's Hole.
If the mountaineers had gone east of the lofty
Tetons, their hunting-ground would be somewhere between the YeUowstone and the Bighorn. If they had
gone south, one could guess they would round up somewhere about Salt Lake where the Hudson's Bay * had
been so often " relieved " of their furs by the mountaineers. If they had gone west, their destination must be
on the Columbia or the Snake. If they went north>
they would trap on the Three Forks of the Upper Mis*
Therefore Vanderburgh and Drips cached all impedimenta that might hamper swift marching, smiled
to themselves, and headed their horses for the Three
Forks of the Missouri.
There were Blackfeet, to be sure, in that region;
and Blackfeet hated Vanderburgh with deadly venom
because he had once defeated them and slain a great
warrior. Also, the Blackfeet were smarting from the
fearful losses of Pierre's Hole.
But if the Bocky Mountain men could go unscathed
among the Blackfeet, why, so could the American Fur
And Vanderburgh and Drips went!
Bival traders might not commit murder. That led
to the fearful ruin of the lawsuits that overtook Not'
* By law the Hudson's Bay had no right in this region from
the passing of the act forbidding British traders in the United
States. But, then, no man had a right to steal half a million of
another's furs, which was the record of the Rocky Mountain
8 98
Westers and Hudson's Bay in Canada only fifteen years
But the mountaineers knew that the Blackfeet
hated Henry Vanderburgh I
Corduroyed muskeg where the mountaineers' long
file of pack-horses had passed, fresh-chopped logs to
make a way through blockades of fallen pine, the green
moss that hangs festooned among the spruce at cloud-
line broken and swinging free as if a rider had passed
that way, grazed bark where the pack-saddle had
brushed a tree-trunk, muddy hoof-marks where the
young packers had balked at fording an icy stream,
scratchings on rotten logs where a mountaineer's pegged
boot had stepped—all these told which way Fitzpatriek
and Bridger had led their brigade.
Oh, it was an easy matter to scent so hot a trail!
Here the ashes of a camp-fire! There a pile of rock
placed a deal too carefuBy for nature's work—the
cached furs of the fleeing rivals! Besides, what with
canon and whirlpool, there are so very few ways by
which a cavalcade can pass through mountains that the
simplest novice could have trailed Fitzpatriek and
Doubtless between the middle of August when Vanderburgh and Drips set out on the chase and the middle
of September when they ran down the fugitives the
American Fur Company leaders had many a laugh at
their own cleverness.
They succeeded in overtaking the mountaineers in
the valley of the Jefferson, splendid hunting-grounds
with game enough for two lines of traps, which Vanderburgh and Drips at once set out. "No swift flight
by forced marches this time!   The mountaineers sat THE MOUNTAINEERS
still for almost a week. Then they casually moved
down the Jefferson towards the main Missouri.
The hunting-ground was still good.* Weren't the
mountaineers leaving a trifle too soon? Should the
Americans follow or stay? Vanderburgh remained,
moving over into the adjacent valley and spreading his
traps along the Madison. Drips followed the mountaineers.
Two weeks' chase over utterly gameless ground
probably suggested to Drips that even an animal will
lead off on a false scent to draw the enemy away from
the true trail. At the Missouri he turned back up the
Wheeling right about, the mountaineers at once
turned back too, up the farthest valley, the Gallatin,
then on the way to the first hunting-ground westward
over a divide to the Madison, where—ill luck!—they
again met their ubiquitous rival, Vanderburgh!
How Vanderburgh laughed at these antics one may
Post-haste up the Madison went the mountaineers!
Should Vanderburgh stay or follow ? Certainly the
enemy had been bound back for the good hunting-
grounds when they had turned to retrace their way up
the Madison. If they meant to try the Jefferson, Vanderburgh would forestall the move. He crossed over
to the valley where he had first found them.
Sure enough there were camp-fires on the old hunting-grounds, a dead buffalo, from which the hunters
had just fled to avoid Vanderburgh! If Vanderburgh
laughed, his laugh was short; for there were signs that
the buffalo had been slain by an Indian.
The trappers refused to hunt when there were 100
Blackfeet about. Vanderburgh refused to believe there
was any danger of Blackfeet. Calling for volunteers,
he rode forward with six men.
First they found a fire. The marauders must be
very near. Then a dead buffalo was seen, then fresh
tracks, unmistakably the tracks of Indians. But buffalo were pasturing aU around undisturbed. There
could not be many Indians.
Determined to quiet the fears of his men, Vanderburgh pushed on, entered a heavily wooded gulch,
paused at the steep bank of a dried torrent, descried
nothing, and jumped his horse across the bank, followed by the six volunteers.
Instantly the valley rang with rifle-shots. A hundred hostiles sprang from ambush. Vanderburgh's
horse went down. Three others cleared the ditch at a
bound and fled; but Vanderburgh was to his feet, aim*
ing his gun, and coolly caUing out: " Don't run! Don't
run! % Two men sent their horses back over the ditch
to his caU, a third was thrown to be slain on the spot,
and Vanderburgh's first shot had killed the nearest Indian, when another voUey from the Blackfeet exacted
deadly vengeance for the warrior Vanderburgh had
slain years before.
Panic-stricken riders carried the news to the waiting brigade. Refuge was taken in the woods, where sentinels kept guard all night. The next morning, with
scouts to the fore, the brigade retreated cautiously
towards some of their caches. A second night was
passed behind barriers of logs; and the third day a
band of friendly Indians was encountered, who were
sent to bury the dead.
The Frenchman they buried.    Vanderburgh had THE MOUNTAINEERS
been torn to pieces and his bones thrown into the
So ended the merry game of spying on the mountaineers.
As for the mountaineers, they feU into the meshes
of their own snares; for on the way to Snake River,
when parleying with friendly Blackfeet, the accidental
discharge of Bridger's gun brought a volley of arrows
from the Indians, one hooked barb lodging in Bridger's
shoulder-blade, which he carried around for three years
as a memento of his own trickery.
Fitzpatriek fared as badly. Instigated by the American Fur Company, the Crows attacked him within a
year, stealing everything that he possessed. IF!
J; ;;;'   paet n    • ...f.'...
"   T' '   CHAPTER IX
All summer long he had hung about the fur company trading-posts waiting for the signs.
And now the signs had come.
Foliage crimson to the touch of night-frosts. Crisp
autumn days, spicy with the smell of nuts and dead
leaves. Birds flying away southward, leaving the woods
silent as the snow-padded surface of a frozen pond.
Hoar-frost heavier every morning; and thin ice edged
round stagnant pools like layers of mica.
Then he knew it was time to go. And through the
Northern forests moved a new presence—the trapper.
Of the tawdry, flash clothing in which popular fancy
is wont to dress him he has none. Bright colours would
be a danger-signal to game. If his costume has any
colour, it is a waist-belt or neck-scarf, a toque or bright
handkerchief round his head to keep distant hunters
from mistaking him for a moose. For the rest, his
clothes are as ragged as any old, weather-worn garments. Sleeping on balsam boughs or cooking over a
smoky fire wiU reduce the newness of blanket coat and
buckskin jacket to the dun shades of the grizzled forest.
A few days in the. open and the trapper has the complexion of a bronzed tree-trunk.
Like other wild creatures, this foster-child of the
forest gradually takes on the appearance and habits of
woodland life. Nature protects the ermine by turning his russet coat of the grass season to spotless white
for midwinter—except the jet tail-tip left to lure hungry enemies and thus, perhaps, to prevent the little
stoat degenerating into a sloth. And the forest looks
after her foster-child by transforming the smartest suit
that ever stepped out of the clothier's bandbox to the
dull tints of winter woods.
This is the seasoning of the man for the work.
But the trapper's training does not stop here.
When the birds have gone south the silence of a
winter forest on a windless day becomes tense enough
to be snapped by either a man's breathing or the breaking of a small twig; and the trapper acquires a habit of
moving through the brush with noiseless stealth. He
must learn to see better than the caribou can hear or
the wolf smeU—which means that in keenness and accuracy his sight outdistances the average field-glass.
Besides, the trapper has learned how to look, how to
see, and seeing—discern; which the average man cannot do even through a field-glass. Then animals have
a trick of deceiving the enemy into mistaking them for
inanimate things by suddenly standing stock-still in
closest peril, unflinching as stone; and to match himself against them the trapper must also get the knack
of instantaneously becoming a statue, though he feel
the clutch of bruin's five-inch claws.
And these things are only the a b c of the trapper's
One of the best hunters in America confessed that
the longer he trapped the more he thought every animal 104:
different enough from the feUows of its kind to be a
species by itself. Each day was a fresh page in the book
of forest-lore.
It is in the month of May-goosey-geezee, the Ojib-
ways' trout month, corresponding to the late October
and early November of the white man, that the trapper
sets out through the illimitable stretches of the forest
land and waste prairie south of Hudson Bay, between
Labrador and the Upper Missouri.
His birch canoe has been made during the summer.
Now, splits and seams, where the bark crinkles at the
gunwale, must be filled with rosin and pitch. A light
sled, with only runners and cross frame, is made to
haul the canoe over still water, where the ice first
forms. Sled, provisions, blanket, and fish-net are put
in the canoe, not forgetting the most important part
of his kit—the trapper's tools. Whether he hunts from
point to point all winter, travelling light and taking
nothing but absolute necessaries, or builds a central
lodge, where he leaves fuU store and radiates out to the
hunting-grounds, at least four things must be in his
tool-bag: a woodman's axe; a gimlet to bore holea in
his snow-shoe frame; a crooked knife—not the sheathed
dagger of fiction, but a blade crooked hook-shape,
somewhat like a farrier's knife, at one end—to smooth
without splintering, as a carpenter's plane; and a small
chisel to use on the snow-shoe frames and wooden contrivances that stretch the pelts.
If accompanied by a boy, who carries half the pack,
the hunter may take more tools; but the old trapper
prefers to travel light. Fire-arms, ammunition, a common hunting-knife, steel-traps, a cotton-factory tepee,
a large sheet of canvas, locaUy known as abuckwan, for THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER
a shed tent, complete the trapper's equipment. His
dog is not part of the equipment: it is fellow-hunter
and companion.
From the moose must come the heavy filling for the
snow-shoes; but the snow-shoes will not be needed for
a month, and there is no haste about shooting an un-
found moose while mink and musk-rat and otter and
beaver are waiting to be trapped. With the dog showing his wisdom by sitting motionless as an Indian
bowman, the trapper steps into his canoe and pushes
Eye and ear alert for sign of game or feeding-
place, where traps would be effective, the man paddles
silently on. If he travels after nightfall, the chances
are his craft will steal unawares close to a black head
above a swimming body. With both wind and current
meeting the canoe, no suspicion of his presence catches
the scent of the sharp-nosed swimmer. Otter or beaver,
it is shot from the canoe. With a leap over bow or
stern—over his master's shoulder if necessary, but
never sideways, lest the rebound cause an upset—the
dog brings back his quarry. But this is only an aside,
the hap-hazard shot of an amateur hunter, not the sort
of trapping that fills the company's lofts with fur
While ranging the forest the former season the
trapper picked out a large birch-tree, free of knots and
underbranching, with the full girth to make the body
of a canoe from gunwale to gunwale without any gussets and seams. But birch-bark does not peel well in
winter. The trapper scratched the trunk with a mark
of "first-finder-first-owner," honoured by all hunters;
and came back in the summer for the bark. w
Perhaps it was while taking the bark from this tree
that he first noticed the traces of beaver. Channels,
broader than runnels, hardly as wide as a ditch, have
been cut connecting pool with pool, marsh with lake.
Here are runways through the grass, where beaver have
dragged young saplings five times their own length
to a winter storehouse near the dam. Trees lie felled
miles away from any chopper. Chips are scattered
about marked by teeth which the trapper knows—
knows, perhaps, from having seen his dog's tail taken
off at a nip, or his own finger amputated almost before
he felt it. If the bark of a tree has been nibbled around,
like the line a chopper might make before cutting, the
trapper guesses whether his coming has not interrupted
a beaver in the very act.
All these are signs which spell out the presence of
a beaver-dam within one night's travelling distance;
for the timid beaver frequently works at night, and wiU
not go so far away that forage cannot be brought in
before daylight. In which of the hundred water-ways
in the labyrinth of pond and stream where beavers
roam is this particular family to be found?
Realizing that his own life depends on the life of
the game, no true trapper wiU destroy wild creatures
when the mothers are caring for their young. Besides,
furs are not at their prime when birch-bark is peeled,
and the trapper notes the place, so that he may come
back when the fall hunt begins. Beaver kittens stay
under the parental roof for three years, but at the end
of the first summer are amply able to look after their
own skins. Free from nursery duties, the old ones can
now use all the ingenuity and craft which nature gave
them for self-protection.   When cold weather comes KSSHHSSssT
the beaver is fair game to the trapper. It is wit against
wit. To be sure, the man has superior strength, a gun,
and a treacherous thing called a trap. But his eyes
are not equal to the beaver's nose. And he hasn't that
familiarity with the woods to enable him to pursue,
which the beaver has to enable it to escape. And he
can't swim long enough under water to throw enemies
off the scent, the way the beaver does.
Now, as he paddles along the network of streams
which interlace Northern forests, he will hardly be likely to stumble on the beaver-dam of last summer. Beavers do not build their houses where passers-by will
stumble upon them. But all the streams have been
swollen by fall rains; and the trapper notices the markings on every chip and pole floating down the full current. A chip swirls past white and fresh cut. He
knows that the rains have floated it over the beaver-
dam. Beavers never cut below their houses, but always
above, so that the current will carry the poles downstream to the dam.
Leaving his canoe-load behind, the trapper guardedly advances within sight of the dam. If any old
beaver sentinel be swimming about, he quickly scents
the man-smell, upends and dives with a spanking blow
of his trowel tail on the water, which heliographs danger to the whole community. He swims with his webbed
hind feet, the little fore paws being used as carriers
or hanging limply, the flat tail acting the faintest bit
in the world like a rudder; but that is a mooted question. The only definitely ascertained function of that
bat-shaped appendage is to telegraph danger to comrades. The beaver neither carries things on his tail,
nor plasters houses with it; for the simple reason that II
the joints of his caudal appurtenance admit of only
slight sidelong wigglings and a forward sweep between
his hind legs, as if he might use it as a tray for food
while he sat back spooning up mouthfuls with his fore
Having found the wattled homes of the beaver, the
trapper may proceed in different ways. He may, after
the fashion of the Indian hunter, stake the stream
across above the dam, cut away the obstruction lowering the water, break the conical crowns of the houses
on the south side, which is thinnest, and slaughter the
beavers indiscriminately as they rush out. But such
hunting kills the goose that lays the golden egg; and
explains why it was necessary to prohibit the killing
of beaver for some years. In the confusion of a wild
scramble to escape and a blind clubbing of heads there
was bootless destruction. Old and young, poor and in
prime, suffered the same fate. The house had been
destroyed; and if one beaver chanced to escape into
some of the bank-holes under water or up the side
channels, he could be depended upon to warn all beaver
from that country. Only the degenerate white man
practises bad hunting.
The skilled hunter has other methods.
If unstripped saplings be yet about the bank of
the stream, the beavers have not finished laying up
their winter stores in adjacent pools. The trapper gets
one of his steel-traps. Attaching the ring of this to a
loose trunk heavy enough to hold the beaver down and
drown him, he places the trap a few inches under water
at the end of a runway or in one of the channels. He
then takes out a bottle of castoreum. This is a substance from the glands of a beaver which destroys aU THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER
traces of the man-smell. For it the beavers have a
curious infatuation, licking everything touched by it,
and said, by some hunters, to be drugged into a crazy
stupidity by the very smell. The hunter daubs this on
his own foot-tracks.
Or, if he finds tracks of the beaver in the grass
back from the bank, he may build an old-fashioned
deadfall, with which the beaver is still taken in Labrador. This is the small lean-to, with a roof of branches
and bark—usually covered with snow—slanting to the
ground on one side, the ends either posts or logs, and
the front an opening between two logs wide enough to
admit half the animal's body. Inside, at the back, on
a rectangular stick, one part of which bolsters up the
front log, is the bait. All traces of the hunter are
smeared over with the elusive castoreum. One tug at
the bait usually brings the front log crashing down
across the animal's back, killing it instantly.
But neither the steel-trap nor the deadfall is wholly
satisfactory. When the poor beaver comes sniffing
along the castoreum trail to the steel-trap and on the
first splash into the water feels a pair of iron jaws
close on his feet, he dives below to try and gain the
shelter of his house. The log plunges after him, holding him down and back till he drowns; and his whereabouts are revealed by the upend of the tree.
But several chances are in the beaver's favour.
With the castoreum licks, which tell them of some
other beaver, perhaps looking for a mate or lost cub,
they may become so exhilarated as to jump clear of
the trap. Or, instead of diving down with the trap,
they may retreat back up the bank and amputate the
imprisoned foot with one nip, leaving only a mutilated 110
paw for the hunter. With the deadfall a smaU beaver
may have gone entirely inside the snare before the front
log falls; and an animal whose teeth saw through logs
eighteen inches in diameter in less than half an hour
can easily eat a way of escape from a wooden trap.
Other things are against the hunter. A wolverine may
arrive on the scene before the trapper and eat the
finest beaver ever taken; or the trapper may discover
that his victim is a poor little beaver with worthless,
ragged fur, who should have been left to forage for
three or four years.
AU these risks can be avoided by waiting till the
ice is thick enough for the trapper to cut trenches.
Then he returns with a woodman's axe and his dog.
By sounding the ice, he can usually find where holes
have been hoUowed out of the banks. Here he drives
stakes to prevent the beaver taking refuge in the shore
vaults. The runways and channels, where the beaver
have dragged trees, may be hidden in snow and iced
over; but the man and his dog wiU presently find
The beaver always chooses a stream deep enough
not to be frozen solid, and shallow enough for it to
make a mud foundation for the house without too much
work. Besides, in a deep, swift stream, rains would
carry away any house the beaver could build. A trench
across the upper stream or stakes through the ice prevent escape that way.
The trapper then cuts a hole in the dam. FaUing
water warns the terrified colony that an enemy is near.
It may be their greatest foe, the wolverine, whose claws
wiU rip through the frost-hard wall as easily as a bear THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER
delves for gophers; but their land enemies cannot pursue them into water; so the panic-stricken family—
the old parents, wise from many such alarms; the young
three-year-olds, who were to go out and rear families
for themselves in the spring; the two-year-old cubbies,
big enough to be saucy, young enough to be silly; and
the baby kittens, just able to forage for themselves
and know the soft alder rind from the tough old bark
unpalatable as mud—pop peU-meU from the high platform of their houses into the water. The water is still
falling. They will presently be high and dry. No use
trying to escape up-stream. They see that in the first
minute's wild scurry through the shallows. Besides,
what's this across the creek? Stakes, not put there
by any beaver; for there is no bark on. If they only had
time now they might cut a passage through; but no—
this wretched enemy, whatever it is, has ditched the
ice across.
They sniff and listen. A terrible sound comes from
above—a low, exultant, devilish whining. The man
has left his dog on guard above the dam. At that the
little beavers—always trembling, timid feUows—tumble over each other in a panic of fear to escape by way
of the flowing water below the dam. But there a new
terror assails them. A shadow is above the ice, a
wraith of destruction—the figure of a man standing
at the dam with his axe and club—waiting.
Where to go now? They can't find their bank
shelters, for the man has staked them up. The little
fellows lose their presence of mind and their heads
and their courage, and with a blind scramble dash up
the remaining open runway. It is a cul-de-sac. But
what does that matter?   They run almost to the end. Jm
They can crouch there till the awful shadow goes away.
Exactly. That is what the man has been counting on.
He will come to them afterward.
The old beavers make no such mistake. They have
tried the hoUow-log trick with an enemy pursuing them
to the blind end, and have escaped only because some
other beaver was eaten.
The old ones know that water alone is safety.
That is the first and last law of beaver life. They,
too, see that phantom destroyer above the ice; but a
dash past is the last chance. How many of the beaver
escape past the cut in the dam to the water below, depends on the dexterity of the trapper's aim. But certainly, for the most, one blow is the end; and that one
blow is less cruel to them than the ravages of the wolf
or wolverine in spring, for these begin to eat before
they kill.
A signal, and the dog ceases to keep guard above
the dam. Where is the runway in which the others
are hiding? The dog^ scampers round aimlessly, but
begins to sniff and run in a line and scratch and whimper. The man sees that the dog is on the trail of sagging snow, and the sag betrays ice settling down where
a channel has run dry. The trapper cuts a hole across
the river end of the runway and drives down stakes.
The young beavers are now prisoners.
The human mind can't help wondering why the foolish youngsters didn't crouch below the ice above the
dam and lie there in safe hiding till the monster went
away. This may be done by the hermit beavers—fellows who have lost their mates and go through life
inconsolable; or sick creatures, infested by parasites
and turned off to house in the river holes; or fat, selfish THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER
ladies, who don't want the trouble of training a family.
Whatever these solitaries are—naturalists and hunters
differ—they have the wit to keep alive; but the poor
little beavers rush right into the jaws of death. Why
do they ? For the same reason probably, if they could
answer, that people trample each other to death when
there is an alarm in a crowd.
They cower in the terrible pen, knowing nothing
at all about their hides being valued all the way from
fifty cents to three dollars, according to the quality;
nothing about the dignity of being a coin of the realm
in the Northern wilderness, where one beaver-skin sets
the value for mink, otter, marten, bear, and all other
skins, one pound of tobacco, one kettle, five pounds of
shot, a pint of brandy, and half a yard of cloth; nothing about the rascally Indians long ago bartering forty
of their hides for a scrap of iron and a great company sending one hundred thousand beaver-skins in a
single year to make hats and cloaks for the courtiers
of Europe; nothing about the laws of man forbidding
the killing of beaver till their number increase.
All the little beaver remembers is that^ it opened
its eyes to daylight in the time of soft, green grasses;
and that as soon as it got strong enough on a milk diet
to travel, the mother led the whole family of kittens—
usually three or four—-down the slanting doorway of
their dim house for a swim; and that she taught them
how to nibble the dainty, green shrubs along the bank;
and then the entire colony went for the most glorious,
pell-mell splash up-stream to fresh ponds.   No more
sleeping in that stifling lodge; but beds in soft grass
like a goose-nest all night, and tumbling in the water
9 114
aU day, diving for the roots of the lily-pads. But the
old mother is always on guard, for the wolves and bears
are ravenous in spring. Soon the cubs can cut the
hardening bark of alder and wiUow as well as their
two-year-old brothers; and the wonderful thing is—
if a tooth breaks, it grows into perfect shape inside of
a week.
By August the little feUows are great swimmers,
and the colony begins the descent of the stream for
their winter home. If unmolested, the old dam is
chosen; but if the hated man-smell is there, new waterways are sought. Burrows and washes and channels
and retreats are cleaned out. Trees are cut and a great
supply of branches laid up for winter store near the
lodge, not a chip of edible bark being wasted. Just
before the frost they begin building or repairing the
dam. Each night's frost hardens the plastered clay
till the conical wattled roof—never more than two
feet thick—will support the weight of a moose.
All work is done with mouth and fore paws, and
not the tail. This has been finally determined by observing the Marquis of Bute's colony of beavers. If
the family—the old parents and three seasons' offspring—be too large for the house, new chambers are
added. In height the house is seldom more than five
feet from the base, and the width varies. In building
a new dam they begin under water, scooping out clay,
mixing this with stones and sticks for the walls, and
hoUowing out the dome as it rises, like a coffer-dam,
except that man pumps out water and the beaver scoops
out mud. The domed roof is given layer after layer
of clay till it is cold-proof. Whether the houses have
one door or two is disputed; but the door is always at THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER
the end of a sloping incline away from the land side,
with a shelf running round above, which serves as the
living-room. Differences in the houses, breaks below
water, two doors instead of one, platforms like an oven
instead of a shelf, are probably explained by the continual abrasion of the current. By the time the ice
forms the beavers have retired to their houses for the
winter, only coming out to feed on their winter stores
and get an airing.
But this terrible thing has happened; and the young
beavers huddle together under the ice of the canal,
bleating with the cry of a# child. They are afraid to
run back; for the crunch of feet can be heard. They
are afraid to go forward; for the dog is whining with
a glee that is fiendish to the little beavers. Then a
gust of cold air comes from the rear and a pole prods
The man has opened a hole to feel where the hiding
beavers are, and with little terrified yelps they scuttle
to the very end of the runway. By this time the dog
is emitting howls of triumph. For hours he has been
boxing up his wolfish ferocity, and now he gives vent
by scratching with a zeal that would burrow to the
middle of earth.
The trapper drives in more stakes close to the blind
end of the channel, and cuts a hole above the prison
of the beaver. He puts dows his arm. One by one
they are dragged out by the tail; and that finishes the
little beaver—sacrificed, like the guinea-pigs and rabbits of bacteriological laboratories, to the necessities
of man. Only, this death is swifter and less painful.
A prolonged death-struggle with the beaver would
probably rob the trapper of half his fingers.    Very 5
often the little beavers with poor fur are let go. If
the dog attempts to capture the frightened runaways
by catching at the conspicuous appendage to the rear,
that dog is likely to emerge from the struggle minus a
tail, while the beaver runs off with two.
Trappers have curious experiences with beaver kittens which they take home as pets. When young they
are as easily domesticated as a cat, and become a nuisance with their love of fondling. But to them, as to
the hunter, comes what the Indians call | the-sickness-
of-long-thinking," the gipsy yearning for the wilds.
Then extraordinary things happen. The beaver are apt
to avenge their comrades' death. One old beaver trapper of New Brunswick related that by June the beavers
became so restless, he feared their escape and put them
in cages.   They bit their way out with absurd ease.
He then tried log pens. They had eaten a hole
through in a night. Thinking to get wire caging, he
took them into his lodge, and they seemed contented
enough while he was about; but one morning he
wakened to find a hole eaten through the door, and
the entire round of birch-bark, which he had staked
out ready for the gunwales and ribbing of his canoe—
bark for which he had travelled forty miles—chewed
into shreds. The beavers had then gone up-stream,
which is their habit in spring. CHAPTER X
It is a grim joke of the animal world that the lazy
moose is the moose that gives wings to the feet of the
pursuer. When snow comes the trapper must have
snow-shoes and moccasins. For both, moose supplies
the best material.
Bees have their drones, beaver their hermits, and
moose a ladified epicure who draws off from the feeding-yards of the common herd, picks out the sweetest
browse of the forest, and gorges herself till fat as a
gouty voluptuary. While getting the filling for his
snow-shoes, the trapper also stocks his larder; and if
he can find a spinster moose, he will have something
better than shredded venison and more delicately flavoured than finest teal.
Sledding' his canoe across shallow lakelets, now
frozen like rock, still paddling where there is open way,
the trapper continues to guide his course up the waterways. Big game, he knows, comes out to drink at sunrise and sunset; and nearly all the small game frequents
the banks of streams either to fish or to prey on the
Each night he sleeps in the open with his dog on
guard; or else puts up the cotton tepee, the dog curling outside the tent flap, one ear awake.   And each
117 118
f ih
night a net is set for the white-fish that are to supply
breakfast, feed the dog, and provide heads for the traps
placed among rocks in mid-stream, or along banks
where dainty footprints were in the morning's hoarfrost. Brook trout can still be got in the pools below
waterfalls; but the trapper seldom takes time now to
use the line, depending on his gun and fish-net.
During the Indian's white-fish month—the white
man's November—the weather has become colder and
colder; but the trapper never indulges in the big log
fire that delights the heart of the amateur hunter.
That would drive game a week's tracking from his
course. Unless he wants to frighten away nocturnal
prowlers, a little, chip fire, such as the fishermen of
the Banks use in their dories, is all the trapper allows
First snow silences the rustling leaves. First frost
quiets the flow of waters. Except for the occasional
splitting of a sap-frozen tree, or the far howl of a
wolf-pack, there is the stillness of death. And of all
quiet things in the quiet forest, the trapper is the
As winter closes in the ice-skim of the large lakes
cuts the bark canoe like a knife. The canoe is abandoned for snow-shoes and the cotton tepee for more
substantial shelter.
If the trapper is a white man he now builds a lodge
near the best hunting-ground he has found. Around
this he sets a wide circle of traps at such distances
their circuit requires an entire day, and leads the trapper out in one direction and back in another, without
retracing the way. Sometimes such lodges run from
valley to valley.   Each cabin is stocked; and the hunter P^WpjjWl|<WflHBBl*Mjfe.-.'--.
sleeps where night overtakes him. But this plan needs
two men; for if the traps are not closely watched, the
wolverine wiU rifle away a priceless fox as readily as he
eats a worthless musk-rat. The stone fire-place stands
at one end. Moss, clay, and snow clink up the logs.
Parchment across a hole serves as window. Poles and
brush make the roof, or perhaps the remains of the
cotton tent stretched at a steep angle to slide off the
accumulating weight of snow.
But if the trapper is an Indian, or the white man
has a messenger to carry the pelts marked with his
name to a friendly trading-post, he may not build a
lodge; but move from hunt to hunt as the game changes
feeding-ground. In this case he uses the abuckwan—
canvas—for a shed tent, with one side sloping to the
ground, banked by brush and snow, the other facing the
fire, both tent and fire on such a slope that the smoke
drifts out while the heat reflects in. Pine and balsam
boughs, with the wood end pointing out like sheaves
in a stook, the foliage converging to a soft centre, form
the trapper's bed.
The snow is now too deep to travel without snow-
shoes. The frames for these the trapper makes of ash,
birch, or best of all, the mackikwatick—tamarack—
curving the easily bent green wood up at one end,
canoe shape, and smoothing the barked wood at the
bend, like a sleigh runner, by means of the awkward
couteau croche, as the French hunter calls his crooked
In style, the snow-shoe varies with the hunting-
ground. On forested, rocky, hummocky land, the shoe
is short to permit short turns without entanglement.
Oval and broad, rather than long and slim, it makes 120
up in width what it lacks in length to support the hunter's weight above the snow. And the toe curve is
slight; for speed is impossible on bad ground. To save
the instep from jars, the slip noose may be padded like
a cowboy's stirrup.
On the prairie, where the snowy reaches are unbroken as air, snow-shoes are wings to the hunter's
heels. They are long, and curved, and narrow, and
smooth enough on the runners for the hunter to sit
on their rear ends and coast downhill as on a toboggan.
If a snag, is struck midway, the racquets may bounce
safely over and glissade to the bottom; or the toe may
catch, heels fly over head, and the hunter land with his
feet noosed in frames sticking upright higher than his
Any trapper can read the story of a hunt from snow-
shoes. Round and short: east of the Great Lakes.
Slim and long: from the prairie. Padding for the
instep: either rock ground or long runs. Filling of
hide strips with broad enough interspaces for a small
foot to slip through: from the wet, heavily packed,
snow region of the Atlantic coast, for trapping only,
never the chase, small game, not large. Lace ties, instead of a noose to hold the foot: the amateur hunter.
Atibisc, a fine filling taken from deer or caribou for the
heel and toe; with askimoneiab, heavy, closely interlaced, membraneous filling from the moose across the
centre to bear the brunt of wear; long enough for speed,
short enough to turn short: the trapper knows.he is
looking at the snow-shoe of the craftsman. This is
the sort he must have for himself.
The first thing, then—a moose for the heavy filling; preferably a spinster moose; for she is too lazy THE MAKING OF THE MOCCASINS
to run from a hunter who is not yet a Mercury; and
she wiU furnish him with a banquet fit for kings.
Neither moose call nor birch horn, of which wonders are told, wiU avail now. The mating season is
well past. Even if an old moose responded to the call,
the chances are his flesh would be unfit for food. It
would be a wasted kill, contrary to the principles of
the true trapper.
Every animal has a sign language as plain as print.
The trapper has hardly entered the forest before he
begins to read this language.. Broad hoof-marks are
on the muskeg—quaking bog, covered with moss—over
which the moose can skim as if on snow-shoes, where
a horse would sink to the saddle. Park-like glades at
the heads of streams, where the moose have spent the
summer browsing on twigs and wallowing in water
holes to get rid of sand flies, show trampled brush and
stripped twigs and rubbed bark.
Coming suddenly on a grove of quaking aspens, a
saucy jay has fluttered up with a noisy call—an alarm
note; and something is bounding off to hiding in a
thicket on the far side of the grove. The wis-kat-jan,
or whisky jack, as the white men call it, who always
hangs about the moose herds, has seen the trapper and
sounded the alarm.
In August, when the great, palmated horns, which
budded out on the male in July, are yet in the velvet,
the trapper finds scraps of furry hair sticking to young
saplings. The vain moose has been polishing his antlers, preparatory to mating. Later, there is a great
whacking of horns among the branches. The moose,
spoiling for a fight, in moose language is chaUenging 122
his rivals to battle. Wood-choppers have been interrupted by the apparition of a huge, palmated head
through a thicket. Mistaking the axe for his rival's
defiance, the moose arrives on the scene in a mood of
blind rage that sends the chopper up a tree, or back
to the shanty for his rifle.
But the trapper aUows these opportunities to pass.
He is not ready for his moose until winter compels
the abandoning of the canoe. Then the moose herds
are yarding up in some sheltered feeding-ground.
It is not hard for the trapper to find a moose yard.
There is the tell-tale cleft footprint in the snow. There
are the cast-off antlers after the battles have been
fought—the female moose being without horns and entirely dependent on speed and hearing and smell for
protection. There is the stripped, overhead twig,
where a moose has reared on hind legs and nibbled a
branch above. There is the bent or broken sapling
which a moose pulled down with his mouth and then
held down with his feet while he browsed. This and
more sign language of the woods—too fine for the
language of man—lead the trapper close on the haunts
of a moose herd. But he does not want an ordinary
moose. He is keen for the solitary track of a haughty
spinster. And he probably comes on the print when he
has almost made up his mind to chance a shot at one
of the herd below the hill, where he hides. He knows
the trail is that, of a spinster. It is unusuaUy heavy;
and she is always fat. It drags clumsily over the
snow; for she is lazy. And it doesn't travel straight
away in a line like that of the roving moose; for she
loiters to feed and dawdle out of pure indolence.
And How the trapper knows how a hound on a hot THE MAKING OF THE MOCCASINS
scent feels. He may win his prize with the ease of putting out his hand and taking it—sighting his rifle and
touching the trigger. Or, by the blunder of a hair's
breadth, he may daily track twenty weary miles for a
week and come back empty at his cartridge-belt, empty
below his cartridge-belt, empty of hand, and full, full
of rage at himself, though his words curse the moose.
He may win his prize in one of two ways: (1) by running the game to earth from sheer exhaustion; (2) or
by a still hunt.
The straightaway hunt is more dangerous to the
man than the moose. Even a fat spinster can outdistance a man with no snow-shoes. And if his perseverance lasts longer than her strength—f or though a moose
swings out in a long-stepping, swift trot, it is easily
tired—the exhausted moose is a moose at bay; and a
moose at bay rears on her hind legs and does defter
things with the flattening blow of her fore feet than
an exhausted man can do with a gun. The blow of a
cleft hoof means something sharply split, wherever that
spreading hoof lands. And if the something wriggles
on the snow in death-throes, the moose pounds upon
it with all four feet till the thing is still. Then she
goes on her way with eyes ablaze and every shaggy hair
The contest was even and the moose won.
Apart from the hazard, there is a barbarism about
this straightaway chase, which repels the trapper. It
usually succeeds by bogging the moose in crusted snow,
or a waterhole—and then, Indian fashion, a slaughter;
and no trapper kills for the sake of killing, for the
simple practical reason that his own life depends on
the preservation of game. 124
A slight snowfaU and the wind in his face are
ideal conditions for a still hunt. One conceals him.
The other carries the man-smell from the game.
Which way does the newly-discovered footprint run?
More flakes are in one hole than the other. He follows the trail till he has an idea of the direction the
moose is taking; for the moose runs straightaway, not
circling and doubling back on cold tracks like the deer,
but marching direct to the objective point, where it
turns, circles slightly—a loop at the end of a line—
and lies down a little off the trail. When the pursuer,
following the cold scent, runs past, the moose gets
Wind and is off in the opposite direction like a vanishing streak.
Having ascertained the lie of the land, the trapper
leaves the line of direct trail and follows in a circling
detour. Here, he finds the print fresher, not an hour
old. The moose had stopped to browse and the markings are moist on a twig. The trapper leaves the trail,
advancing always by a detour to leeward. He is sure,
now, that it is a spinster. If it had been any other,
the moose would not have been alone. The rest would
be tracking into the leader's steps; and by the fresh
trail he knows for a certainty there is only one. But
his very nearness increases the risk. The wind may
shift. The snowfall is thinning. This time, when he
conies back to the trail, it is fresher stiU. The hunter
now.gets his rifle ready. He dare not put his foot down
without testing the snow, lest a twig snap. He parts
a way through the brush with his hand and replaces
every branch. And when next he comes back to the
line of the moose's travel, there is no trail. This is
what he expected.   He takes off his coat; his leggings, THE MAKING OF THE MOCCASINS
if they are loose enough to rub with a leathery swish;
his musk-rat fur cap, if it has any conspicuous colour;
his boots, if they are noisy and given to crunching. If
only he aim true, he will have moccasins soon enough.
Leaving all impedimenta, he follows back on his own
steps to the place where he last saw the trail. Perhaps
the saucy jay cries with a shrill, scolding shriek that
sends cold shivers down the trapper's spine. He wishes
he could get his hands on its wretched little neck; and
turning himself to a statue, he stands stone-still till the
troublesome bird settles down.   Then he goes on.
Here is the moose trail!
He dare not follow direct. That would lead past
her hiding-place and she would bolt. He resorts to
artifice; but, for that matter, so has the moose resorted
to artifice. The trapper, too, circles forward, cutting
the moose's magic guard with transverse zigzags. But
he no longer walks. He crouches, or creeps, or glides
noiselessly from shelter to shelter, very much the way
a cat advances on an unwary mouse. He sinks to his
knees and feels forward for snow-pads every pace.
Then he is on all-fours, still circling. His detour has
narrowed and narrowed till he knows she must be in
that aspen thicket. The brush is sparser. She has
chosen her resting-ground wisely. The man falls forward on his face, closing in, closing in, wiggling and
watching till—he makes a horrible discovery. That
jay is perched on the topmost bough of the grove; and
the man has caught a glimpse of something buff-coloured behind the aspens. It may be a moose, or only
a log. The untried hunter would fire. Not so the trapper. Hap-hazard aim means fighting a wounded moose,
or letting the creature drag its agony off to inaccessible 126
haunts. The man worms his way round the thicket,
sighting the game with the noiseless circling of a hawk
before the drop. An ear blinks. But at that instant
the jay perks his head to one side with a curious look
at this strange object on the ground. In another second it will be off with a call and the moose up.
His rifle is aimed J
A blinding swish of aspen leaves and snow and
smoke! The jay is off with a noisy whistle. And the
trapper has leather for moccasins, and heavy filling
for his snow-shoes, and meat for his larder.
But he must still get the fine filling for heel and
toe; and this comes from caribou or deer. The deer,
he will stiU hunt as he has still hunted the moose, with
this difference: that the deer runs in circles, jumping
back in his own tracks leaving the hunter to follow a
cold scent, while it, by a sheer bound—&ve—eight—
twenty feet off at a new angle, makes for the hiding
of dense woods. No one but a barbarian would attempt
to run down a caribou; for it can only be done by the
shameless trick of snaring in crusted snow, or intercepting while swimming, and then—butchery.
The caribou doesn't run. It doesn't bound. It
floats away into space.
One moment a sandy-coloured form, with black
nose, black feet, and a glory of white statuary above
its head, is seen against the far reaches of snow. The
next, the form has shrunk—and shrunk—and shrunk,
antlers laid back against its neck, tiU there is a vanishing speck on the horizon. The caribou has not been
standing at all. It has skimmed out of sight; and if
there is any clear ice across the marshes, it literally THE MAKING OF THE MOCCASINS
glides beyond vision from very speed. But, provided
no man-smell crosses its course, the caribou is vulnerable in its habits. Morning and evening, it comes back
to the same watering-place; and it returns to the same
bed for the night. If the trapper can conceal himself
without crossing its trail, he easily obtains the fine
filling for his snow-shoes.
Moccasins must now be made.
The trapper shears off the coarse hair with a sharp
knife. The hide is soaked; and a blunter blade tears
away the remaining hairs till the skin is white and
clean. The flesh side is similarly cleaned and the skin
rubbed with all the soap and grease it will absorb. A
process of beating follows till the hide is limber. Carelessness at this stage makes buckskin soak up water
like a sponge and dry to a shapeless board. The skin
must be stretched and pulled till it will stretch no
more. Frost helps the tanning, drying all moisture
out; and the skin becomes as soft as down, without a
crease. The smoke of punk from a rotten tree gives
the dark yellow colour to the hide and prevents hardening. The skin is now ready for the needle; and all
odd bits are hoarded away.
Equipped with moccasins and snow-shoes, the trapper is now the winged messenger of the tragic fates
to the forest world. CHAPTER XI
It is dawn when the Indian trapper leaves his lodge.
In midwinter of the Far North, dawn comes late.
Stars, which shine with a hard, clear, crystal radiance
only seen in northern skies, pale in the gray morning
gloom; and the sun comes over the horizon dim through
mists of frost-smoke. In an hour the frost-mist, lying
thick to the touch like clouds of steam, will have
cleared; and there will be nothing from sky-line to skyline but blinding sunlight and snowglare.
The Indian trapper must be far afield before midday. Then the sun casts no man-shadow to scare
game from his snares. Black is the flag of betrayal
in northern midwinter. It is by the big liquid eye,
glistening on the snow like a black marble, that the
trapper detects the white hare; and a jet tail-tip streaking over the white wastes in dots and dashes tells him
the little ermine, whose coat must line some emperor's
coronation robe, is alternately scudding over the drifts
and diving below the snow with the forward wriggling
of a snake under cover. But the moving man-shadow
is bigger and plainer on the snow than the hare's eye
or the ermine's jet tip; so the Indian trapper sets out
in the gray darkness of morning and must reach his
hunting-grounds before high noon.
With long snow-shoes, that carry him over the drifts
in swift, coasting strides, he swings out in that easy,
ambling, Indian trot, which gives never a jar to the
runner, nor rests long enough for the snows to crunch
beneath his tread.
The old musket, which he got in trade from the
fur post, is over his shoulder, or swinging lightly in
one hand. A hunter's knife and short-handled woodman's axe hang through the beaded scarf, belting in
his loose, caribou capote. Powder-horn and heavy
musk-rat gantlets are attached to the cord about his
neck; so without losing either he can fight bare-handed,
free and in motion, at a moment's notice. And somewhere, in side pockets or hanging down his back, is his
skipertogan—a skin bag with amulet against evil,
matches, touchwood, and a scrap of pemmican. As he
grows hot, he throws back his hood, running bareheaded and loose about the chest.
Each breath clouds to frost against his face till
hair and brows and lashes are fringed with frozen
moisture. The white man would hugger his face up
with scarf and collar the more for this; but the
Indian knows better. Suddenly chilled breath would
soak scarf and collar wet to his skin; and his face
would be frozen before he could go n^ve paces. But
with dry skin and quickened blood, he can defy the
keenest cold; so he loosens his coat and runs the faster.
As the light grows, dim forms shape themselves in
the gray haze. Pine groves emerge from the dark,
wreathed and festooned in snow. Cones and domes
and cornices of snow heap the underbrush and spreading larch boughs.    Evergreens are edged with white.
Naked trees stand like limned statuary with an ant-
10 w
lered crest etched against the white glare. The snow
stretches away in a sea of billowed, white drifts that
seem to heave and fall to the motions of the runner,
mounting and coasting and skimming over the unbroken waste like a bird winging the ocean. And
against this endless stretch of drifts billowing away to
a boundless circle, of which the man is the centre, his
form is dwarfed out of all proportion, tiU he looks no
larger than a bird above the sea.
When the sun rises, strange colour effects are
caused by the frost haze. Every shrub takes fire; for
the ice drops are a prism, and the result is the same as
if there had been a star shower or rainfall of brilliants.
Does the Indian trapper see all this ? The white man
with white man arrogance doubts whether his tawny
brother of the wilds sees the beauty about him, because
the Indian has no white man's terms of expression.
But ask the bronzed trapper the time of day; and he
tells you by the length of shadow the sun casts, or the
degree of light on the snow. Inquire the season of the
year; and he knows by the slant surdight coming up
through the frost smoke of the southern horizon.
And get him talking about bis Happy Hunting-
Grounds; and after he has filled it with the implements and creatures and people of the chase, he wiU
describe it in the metaphor of what he has seen at sunrise and sunset and under the Northern Lights. He
does not see these things with the gabbKng exclama-
tories of a tourist. He sees them because they sink
into his nature and become part of his mental furniture. The most brilliant description the writer ever
heard of the Hereafter was from an old Cree squaw,
toothless, wrinkled like leather, belted at the waist THE INDIAN TRAPPER
like a sack of wool, with hands of dried parchment,
and moccasins some five months too odoriferous. Her
version ran that Heaven would be full of the music of
running waters and south winds; that there would always be warm gold sunlight like a midsummer afternoon, with purple shadows, where tired women could
rest; that the trees would be covered with blossoms,
and all the pebbles of the shore like dewdrops.
Pushed from the Atlantic seaboard back over the
mountains, from the mountains to the Mississippi,
west to the Rockies, north to the Great Lakes, all that
was to be seen of nature in America the Indian trapper
has seen; though he has not understood.
But now he holds only a fringe of hunting-grounds,
in the timber lands of the Great Lakes, in the canons
of the Bockies, and across that northern land which
converges to Hudson Bay, reaching west to Athabasca,
east to Labrador. It is in the basin of Hudson Bay
regions that the Indian trapper will find his last hunting-grounds. Here climate excludes the white man,
and game is plentiful. Here Indian trappers were
snaring before Columbus opened the doors of the New
World to the hordes of the Old; and here Indian trappers will hunt as long as the race lasts. When there
is no more game, the Indian's doom is sealed; but that
day is far distant for the Hudson Bay region.
The Indian trapper has set few large traps. It is
midwinter; and by December there is a curious lull
in the hunting. All the streams are frozen like rock;
but the otter and pekan and mink and marten have not
yet begun to forage at random across open field. Some
foolish fish always dilly-dally up-stream till the ice 132
shuts them in. Then a strange thing is seen—a kettle
of living fish; fish gasping and panting in ice-hemmed
water that is gradually lessening as each day's frost
freezes another layer to the ice walls of their prison.
The banks of such a pond hole are haunted by the otter
and his fisher friends. By-and-bye, when the pond is
exhausted, these lazy fishers must leave their safe bank
and forage across country.   Meanwhile, they are quiet.
The bear, too, is still. After much wandering and
fastidious choosing—for in trapper vernacular the bear
takes a long time to please himself—bruin found an
upturned stump. Into the hollow below he clawed
grasses. Then he curled up with his nose on his toes
and went to sleep under a snow blanket of gathering
depth. Deer, moose, and caribou, too, have gone off
to their feeding-grounds. Unless they are scattered by
a wolf-pack or a hunter's gun, they will not be likely to
move till this ground is eaten over. Nor are many
beaver seen now. They have long since snuggled into
their warm houses, where they will stay till their winter store is all used; and their houses are now hidden
under great depths of deepening snow. But the fox
and the hare and the ermine are at run; and as long as
they are astir, so are their rampant enemies, the lynx
and the wolverine and the wolf-pack, all ravenous from
the scarcity of other game and greedy as spring crows.
That thought gives wings to the Indian trapper's
heels. The pelt of a coyote—or prairie wolf—would
scarcely be worth the taking. Even the big, gray timber-wolf would hardly be worth the cost of the shot,
except for service as a tepee mat. The white arctic
wolf would bring better price. The enormous black or
brown arctic wolf would be more valuable; but the THE INDIAN TRAPPER
value would not repay the risk of the hunt. But all
these worthless, ravening rascals are watching the traps
as keenly as the trapper does; and would eat up a silver
fox, that would be the fortune of any hunter.
The Indian comes to the brush where he has set
his rabbit snares across a runway. His dog sniffs the
ground, whining. The crust of the snow is broken by
a heavy tread. The twigs are all trampled and rabbit
fur is fluffed about. The game has been rifled away.
The Indian notices several things. The rabbit has been
devoured on the spot. That is unlike the wolverine.
He would have carried snare, rabbit and all off for a
guzzle in his own lair. The footprints have the appearance of having been brushed over; so the thief had a
bushy tail. It is not the lynx. There is no trail away
from the snare. The marauder has come with a long
leap and gone with a long leap. The Indian and his
dog make a circuit of the snare till they come on the
trail of the intruder; and its size tells the Indian
whether his enemy be fox or wolf.
He sets no more snares across that runway, for
the rabbits have had their alarm. Going through the
brush he finds a fresh runway and sets a new snare.
Then his snow-shoes are winging him over the
drifts to the next trap. It is a deadfall. Nothing is
in it. The bait is untouched and the trap left undisturbed. A wolverine would have torn the thing to
atoms from very wickedness, chewed the bait in two,
and spat it out lest there should be poison. The fox
would have gone in and had his back broken by the
front log. And there is the same brush work over the
trampled snow, as if the visitor had tried to sweep out
his own trail; and the same long leap away, clearing ob- 134
struction of log and drift, to throw a pursuer off the
scent. This time the Indian makes two or three circuits ; but the snow is so crusted it is impossible to tell
whether the scratchings lead out to the open or back
to the border of snowy-drifted woods. If the animal
had followed the line of the traps by running just inside
the brush, the Indian would know. But the midwinter
day is short, and he has no time to explore the border
of the thicket.
Perhaps he has a circle of thirty traps. Of that
number he hardly expects game in more than a dozen.
If six have a prize, he has done well. Each time he
stops to examine a trap he must pause to cover all
trace of the man-smell, daubing his own tracks with
castoreum, or pomatum, or bears' grease; sweeping the
snow over every spot touched by his hand; dragging
the flesh side of a fresh pelt across his own trail.
Mid-day comes, the time of the short shadow; and
the Indian trapper has found not a thing in his traps.
He only knows that some daring enemy has dogged the
circle of his snares. That means he must kill the marauder, or find new hunting-grounds. If he had doubt
about swift vengeance for the loss of a rabbit, he has
none when he comes to the next trap. He sees what is
too much for words: what entails as great loss to the
poor Indian trapper as an exchange crash to the white
man. One of his best steel-traps lies a little distance
from the pole to which it was attached. It has been
jerked up with a great wrench and pulled as far as
the chain would go. The snow is trampled and stained
and covered with gray fur as soft and silvery as chin-
chiUa. In the trap is a little paw, fresh cut, scarcely frozen.   He had caught a silver fox, the fortune of THE INDIAN TRAPPER
which hunters dream, as prospectors of gold, and speculators of stocks, and actors of fame. But the wolves,
the great, black wolves of the Far North, with eyes
full of a treacherous green fire and teeth like tusks,
had torn the fur to scraps and devoured the fox not
an hour before the trapper came.
He knows now what his enemy is; for he has come
so suddenly on their trail he can count four different
footprints, and claw-marks of different length. They
have fought about the little fox; and some of the
smaller wolves have lost fur over it. Then, by the
blood-marks, he can tell they have got under cover of
the shrub growth to the right.
The Indian says none of the words which the white
man might say; but that is nothing to his credit; for
just now no words are adequate. But he takes prompt
resolution.^ After the fashion of the old Mosaic law,
which somehow is written on the very face of the wilderness as one of its necessities, he decides that only
life for life will compensate such loss. The danger of
hunting the big, brown wolf—he knows too well to attempt it without help. He will bait his small traps
with poison; take out his big, steel wolf traps to-morrow; then with a band of young braves follow the
wolf-pack's trail during this lull in the hunting season.
But the animal world knows that old trick of drawing a herring scent across the trail of wise intentions;
and of all the animal world, none knows it better than
the brown arctic wolf. He carries himself with less
of a hang-dog air than his brother wolves, with the
same pricking forward of sharp, erect ears, the same
crouching trot, the same sneaking, watchful green
eyes; but his tail, which is bushy enough to brush out 136
every trace of his tracks, has not the skulking droop
of the gray wolf's; and in size he is a giant among
The trapper shoulders his musket again, and keeping to the open, where he can travel fast on the long
snow-shoes, sets out for the next trap. The man-shadow grows longer. It is late in the afternoon. Then
all the shadows merge into the purple gloom of early
evening; but the Indian travels on; for the circuit of
traps leads back to his lodge.
The wolf thief may not be far off; so the man takes
his musket from the case. He may chance a shot at
the enemy. Where there are woods, wolves run under
cover, keeping behind a fringe of brush to windward.
The wind carries scent of danger from the open, and
the brush forms an ambuscade. Man tracks, where
man's dog might scent the trail of a wolf, the wolf
clears at a long bound. He leaps over open spaces, if
he can; and if he can't, crouches low till he has passed
the exposure.
The trapper swings forward in long, straight strides,
wasting not an inch of ground, deviating neither to
right nor left by as much space as a white man takes
to turn on his heels. Suddenly the trapper's dog utters
a low whine and stops with ears pricked forward towards the brush. At the same moment the Indian, who
has been keeping his eyes on the woods, sees a form
rise out of the earth among the shadows. He is not
surprised; for he knows the way the wolf travels, and
the fox trap could not have been robbed more than an
hour ago. The man thinks he has come on the thieves
going to the next trap.   That is what the wolf means THE INDIAN TRAPPER
him to think. And the man, too, dissembles; for as
he looks the form fades into the gloom, and he decides
to run on parallel to the brushwood, with his gun ready.
Just ahead is a break in the shrubbery. At the clearing he can see how many wolves there are, and as he
is heading home there is little danger.
But at the clearing nothing crosses. The dog dashes
off to the woods with wild barking, and the trapper
scans the long, white stretch leading back between the
bushes to a horizon that is already dim in the steel
grays of twilight.
Half a mile down this openway, off the homeward
route of his traps, a wolfish figure looms black against
the snow—and stands! The dog prances round and
round as if he would hold the creature for his master's
shot; and the Indian calculates—"After all, there is
only one."
What a chance to approach it under cover, as it has
approached his traps! The stars are already pricking the blue darkness in cold, steel points; and the
Northern Lights are swinging through the gloom like
mystic censers to an invisible Spirit, the Spirit of the
still, white, wide, northerri wastes.   It is as clear as day.
One thought of his loss at the fox trap sends the
Indian flitting through the underwoods like a hunted
partridge. The sharp barkings of the dog increase in
fury, and when the trapper emerges in the open, he
finds the wolf has straggled a hundred yards farther.
That was the meaning of the dog's alarm. Going back
to coyer, the hunter again advances. But the wolf
keeps moving leisurely, and each time the man sights
his game it is still out of range for the old-fashioned
musket.   The man runs faster now, determined to get 138
abreast of the wolf and utterly heedless of the increasing danger, as each step puts greater distance between
him and his lodge. He will pass the wolf, come out in
front and shoot.
But when he comes to the edge of the woods to get
his aim, there is no wolf, and the dog is barking furiously at his own moonlit shadow. The wolf, after the
fashion of his kind, has apparently disappeared into
the ground, just as he always seems to rise from the
earth. The trapper thinks of the " loup-garou," but
no wolf-demon of native legend devoured the very real
substance of that fox.
The dog stops barking, gives a whine and skulks
to his master's feet, while the trapper becomes suddenly aware of low-crouching forms gliding through
the underbrush. Eyes look out of the dark in the flash
of green lights from a prism. The figures are in hiding,
but the moon is shining with a silvery clearness that
throws moving wolf shadows on the snow to the trapper's very feet.
Then the man knows that he has been tricked.
The Indian knows the wolf-pack too well to attempt flight from these sleuths of the forest. He
knows, too, one thing that wolves of forest and prairie
hold in deadly fear—fire. Two or three shots ring into
the darkness followed by a yelping howl, which tells
him there is one wolf less, and the others will hold off
at a safe distance. Contrary to the woodman's traditions of chopping only on a windy day, the Indian
whips out his axe and chops with all his might till he
has wood enough for a roaring fire. That wiU keep
the rascals away till the pack goes off in fuU cry, or
daylight comes. THE INDIAN TRAPPER
Whittling a limber branch from a sapling, the Indian hastily makes a bow, and shoots arrow after
arrow with the tip in flame to high mid-air, hoping to
signal the far-off lodges. But the night is too clear.
The sky is silver with stars, and moonlight and reflected snowglare, and the.Northern Lights flicker and
wane and fade and flame with a brilliancy that dims
the tiny blaze of the arrow signal. The smoke rising
from his fire in a straight column falls at the height
of the trees, for the frost lies on the land heavy, palpable, impenetrable. And for all the frost is thick to
the touch, the night is as clear as burnished steel.
That is the peculiarity of northern cold. The air
seems to become absolutely compressed with the cold;
but that same cold freezes out and precipitates every
particle of floating moisture till earth and sky, moon
and stars shine with the glistening of polished metal.
A curious crackling, like the rustling of a flag in a
gale, comes through the tightening silence. The intelligent half-breed says this is from the Northern Lights.
The white man says it is electric activity in compressed
air. The Indian says it is a spirit, and he may mutter
the words of the braves in death chant:
" If I die, I die valiant,
I go to death fearless.
I die a brave man.
I go to those heroes who died without fear."
Hours pass. The trapper gives over shooting fire
arrows into the air. He heaps his fire and watches,
musket in hand. The light of the moon is white like
statuary. The snow is pure as statuary. The snow-
edged trees are chiselled clear like statuary; and the 140
silence is of stone. Only the snap of the blaze, the
crackling of the frosted air, the break of a twig back
among the brush, where something has moved, and the
little, low, smothered barkings of the dog on guard.
By-and-bye the rustling through the brush ceases;
and the dog at last lowers his ears and lies quiet. The
trapper throws a stick into the woods and sends the
dog after it. The dog comes back without any barkings of alarm. The man knows that the wolves have
drawn off. Will he wait out that long Northern night ?
He has had nothing to eat but the piece of pemmican.
The heavy frost drowsiness will come presently; and
if he falls asleep the fire will go out. An hour's run
Will carry him home; but to make speed with the snow-
shoes he must run in the open, exposed to all watchers.
When an Indian balances motives, the motive of
hunger invariably prevails. Pulling up his hood, belting
in the caribou coat and kicking up the dog, the trapper
strikes out for the open way leading back to the line
of his traps, and the hollow where the lodges have been
built for shelter against wind. There is another reason for building lodges in a hollow. Sound of the
hunter will not carry to the game; but neither will
sound of the game carry to the hunter.
And if the game should turn hunter and the man
turn hunted! The trapper speeds down the snowy
slope, striding, sliding, coasting, vaulting over hummocks of snow, glissading down the drifts, leaping
rather than running. The frosty air acts as a conductor' to sound, and the frost films come in stings
against the face of the man whose eye, ear, and touch
are strained for danger.   It is the dog that catches the THE INDIAN TRAPPER
first breath of peril, uttering a smothered "woo!
woo!" The trapper tries to persuade himself the
alarm was only the far scream of a wolf-hunted lynx;
but it comes again, deep and faint, like an echo in a
dome. One glance over his shoulder shows him black
forms on the snow-crest against the sky.
He has been tricked again, and knows how the fox
feels before the dogs in full cry.
The trapper is no longer a man.   He is a hunted
thing with terror crazing his blood and the sleuth-
hounds of the wilds on his trail.    Something goes
wrong with his snow-shoe.   Stooping to right the slip-
strings, he sees that the dog's feet have been cut by
the snow crust and are bleeding.   It is life for life now;
the old, hard, inexorable Mosaic law, that has no new
dispensation in the northern wilderness, and demands
that a beast?s life shall not sacrifice a man's.
One blow of his gun and the dog is dead.
The far, faint howl has deepened to a loud, exultant bay.   The wolf-pack are in full cry.   The man has
rounded the open alley between the trees and is speeding down the hillside winged with fear.   He hears the
pack pause where the dog fell.   That gives him respite.
The moon is behind, and the man-shadow flits before
on the snow like an enemy heading him back.    The
deep bay comes again, hard, metallic, resonant, nearer I
He feels the snow-shoe slipping, but dare not pause.
A great drift thrusts across his way and the shadow
in front runs slower.   They are gaining on him.   He
hardly knows whether the crunch of snow and pantings
for breath are his own or his pursuers'.   At the crest
of the drift he braces himself and goes to the bottom
with the swiftness of a sled on a slide. 142
The slant moonlight throws another shadow on
the snow at his heels.
It is the leader of the pack. The man turns, and
tosses up his arms—an Indian trick to stop pursuit.
Then he fires. The ravening hunter of man that
has been ambushing him half the day rolls over with
a piercing howl.
The man is off and away.
If he only had the quick rifle, with which white men
and a body-guard of guides hunt down a single quarry,
he would be safe enough now. But the old musket is
slow loading, and speed will serve him better than another shot.       I      ,.§/ ■:     |::  ■■ i'
Then the snow-shoe noose slips completely over his
instep to his ankle, throwing the racquet on edge and
clogging him back. Before he can right it they are
upon him. jpj There is nothing for it now but to face
and fight to the last breath. His hood falls back, and
he wheels with the moonlight full in his eyes and the
Northern Lights waving their mystic flames high overhead. On one side, far away, are the tepee peaks of the
lodges; on the other, the solemn, shadowy, snow-
wreathed trees, like funeral watchers—watchers of
how many brave deaths in a desolate, lonely land where
no man raises a cross to him who fought well and died
without fear!
The wolf-pack attacks in two ways. In front, by
burying the red-gummed fangs in the victim's throat;
in the rear, by snapping at sinews of the runner's legs
—called hamstringing. Who taught them this devilish
ingenuity of attack ? The same hard master who teaches the Indian to be as merciless as he is brave—hunger!
Catching the muzzle of his gun, he beats back the They dodge the coming sweep of the uplifted arm.  '^'i^^—^^^^^■~—^^J^^«=~-^'
snapping red mouths with the butt of his weapon;
and the foremost beasts roll under.
But the wolves are fighting from zest of the chase
now, as much as from hunger. Leaping over their dead
fellows, they dodge the coming sweep of the uplifted
arm, and crouch to spring. A great brute is reaching
for the forward bound; but a mean, small wolf sneaks
to the rear of the hunter's fighting shadow. When the
man swings his arm and draws back to strike, this
miserable cur, that could not have worried the trapper's
dog, makes a quick snap at the bend of his knees.
Then the trapper's feet give below him. The wolf
has bitten the knee sinews to the bone. The pack leap
up, and the man goes down.
And when the spring thaw came, to carry away the
heavy snow that fell over the northland that night,
the Indians travelling to their summer hunting-grounds
found the skeleton of a man. Around it were the bones
of three dead wolves; and farther up the hill were the
bleaching remains of a fourth.*
* A death almost similar to that on the shores of Hudson
Bay occurred in the forests of the Boundary, west of Lake Superior, a few years ago. In this case eight wolves were found
round the body of the dead trapper, and eight holes were empty
in his cartridge-belt—which tells its own story. It
The city man, who goes bear-hunting with a bodyguard of armed guides in a field where the hunted have
been on the run from the hunter for a century, gets a
very tame idea of the natural bear in its natural state.
Bears that have had the fear of man inculcated with
longe-range repeaters lose confidence in the prowess of
an aggressive onset against invisible foes. The city
man comes back from the wilds with a legend of how
harmless bears have become. In fact, he doesn't believe a wild animal ever attacks unless it is attacked.
He doubts whether the bear would go on its life-long
career of rapine and death, if hunger did not compel
it, or if repeated assault and battery from other animals did not teach the poor bear the art of self-defence.
Grisly old trappers coming down to the frontier
towns of the Western States once a year for provisions,
or hanging round the forts of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada for the summer, teH a different tale.
Their hunting is done in a field where human presence
is still so rare that it is unknown and the bear treats
mankind precisely as he treats all other living beings
from the moose and the musk-ox to mice and ants—as
fair game for his own insatiable maw.
Old hunters may be great spinners of yarns—
" liars " the city man calls them—but Montagnais, who
squats on his heels round the fur company forts on
Peace Biver, carries ocular evidence in the artificial
ridge of a deformed nose that the bear which he slew
was a real one with an epicurean relish for that part
of Indian anatomy which the Indian considers to be
the most choice bit of a moose.* And the Kootenay
hunter who was sent through the forests of Idaho to
follow up the track of a lost brave brought back proof
of an actual bear; for he found a dead man lying across
a pile of logs with his skull crushed in like an eggshell by something that had risen swift and silent from
a lair on the other side of the logs and dealt the climbing brave one quick terrible blow. And little blind
Ba'tiste, wizened and old, who spent the last twenty
years of his life weaving grass mats and carving curious little wooden animals for the children of the chief
factor, could convince you that the bears he slew in his
young days were very real bears, altogether different
from the clumsy bruins that gambol with boys and
girls through fairy books.
That is, he could convince you if he would; for
he usually sat weaving and weaving at the grasses—
weaving bitter thoughts into the woof of his mat—
without a word. Bound his white helmet, such as
British soldiers wear in hot lands, he always hung a
heavy thick linen thing like the frill of a sun-bonnet,
* In further confirmation of Montagnais's bear, the chief factor's daughter, who told me the story, was standing in the fort
gate when the Indian came running back with a grisly pelt over
his shoulder. When he saw her his hands went up to conceal
the price he had paid for the pelt.
11 146
coming over the face as well as the neck-—" to keep de
sun off," he would mumble out if you asked him why.
More than that of the mysterious frill worn on dark
days as well as sunny, he would never vouch unless
some town-bred man patronizingly pooh-poohed the
dangers of bear-hunting. Then the grass strands
would tremble with excitement and the little French
hunter's body would quiver and he would begin pouring forth a jumble, half habitant half Indian with a
mixture of all the oaths from both languages, pointing
and pointing at his hidden face and bidding you look
what the bear had done to him, but never lifting the
thick frill.
It was somewhere between the tributary waters
that flow north to the Saskatchewan and the rivers
that start near the Saskatchewan to flow south to the
Missouri. Ba'tiste and the three trappers who were
with him did not know which side of the boundary
they were on. By slow travel, stopping one day to
trap beaver, pausing on the way to forage for meat,
building their canoes where they needed them and
abandoning the boats when they made a long overland
portage, they were three weeks north of the American
fur post on the banks of the Missouri. The hunters
were travelling light-handed. That is, they were carrying only a little salt and tea and tobacco. For the
rest, they were depending on their muskets. Game
had not been plentiful.
Between the prairie and "the Mountains of the
Setting Sun"—as the Indians call the Bockies—a
long line of tortuous, snaky red crawled sinuously over
the crests of the foothills; and aU game—bird and BATISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
beast—will shun a prairie fire. There was no wind.
It was the dead hazy calm of Indian summer in the
late autumn with the sun swimming in the purplish
smoke like a blood-red shield all day and the serpent
line of flame flickering and darting little tongues of
vermilion against the deep blue horizon all night, days
filled with the crisp smell of withered grasses, nights
as clear and cold as the echo of a bell. On a windless
plain there is no danger from a prairie fire. One may
travel for weeks without nearing or distancing the
waving tide of fire against a far sky; and the four
trappers, running short of rations, decided to try to
flank the fire coming around far enough ahead to
intercept the game that must be moving away from the
fire line.
Nearly all hunters, through some dexterity of
natural endowment, unconsciously become specialists.
One man sees beaver signs where another sees only
deer. For Ba'tiste, the page of nature spelled
B-E-A-R! Fifteen bear in a winter is a wonderfully
good season's work for any trapper. Ba'tiste's record
for one lucky winter was fifty-four. After that he
was known as the bear hunter. Such a reputation
affects keen hunters differently. The Indian grows
cautious almost to cowardice. Ba'tiste grew rash.
He would follow a wounded grisly to cover. He would
afterward laugh at the episode as a joke if the wounded
brute had treed him. "For sure, good t'ing dat was
not de prairie dat tarn," he would say, flinging down
the pelt of his foe. The other trappers with Indian
blood in their veins might laugh, but they shook their
heads when his back was turned.
Flanking the fire by some of the great gullies that Mi!
cut the foothills like trenches, the hunters began to
find the signs they had been seeking. For Ba'tiste,
the many different signs had but one meaning. Where
some summer rain pool had dried almost to a soft mud
hole, the other trappers saw little cleft foot-marks that
meant deer, and prints like a baby's fingers that
spelled out the visit of some member of the weasel
family, and broad splay-hoof impressions that had
spread under the weight as some giant moose had
gone shambling over the quaking mud bottom. But
Ba'tiste looked only at a long shuffling foot-mark the
length of a man's fore-arm with padded ball-like pressures as of monster toes. The French hunter would
at once examine which way that great foot had pointed.
Were there other impressions dimmer on the dry mud?
Did the crushed spear-grass tell any tales of what had
passed that mud hole? If it did, Ba'tiste would be
seen wandering apparently aimlessly out on the prairie,,
carrying his uncased rifle carefully that the sunlight
should not glint from the barrel, zigzagging up a foothill where perhaps wild plums or shrub berries hung
rotting with frost ripeness. Ba'tiste did not stand full
height at the top of the hill. He dropped face down,
took off his hat, or scarlet " safety " handkerchief, and
peered warily over the crest of the hill. If he went
on over into the next valley, the other men would say
they | guessed he smelt bear." If he came back, they
knew he had been on a cold scent that had faded indis-
tinguishably as the grasses thinned.
Southern slopes of prairie and foothill are often
matted tangles of a raspberry patch. Here Ba'tiste
read many things—stories of many bears, of families,
of cubs, of old cross fellows wandering alone.   Great BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
slabs of stone had been clawed up by mighty hands.
Worms and snails and all the damp clammy things
that cling to the cold dark between stone and earth
had been gobbled up by some greedy forager. In the
trenched ravines crossed by the trappers lay many a
hidden forest of cottonwood or poplar or willow. Here
was refuge, indeed, for the wandering creatures of the
treeless prairie that rolled away from the tops of the
Many secrets could be read from the clustered
woods of the ravines. The other hunters might look
for the fresh nibbled alder bush where a busy beaver
had been laying up store for winter, or detect the blink
of a russet ear among the seared foliage betraying a
deer, or wonder what flesh-eater had caught the poor
jack rabbit just outside his shelter of thorny brush.
The hawk soaring and dropping—lilting and falling and lifting again—might mean that a little mink
was 1 playing dead " to induce the bird to swoop down
so that the vampire beast could suck the hawk's blood,
or that the hawk was watching for an unguarded moment to plunge down with his talons in a poor § fool-
hen's" feathers.
These things might interest the others. They did
not interest Ba'tiste. Ba'tiste's eyes were for lairs of
grass crushed so recently that the spear leaves were
even now rising; for holes in the black mould where
great ripping claws had been tearing up roots; for hollow logs and rotted stumps where a black bear might
have crawled to take his afternoon siesta; for punky
trees which a grisly might have torn open to gobble
ants' eggs; for scratchings down the bole of poplar or
cottonwood where some languid bear had been sharp- 150
ening his claws in midsummer as a cat will scratch
chair-legs; for great pits deep in the clay banks, where
some silly badger or gopher ran down to the depths of
his burrow in sheer terror only to have old bruin come
ripping and tearing to the innermost recesses, with
scattered fur left that told what had happened.
Some soft oozy moss-padded lair, deep in the marsh
with the reeds of the brittle cat-tails lifting as if a
sleeper had just risen, sets Ba'tiste's pulse hopping—
jumping—marking time in thrills like the lithe
bounds of a pouncing mountain-cat. With tread soft
as the velvet paw of a panther, he steals through the
cane-brake parting the reeds before each pace, brushing aside softly—silently what might crush!—snap!—
sound ever so slight an alarm to the little pricked ears
of a shaggy head tossing from side to side—jerk—jerk
—from right to left—from left to right—always on
the listen!—on the listen!—for prey!—for prey!
" Oh, for sure, that Ba'tiste, he was but a fool-
hunter," as his comrades afterward said (it is always so
very plain afterward); % that Ba'tiste, he was a fool!
What man else go step—-step—into the marsh after a
bear!"       I-, |:
But the truth was that Ba'tiste, the cunning rascal,
always succeeded in coming out of the marsh, out of
the bush, out of the windfaU, sound as a top, safe and
unscratched, with a bear-skin over his shoulder, the
head swinging pendant to show what sort of feUow he
had mastered.
"Dat wan!—ah!—diable!—he has long sharp nose
—he was thin—thin as a barrel all gone but de hoops
—ah!—voila!—he was wan ugly gar§on, was dat bear!"
Where the hunters found tufts of fur on the sage BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
brush, bits of skin on the spined cactus, the others
might vow coyotes had worried a badger. Ba'tiste
would have it that the badger had been slain by a bear.
The cached carcass of fawn or doe, of course, meant
bear; for the bear is an epicure that would have meat
gamey.   To that the others would agree.
And so the shortening autumn days with the shimmering heat of a crisp noon and the noiseless chill of
starry twilights found the trappers canoeing leisurely
up-stream from the northern tributaries of the Missouri nearing the long overland trail that led to the
hunting-fields in Canada.
One evening they came to a place bounded by high
cliff banks with the flats heavily wooded by poplar and
willow. Ba'tiste had found signs that were hot—oh!
so hot! The mould of an uprooted gopher hole was so
fresh that it had not yet dried. This was not a region of timber-wolves. What had dug that hole?
Not the small, skulking coyote—the vagrant of prairie
life! Oh!—no!—-the coyote like other vagrants earns
his living without work, by skulking in the wake of
the business-like badger; and when the badger goes
down in the gopher hole, Master Coyote stands nearby and gobbles up all the stray gophers that bolt to
escape the invading badger.* What had dug the hole?
Ba'tiste thinks that he knows.
That was on open prairie. Just below the cliff is another kind of hole—a roundish pit dug between moss-
* This phase of prairie life must not be set down to writer's
license.. It is something that every rider of the plains can see anytime he has patience to rein up and sit like a statue within field-
glass distance of the gopher burrows about nightfall when the
badgers are running. 152
covered logs and earth waU, a pit with grass clawed
down into it, snug and hidden and sheltered as a bird's
nest. If the pit is what Ba'tiste thinks, somewhere on
the banks of the stream should be a watering-place.
He proposes that they beach the canoes and camp here.
Twilight is not a good time to stiU hunt an unseen
bear. Twilight is the time when the bear himself
goes stiU hunting. Ba'tiste wiU go out in the early
morning. Meantime if he stumbles on what looks like
a trail to the watering-place, he wiU set a trap.
Camp is not for the regular trapper what it is foT
the amateur hunter—a time of rest and waiting while
others skin the game and prepare supper.
One hunter whittles the willow sticks that are to
make the camp fire. Another gathers moss or boughs
for a bed. If fish can be got, some one has out a line.
The kettle hisses from the cross-bar between notched
sticks above the fire, and the meat sizzling at the end
of a forked twig sends up a flavour that whets every
appetite. Over the upturned canoes bend a couple of
men gumming afresh all the splits and seams against
to-morrow's voyage. Then with a flip-flop that teUs of
the other side of the flap-jacks being browned, the cook
yodels in crescendo that " Sup—per!—'s—read—ee!"
Supper over, a trap or two may be set in likely
places. The men may take a plunge; for in spite of
their tawny skins, these earth-coloured feUows have
eloser acquaintance with water than their appearance
would indicate. The man-smeU is as acute to the
beast's nose as the rank fur-animal-smeU is to the
man's nose; and the first thing that an Indian who has
had a long run of iU-luck does is to get a native
sweating-bath'  and make himself clean. BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
On the ripple of the flowing river are the red bars
of the camp fire. Among the willows, perhaps, the
bole of some birch stands out white and spectral.
Though there is no wind, the poplars shiver with a
fall of wan, faded leaves like snow-flakes on the grave
of summer. Bed bills and whisky-jacks and lonely
phoebe-birds came fluttering and pecking at the
crumbs. Out from the gray thicket bounds a cottontail to jerk up on his hind legs with surprise at the
camp fire. A blink of his long ear, and he has bounded
back to tell the news to his rabbit family. Overhead,
with shrill clangour, single file and in long wavering
V lines, wing geese migrating southward for the season. The children's hour, has a great poet called a
certain time of day? Then this is the hour of the
wilderness hunter, the hour when "the Mountains of
the Setting Sun " are flooded in fiery lights from zone
to zenith with the snowy heights overtopping the far
rolling prairie like clouds of opal at poise in mid-
heaven, the hour when the camp fire lies on the russet
autumn-tinged earth like a red jewel, and the far line
of the prairie fire billows against the darkening east
in a tide of vermilion flame.
Unless it is raining, the voyageurs do not erect
their tent; for they wiU sleep in the open, feet to the
fire, or under the canoes, close to the great earth, into
whose very fibre their beings seem to be rooted. And
now is the time when the hunters spin their yarns and
exchange notes of all they have seen in the long silent
day. There was the prairie chicken with a late brood
of half-grown clumsy clucking chicks amply able to
take care of themselves, but still clinging to the old
mother's care.   When the hunter came suddenly on 154
them, over the old hen went, flopping broken-winged
to decoy the trapper tiU her children could run for
shelter—when—lo!—of a sudden, the broken wing is
mended and away she darts on both wings before he
has uncased his gun! There are the stories of bear
hunters like Ba'tiste sitting on the other side of the
fire there, who have been caught in their own bear
traps and held tiU they died of starvation and their
bones bleached in the rusted steel.
That story has such small relish for Ba'tiste that
he hitches farther away from the others and lies back
flat on the ground close to the willow under-tangle
with his head on his hand.
"For sure," says Ba'tiste contemptuously, "nobody doesn't need no tree to climb here! Sacre!—cry
wolf!—wolf!—and for sure!—diable!—de beeg loup-
garou will eat you yet!"
Down somewhere from those stars overhead drops
a call silvery as a flute, clear as a piccolo—some night
bird lilting like a mote on the far oceans of air. The
trappers look up with a movement that in other men
would be a nervous start; for any shriU cry pierces the
silence of the prairie in almost a stab. Then the men
go on with their yarn teUing of how the Blackfeet
murdered some traders on this very ground not long
ago tiU the gloom gathering over wiUow thicket and
encircling cliffs seems peopled with those marauding
warriors. One man rises, saying that he is "goin' to
turn in " and is taking a step through the dark to his
canoe when there is a dull pouncing thud. For an instant the trappers thought that their comrade had
stumbled over his boat. But a heavy groan—a low
guttural   cry—a   shout   of   " Help—help—help   Ba'- BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
tiste!" and the man who had risen plunged into the
crashing cane-brake, calling out incoherently for them
to "help—help Ba'tiste!" f
In the confusion of cries and darkness, it was impossible for the other two trappers to know what had
happened. Their first thought was of the Indians
whose crimes they had been telling. Their second
was for their rifles—and they had both sprung over
the fire where they saw the third man striking—striking—^striking wildly at something in the dark. A low
worrying growl—and they descried the Frenchman
rolling over and over, clutched by or clutching a huge
furry form—hitting—plunging with his knife—struggling—screaming with agony.
I It's Ba'tiste! It's a bear!" shouted the third
man, who was attempting to drive the brute off by
raining blows on its head.
Man and bear were an indistinguishable struggling
mass. Should they shoot in the half-dark? Then the
Frenchman uttered the scream of one in death-throes:
" Shoot! — shoot! — shoot quick! She's striking my
face!—she's striking my face "
And before the words had died, sharp flashes of
light cleft the dark—the great beast rolled over with
a coughing growl, and the trappers raised their comrade from the ground.
The bear had had him on his back between her
teeth by the thick chest piece of his double-breasted
buck-skin. Except for his face, he seemed uninjured;
but down that face the great brute had drawn the
claws of her fore paw.
Ba'tiste raised his hands to his face.
" Mon dieu!" he asked thickly, fumbling with both 156
hands, "what is done to my eyes?   Is the fire out?,   I
cannot see!"
Then the man who had fought like a demon armed
with only a hunting-knife fainted because of what his
hands felt.
Traitors there are among trappers as among all
other classes, men like those who deserted Glass on the
Missouri, and Scott on the Platte, and how many
others whose treachery will never be known.
But Ba'tiste's comrades stayed with him on the
banks of the river that flows into the Missouri. One
cared for the blind man. The other two foraged for
game. When the wounded hunter could be moved,
they put him in a canoe and hurried down-stream to
the fur post before the freezing of the rivers. At the
fur post, the doctor did what he could; but a doctor
cannot restore what has been torn away. The next
spring, Ba'tiste was put on a pack horse and sent to
his relatives at the Canadian fur post. Here his sisters made him the curtain to hang round his helmet
and set him to weaving grass mats that the days might
not drag so wearily.
Ask Ba'tiste whether he agrees with the amateur
hunter that bears never attack unless they are attacked, that they would never become ravening creatures of prey unless the assaults of other creatures
taught them ferocity, ask Ba'tiste this and something
resembling the snarl of a baited beast breaks from the
lipless face under the veil:
" S—s—sz!—" with a quiver of inexpressible rage.
" The bear—it is an animal!—the bear!—it is a beast!
—toujours!—the bear!—it is a beast!—always—always !"   And his hands clinch.
Then he falls to carving of the little wooden animals and weaving of sad, sad, bitter thoughts into the
warp of the Indian mat.
Are such onslaughts common among bears, or are
they the mad freaks of the bear's nature? President
Roosevelt tells of two soldiers bitten to death in the
South-West; and M. L'Abbe Dugast, of St. Boniface,
Manitoba, incidentally relates an experience almost
similar to that of Ba'tiste which occurred in the North-
West. Lest Ba'tiste's case seem overdrawn, I quote
the Abbe's words:
I At a little distance Madame Lajimoniere and the
other women were preparing the tents for the night,
when all at once Bouvier gave a cry of distress and
called to his companions to help him. At the first
shout, each hunter siezed his gun and prepared to defend himself against the attack of an enemy; they hurried to the other side of the ditch to see what was tho
matter with Bouvier, and what he was struggling with.
They had no idea that a wild animal would come near
the fire to attack a man even under cover of night; for
fire usually has the effect of frightening wild beasts.
However, almost before the four hunters knew what
had happened, they saw their unfortunate companion
dragged into the woods by a bear followed by her two
cubs. She held Bouvier in her claws and struck him
savagely in the face to stun him. As soon as she saw
the four men in pursuit, she redoubled her fury against
her prey, tearing his face with her claws. M. Lajimoniere, who was an intrepid hunter, baited her with the
butt end of his gun to make her let go her hold, as he 158
dared not shoot for fear of kiUing the man while trying to save him, but Bouvier, who felt himself being
choked, cried with aU his strength: ' Shoot; I would
rather be shot than eaten alive!' M. Lajimoniere
pulled the trigger as close to the bear as possible,
wounding her mortally. She let go Bouvier and before her strength was exhausted made a wild attack
upon M. Lajimoniere, who expected this and as his gun
had only one barrel loaded, he ran towards the canoe,
where he had a second gun fully charged. He had
hardly seized it before the bear reached the shore and
tried to climb into the canoe, but fearing no longer
to wound his friend, M. Lajimoniere aimed full at her
breast and this time she was kiHed instantly. As soon
as the bear was no longer to be feared, Madame Lajimoniere, who had been trembling with fear during
the tumult, went to raise the unfortunate Bouvier,
who was covered with wounds and nearly dead. The
bear had torn the skin from his face with her nails
from the roots of his hair to the lower part of his chin.
His eyes and nose were gone—in fact his features were
indiscernible—but he was not mortaUy injured. His
wounds were dressed as weU as the circumstances
would permit, and thus crippled he was carried to the
Fort of the Prairies, Madame Lajimoniere taking care
of him all through the journey. In time his wounds
were successfully healed, but he was blind and infirm to
the end of his life. He dwelt at the Fort of the Prairies for many years, but when the first missionaries
reached Bed Biver in 1818, he persuaded his friends
to send him to St. Boniface to meet the priests and
ended his days in M. Provencher's house. He employed his time during the last years of his life in mak- BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER
ing crosses and crucifixes blind as he was, but he never
made any chefs d'ceuvre"
Such is bear-hunting and such is the nature of the
bear. And these things are not of the past. Wherever long-range repeaters have not put the fear of man
in the animal heart, the bear is the aggressor. Even
as I write comes word from a little frontier fur post
which I visited in 1901, of a seven-year-old boy being
waylaid and devoured by a grisly only four miles back
from a transcontinental railway. This is the second
death from the unprovoked attacks of bears within a
month in that country—and that month, the month of
August, 1902, when sentimental ladies and gentlemen
many miles away from danger are sagely discussing
whether the bear is naturally ferocious or not—■
whether, in a word, it is altogether humane to hunt
Long before sunrise hunters were astir in the mountains.
The Crows were robbers, the Blackfeet murderers;
and scouts of both tribes haunted every mountain defile
where a white hunter might pass with provisions and
peltries which these rascals could plunder.
The trappers circumvented their foes by setting
the traps after nightfaU and lifting the game before
Night in the mountains was full of a mystery that
the imagination of the Indians peopled with terrors
enough to frighten them away. The sudden stilling
of mountain torrent and noisy leaping cataract at sundown when the thaw of the upper snows ceased, the
smothered roar of rivers under ice, the rush of whirlpools through the blackness of some far canon, the
crashing of rocks thrown down by unknown forces, the
shivering echo that multiplied itself a thousandfold
and ran " rocketing" from peak to peak startling the
silences—these things filled the Indian with superstitious fears.
The gnomes, called in trapper's vernacular "hoo-
doos "—great pillars of sandstone higher than a house,
left standing in vaUeys by prehistoric floods—were to
the Crows and Blackfeet petrified giants that Only
awakened at night to hurl down rocks on intruding
mortals. And often the quiver of a shadow in the night
wind gave reality to the Indian's fears. The purr of
streams over rocky bed was whispering, the queer
quaking echoes of falling rocks were giants at war,
and the mists rising from swaying waterfalls, spirit-
forms portending death.
Morning came more ghostly among the peaks.
Thick white clouds banked the mountains from peak
to base, blotting out every scar and tor as a sponge
might wash a slate. Valleys lay blanketed in smoking
mist. As the sun came gradually up to the horizon far
away east behind the mountains, scarp and pinnacle
butted through the fog, stood out bodily from the mist,
seemed to move like living giants from the cloud banks.
"How could they do that if they were not alive?"
asked the Indian. Elsewhere, shadows came from sun,
moon, starlight, or camp-fire. But in these valleys
were pencilled shadows of peaks upside down, shadows
all the colours of the rainbow pointing to the bottom
of the green Alpine lakes, hours and hours before any
sun had risen to cause the shadows. All this meant
"bad medicine" to the Indian, or, in white man's
language, mystery.
Unless they were foraging in large bands, Crows
and Blackfeet shunned the mountains after nightfall.
That gave the white man a chance to trap in safety. ||§
Early one morning two white men slipped out of
their sequestered cabin built in hiding of the hills at
the head waters of the Missouri. Under covert of brushwood lay a long odd-shaped canoe, sharp enough at the
prow to cleave the narrowest waters between rocks, so
13 162
sharp that French voyageurs gave this queer craft the
name % canot a bee d'esturgeon "—that is, a canoe like
the nose of a sturgeon. This American adaptation of
the Frenchman's eraft was not of birch-bark. That
would be too frail to essay the rock-ribbed canons of
the mountain streams. It was usually a common dugout, hoUowed from a cottonwood or other light timber,
with such an angular narrow prow that it could take
the sheerest dip and mount the steepest wave-crest
where a rounder boat would fill and swamp. Dragging
this from cover, the two white men pushed out on the
Jefferson Fork, dipping now on this side, now on that,
using the reversible double-bladed paddles which only
an amphibious boatman can manage. The two men shot
out in mid-stream, where the mists would hide them
from each shore; a moment later the white fog had enfolded them, and there was no trace of human presence but the trail of dimpling ripples in the wake of
the canoe.
No talking, no whistling, not a sound to betray
.them. And there were good reasons why these men
did not wish their presence known. One was Potts,
the other John Colter. Both had been with the Lewis
and Clark exploring party of 1804-'05, when a Black-
foot brave had been slain for horse-thieving by the
first white men to cross the Upper Missouri. Besides,
the year before coming to the Jefferson, Colter had
been with the Missouri Company's fur brigade under
Manuel Lisa, and had gone to the Crows as an emissary
from the fur company. While with the Crows, a battle
had taken place against the Blackfeet, in which they
suffered heavy loss owing to Colter's prowess. That
made the Blackfeet sworn enemies to Colter. JOHN COLTER—FREE TRAPPER
Turning off the Jefferson, the trappers headed their
canoe up a side stream, probably one of those marshy
reaches where beavers have formed a swamp by damming up the current of a sluggish stream. Such quiet
waters are favourite resorts for beaver and mink and
marten and pekan. Setting their traps only after
nightfaU, the two men could not possibly have put out
more than forty or fifty. Thirty traps are a heavy day's
work for one man. Six prizes out of thirty are considered a wonderful run of luck; but the empty traps
must be examined as carefully as the successful ones.
Many that have been mauled, " scented" by a beaver
scout and left, must be replaced. Others must have
fresh bait; others, again, carried to better grounds
where there are more game signs.
Either this was a very lucky morning and the men
were detained taking fresh pelts, or it was a very unlucky morning and the men had decided to trap farther
up-stream; for when the mists began to rise, the hunters were still in their canoe. Leaving the beaver meadow, they continued paddling up-stream away from the
Jefferson. A more hidden watercourse they could
hardly have found. The swampy beaver-runs narrowed,
the shores rose higher and higher into rampart walls,
and the dark-shadowed waters came leaping down in
the lumpy, uneven runnels of a small canon. You can
always tell whether the waters of a canon are compressed or not, whether they come from broad, swampy
meadows or clear snow streams smaller than the canon.
The marsh waters roll down swift and black and turbid,
raging against the crowding walls ; the snow streams
leap clear and foaming as champagne, and are in too
great a hurry to stop and quarrel with the rocks.   It is 164
altogether likely these men recognised swampy water,
and were ascending the canon in search of a fresh
beaver-marsh; or they would not have continued paddling six miles above the Jefferson with daylight growing plainer at every mile. First the mist rose like a
smoky exhalation from the river; then it flaunted
across the rampart walls in banners; then the far
mountain peaks took form against the sky, islands in a
sea of fog; then the cloud banks were floating in mid-
heaven blindingly white from a sun that painted each
canon wall in the depths of the water.
How much farther would the canon lead?   Should
they go higher up or not?    Was it wooded or clear \
plain above the walls?   The man paused.   What wa3
that noise?
§§  I Like buffalo," said Potts.
"Might be Blackfeet," answered Colter.
"No. What would Blackfeet be doing, riding at a
pace to make such thunder so close to a canon? It
was only a buffalo herd stampeding on the annual
southern run. Again Colter urged that the noise might
be from Indians. It would be safer for them to retreat at once. At which Potts wanted to know if
Colter were afraid, using a stronger word—" coward."
Afraid? Colter afraid? Colter who had remained
behind Lewis and Clark's men to trap alone in the
wilds for nearly two years, who had left Manuel Lisa's
brigade to go alone among the thieving Crows, whose
leadership had helped the Crows to defeat the Blackfeet?; 'fev ' |./ -|
Anyway, it would now be as dangerous to go back
as forward. They plainly couldn't land here. Let them
go ahead where the waUs seemed to slope down to JOHN COLTER—FREE TRAPPER
shore. Two or three strokes sent the canoe round an
elbow of rock into the narrow course of a creek. Instantly out sprang five or six hundred Blackfeet warriors with weapons levelled guarding both sides of the
An Indian scout had discovered the trail of the white
men and sent the whole band scouring ahead to intercept them at this narrow pass. The chief stepped forward, and with signals that were a command beckoned
the hunters ashore.
As is nearly always the case, the rash man was the
one to lose his head, the cautious man the one to keep
his presence of mind. Potts was for an attempt at
flight, when every bow on both sides of the river would
have let fly a shot. Colter was for accepting the situation, trusting to his own wit for subsequent escape.
Colter, who was acting as steersman, sent the canoe
ashore. Bottom had not grated before a savage
snatched Potts's rifle from his hands. Springing ashore,
Colter forcibly wrested the weapon back and coolly
handed it to Potts.
But Potts had lost all the rash courage of a moment before, and with one push sent the canoe into
mid-stream. Colter shouted at him to come back—
come back! Indians have more effective arguments.
A bow-string twanged, and Potts screamed out, " Colter, I am wounded!"
Again Colter urged him to land. The wound
turned Pott's momentary fright to a paroxysm of rage.
Aiming his rifle, he shot his Indian assailant dead. If
it was torture that he feared, that act assured him at
least a quick death; for, in Colter's language, man and
boat were instantaneously "made a riddle of." 166
!No man admires courage more than the Indian;
and the Blackfeet recognised in their captive one who
had been ready to defend his comrade against them all,
and who had led the Crows to victory against their own
The prisoner surrendered his weapons. He was
stripped naked, but neither showed sign of fear nor
made a move to escape. Evidently the Blackfeet could
have rare sport with this game white man. His life
in the Indian country had taught him a few words of
the Blackfoot language. He heard them conferring as
to how he should be tortured to atone for all that the
Blackfeet had suffered at white men's hands. One warrior suggested that the hunter be set up as a target and
shot at.   Would he then be so brave?
But the chief shook his head. That was not game
enough sport for Blackfeet warriors. That would be
letting a man die passively. And how this man could
fight if he had an opportunity! How he could resist
torture if he had any chance of escaping the torture!
But Colter stood impassive and listened. Doubtless he regretted having left the well-defended brigades of the fur companies to hunt alone in the wilderness. But the fascination of the wild life is as a gambler's vice—the more a man has, the more he wants.
Had not Colter crossed the Bockies with Lewis and
Clark and spent two years in the mountain fastnesses ?
Yet when he reached the Mandans on the way home,
the revulsion against all the trammels of civilization
moved him so strongly that he asked permission to
return to the wilderness, where he spent two more
years. Had he not set out for St. Louis a second time,
met Lisa coming up the Missouri with a brigade of ;fi«a
hunters, and for the third time turned his face to the'
wilderness? Had he not wandered with the Crows,
fought the Blackfeet, gone down to St. Louis, and been
impeUed by that strange impulse of adventure which
was to the hunter what the instinct of migration is to
bird and fish and buffalo and aB wild things—to go
yet again to the wilderness ? Such was the passion for
the wilds that ruled the life of aU free trappers.
The free trappers formed a class by themselves.
Other trappers either hunted on a salary of $200,
$300, $400 a year, or on shares, like fishermen of the
Grand Banks outfitted by "planters," or like western
prospectors outfitted by companies that supply provisions, boats, and horses, expecting in return the major
share of profits. The free trappers fitted themselves
out, owed allegiance to no man, hunted where and how
they chose, and refused to carry their furs to any fort
but the one that paid the highest prices. For the
mangeurs de lard, as they called the fur company
raftsmen, they had a supreme contempt. For the methods of the fur companies, putting rivals to sleep with
laudanum or bullet and ever stirring the savages up to
warfare, the free trappers had a rough and emphatically expressed loathing.
The crime of corrupting natives can never be laid
to the free trapper. He carried neither poison, nor
what was worse than poison to the Indian—whisky—
among the native tribes. The free trapper lived on
good terms with the Indian, because his safety depended on the Indian. Benegades like Bird, the deserter from the Hudson's Bay Company, or Bose, who
abandoned the Astorians, or Beckwourth of apocryphal 168
fame, might cast off civilization and become Indian
chiefs; but, after aU, these men were not guilty of half
so hideous crimes as the great fur companies of boasted
respectability. Wyeth of Boston, and Captain Bonne-
viUe of the army, whose underlings caused such murderous slaughter among the Boot Diggers, were not
free trappers in the true sense of the term. Wyeth
was an enthusiast who caught the fever of the wilds;
^nd Captain Bonneville, a gay adventurer, whose men
shot down more Indians in one trip than all the free
trappers of America shot in a century. As for the desperado Harvey, whom Larpenteur reports shooting Indians like dogs, his crimes were committed under the
walls of the American Fur Company's fort. MacLel-
lan and Crooks and John Day—before they joined the
Astorians—and Boone and Carson and Colter, are
names that stand for the true type of free trapper.
The free trapper went among the Indians with no
defence but good behaviour and the keenness of his wit.
Whatever crimes the free trapper might be guilty of
towards white men, he was guilty of few towards the
Indians. Consequently, free trappers were all through
Minnesota and the region westward of the Mississippi
forty years before the fur companies dared to venture
among the Sioux. Fisher and Fraser and Woods knew
the Upper Missouri before 1806; and Brugiere had been
on the Columbia many years before the Astorians came
in 1811. I
One crime the free trappers may be charged with—
a reckless waste of precious furs. The great companies
always encouraged the Indians not to hunt more game
than they needed for the season's support. And no Indian hunter, uncorrupted by white men, would molest I .
game while the mothers were with their young. Famine
had taught them the punishment that follows reckless
hunting. But the free trappers were here to-day and
away to-morrow, like a Chinaman, to take all they could
get regardless of results; and the results were the rapid
extinction of fur-bearing game.
Always there were more free trappers in the United
States than in Canada. Before the union of Hudson's
Bay and Nor' Wester in Canada, all classes of trappers were absorbed by one of the two great companies.
After the union, when the monopoly enjoyed by the
Hudson's Bay did not permit it literally to drive a free
trapper out, it could always 1 freeze " him out by withholding supplies in its great white northern wildernesses, or by refusing to give him transport. When the
monopoly passed away in 1871, free trappers pressed
north from the Missouri, where their methods had exterminated game, and carried on the same ruthless
warfare on the Saskatchewan. North of the Saskatchewan, where very remoteness barred strangers out, the
Hudson's Bay Company still held undisputed sway;
and Lord Strathcona, the governor of the company, was
able to say only two years ago, 1 the fur trade is quite
as large as ever it was."
Among free hunters, Canada had only one commanding figure—John Johnston of the Soo, who settled at La Pointe on Lake Superior in 1792, formed
league with Wabogish, " the White Fisher," and became
the most famous trader of the Lakes. His life, too, was
almost as eventful as Colter's. A member of the Irish
nobility, some secret which he never chose to reveal
drove him to the wilds. Wabogish, the " White Fisher,"
had a daughter who refused the wooings of all her 170
tribe's warriors. In vain Johnston sued for her hand.
Old Wabogish bade the white man go sell his Irish estates and prove his devotion by buying as vast estates
in America. Johnston took the old chief at his word,
and married the haughty princess of the Lake, When
the War of 1812 set all the tribes by the ears, Johnston
and his wife had as thrilling adventures as ever Colter
knew among the Blackfeet.
Many a free trapper, and partner of the fur companies as well, secured his own safety by marrying the
daughter of a chief, as Johnston had. These were not
the lightly-come, lightly-go affairs of the vagrant adventurer. If the husband had not cast off civilization
like a garment, the wife had to put it on like a garment;
and not an ill-fitting garment either, when one considers that the convents of the quiet nuns dotted the wilderness like oases in a desert almost contemporaneous
with the fur trade. If the trapper had not sunk to the
level of the savages, the little daughter of the chief was
educated by the nuns for her new position. I recall
several cases where the child was sent across the Atlantic to an English governess so that the equality
would be literal and not a sentimental fiction. And yet,
on no subject has the western fur trader received more
persistent and unjust condemnation. The heroism that
culminated in the union of Pocahontas with a noted
Virginian won applause, and almost similar circumstances dictated the union of fur traders with the
daughters of Indian chiefs; but because the fur trader
has not posed as a sentimentalist, he has become more
or less of a target for the index finger of the Pharisee.*
* Would not such critics think twice before passing judgment
if they recalled that General Parker was a full-blood Indian; that JOHN COLTER—FREE TRAPPER
North of the boundary the free trapper had small
chance against the Hudson's Bay Company. As long
as the slow-going Mackinaw Company, itself chiefly recruited from free trappers, ruled at the junction of the
Lakes, the free trappers held the hunting-grounds of
the Mississippi; but after the Mackinaw was absorbed
by the aggressive American Fur Company, the free
hunters were pushed westward. On the Lower Missouri competition raged from 1810, so that circumstances drove the free trapper westward to the mountains, where he is hunting in the twentieth century as
his prototype hunted two hundred years ago.
In Canada—of course after 1870—he entered the
mountains chiefly by three passes: (1) Yellow Head
Pass southward of the Athabasca; (2) the narrow gap
where the Bow emerges to the plains—that is, the river
where the Indians found the best wood for the making
of bows; (3) north of the boundary, through that narrow defile overtowered by the lonely flat-crowned peak
called Crow's Nest Mountain—that is, where the fugitive CrowS took refuge from the pursuing Blackfeet.
if Johnston had not married Wabogish's daughter and if Johnston's daughter had not preferred to marry Schoolcraft instead
of going to her relatives of the Irish nobility, Longfellow would
have written no Hiawatha? Would they not hesitate before
slurring men like Premier Torquay of Manitoba and the famous
MacKenzies, those princes of fur trade from St. Louis to the
Arctic, and David Thompson, the great explorer ? Do they forget that Lord Strathcona, one of the foremost peers of Britain,
is related to the proudest race of plain-rangers that ever scoured
the West, the Bois-Brules 9 The writer knows the West from
only fifteen years of life and travel there; yet with that imperfect knowledge cannot recall a single fur post without some tradition of an unfained Pocahontas. 172
In the United States, the free hunters also approached the mountains by three main routes: (1) Up
the Platte; (2) westward from the Missouri across the
plains; (3) by the Three Forks of the Missouri. For instance, it was coming down the Platte that poor Scott's
canoe was overturned, his powder lost, and his rifles
rendered useless. Game had retreated to the mountains with spring's advance. Berries were not ripe by
the time trappers were descending with their winter's
hunt. Scott and his famishing men could not find edible roots. Each day Scott weakened. There was no
food. FinaUy, Scott had strength to go no farther.
His men had found tracks of some other hunting party
far to the fore. They thought that, in any case, he
could not live. What ought they to do? Hang back
and starve with him, or hasten forward while they had
strength, to the party whose track they had espied? On
pretence of seeking roots, they deserted the helpless
man. Perhaps they did not come up with the advance
party tiB they were sure that Scott must have died; for
they did not go back to his aid. The next spring when
these same hunters went up the Platte, they found the
skeleton of poor Scott sixty miles from the place where
they had left him. The terror that spurred the emaciated man to drag himself all this weary distance can
barely be conceived; but such were the fearful odds
taken by every free trapper who went up the Platte*
across the parched plains, or to the head waters of the
The time for the free trappers to go out was, in
Indian language, "when the leaves began to faU." If
a mighty hunter Bke Colter, the trapper was to the
savage "big Indian me"; if only an ordinary vagrant JOHN COLTER—FREE TRAPPER
of woods and streams, the white man was "big knife
you," in distinction to the red man carrying only primi*
tive weapons. Very often the free trapper slipped away
from the fur post secretly, or at night; for there were
questions of licenses which he disregarded, knowing
well that the buyer of his furs would not inform for
fear of losing the pelts. Also and more important in
counseling caution, the powerful fur companies had
spies on the watch to dog the free trapper to his hunting-grounds; and rival hunters would not hesitate to
bribe the natives with a keg of rum for all the peltries
which the free trapper had already bought by advancing
provisions to Indian hunters. Indeed, rival hunters
have not hesitated to bribe the savages to pillage and
murder the free trapper; for there was no law in the
fur trading country, and no one to ask what became of
the free hunter who went alone into the wilderness and
never returned.
Going out alone, or with only one partner, the free
hunter encumbered himself with few provisions^ Two
dollars worth of tobacco would buy a thousand pounds
of f jerked " buffalo meat, and a few gaudy trinkets for
a squaw all the pemmican white men could use.
Going by the river routes, four days out from St.
Louis brought the trapper into regions of danger. Indian scouts hung on the watch among the sedge of the
river bank. One thin line of upcurling smoke, or a
piece of string—babiche (leather cord, called by the Indians assapapish)—fluttering from a shrub, or little
sticks casually dropped on the river bank pointing one
way, all were signs that told of marauding bands.
Some birch tree was notched with an Indian cipher—
a hunter had passed that way and claimed the bark for 174:
his next year's canoe. Or the mark might be on a
cottonwood—some man wanted this tree for a dugout.
Perhaps a stake stood with a mark at the entrance to
a beaver-marsh—some hunter had found this ground
first and warned all other trappers off by the code of
wilderness honour. Notched tree-trunks told of some
runner gone across country, blazing a trail by which
he could return. Had a piece of fungus been torn from
a hemlock log? There were Indians near, and the
squaw had taken the thing to whiten leather. If a sudden puff of black smoke spread out in a cone above some
distant tree, it was an ominous sign to the trapper.
The Indians had set fire to the inside of a punky trunk
and the shooting flames were a rallying call.
In the most perilous regions the trapper travelled
only after nightfall with muffled paddles—that is,
muffled where the handle might strike the gunwale.
Camp-fires warned him which side of the river to avoid;
and often a trapper slipping past under the shadow
of one bank saw hobgoblin figures dancing round
t;he flames of the other bank—Indians celebrating their
scalp dance. In these places the white hunter ate cold
meals to avoid lighting a fire; or if he lighted a fire,
after cooking his meal he withdrew at once and slept
at a distance from the light that might betray him.
The greatest risk of travelling after dark during the
spring floods arose from what the voyageurs called em-
barras—trees torn from the banks sticking in the soft
bottom like derelicts with branches to entangle the
trapper's craft; but the embarras often befriended the
solitary white man. Usually he slept on shore rolled
in a buffalo-robe; but if Indian signs were fresh, he
moored his canoe in mid-current and slept under hiding
of the drift-wood. Friendly Indians did not conceal
themselves, but came to the river bank waving a buffalo-robe and spreading it out to signal a welcome to
the white man; when the trapper would go ashore,
whiff pipes with the chiefs and perhaps spend the night
listening to the tales of exploits which each notch on
the calumet typified. Incidents that meant nothing to
other men were full of significance to the lone voyageur
through hostile lands. Always the spring floods drifted down numbers of dead buffalo; and the carrion birds
sat on the trees of the shore with their wings spread
out to dry in the sun. The sudden flacker of a rising
flock betrayed something prowling in ambush on the
bank; so did the splash of a snake from overhanging
branches into the water.
Different sorts of dangers beset the free trapper
crossing the plains to the mountains. The fur company brigades always had escort of armed guard and
provision packers. The free trappers went alone or in
pairs, picketing horses to the saddle overlaid with a
buffalo-robe for a pillow, cooking meals on chip fires,
using a slow-burning wormwood bark for matches, and
trusting their horses or dog to give the alarm if the
bands of coyotes hovering through the night dusk approached too near. On the high rolling plains, hostiles
could be descried at a distance, coming over the horizon head and top first like the peak of a sail, or emerging from the | coolies "—dried sloughs—like wolves
from the earth. Enemies could be seen soon enough;
but where could the trapper hide on bare prairie ? He
didn't attempt to hide. He simply set fire to the
prairie and took refuge on the lee side. That device
failing, he was at his enemies' mercy. 176
On the plains, the greatest danger was from lack
of water. At one season the trapper might know where
to find good camping streams. The next year when he
came to those streams they were dry.
"After leaving the buffalo meadows a dreadful scarcity of
water ensued," wrote Charles MacKenzie, of the famous MacKenzie clan. He was journeying north from the Missouri. * * We
had to alter our course and steer to a distant lake. When we
got there we found the lake dry. However, we dug a pit which
produced a kind of stinking liquid which we all drank. It was
salt and bitter, caused an inflammation of the mouth, left a
disagreeable roughness of the throat, and seemed to increase
our thirst. . . . We passed the night under great uneasiness.
Next day we continued our journey, but not a drop of water
was to be found, . . . and our distress became insupportable.
. . . All at once our horses became so unruly that we could not
manage them. We observed that they showed an inclination
towards a hill which was close by. It. struck me that they
might have scented water. ... I ascended to the top, where,
to my great joy, I discovered a small pool. . . . My horse
plunged in before I could prevent him, . . . and all the horses
drank to excess."
" The plains across "—which was a western expression meaning the end of that part of the trip—there
rose on the west rolling foothills and dark peaked profiles against the sky scarcely to be distinguished from
gray cloud banks. These were the mountains; and the
real hazards of free trapping began. No use to follow
the easiest passes to the most frequented valleys. The
fur company brigades marched through these, sweeping up game like a forest fire; so the free trappers
sought out the hidden, inaccessible valleys, going where
neither pack horse nor canot a bee d'esturgeon could
foUow.   How did they do it?   Very much the way JOHN COLTERr-FREE TRAPPER
Simon Fraser's hunters crawled down the river-course
named after him. § Our shoes," said one trapper, | did
not last a single day."
" We had to plunge our daggers into the ground, . . . otherwise we would slide into the river," wrote Fraser. " We cut
steps into the declivity, fastened a line to the front of the canoe,
with which some of the men ascended in order to haul it up.
. . . Our lives hung, as it were, upon a thread, as the failure
of the line or the false step of the man might have hurled us into
eternity. . . . We had to pass where no human being should
venture. . . . Steps were formed like a ladder on the shrouds of
a ship, by poles hanging to one another and crossed at certain
distances with twigs, the whole suspended from the top to the
foot of immense precipices, and fastened at both extremities to
stones and trees."
He speaks of the worst places being where these
frail swaying ladders led up to the overhanging ledge
of a shelving precipice.
Such were the very real adventures of the trapper's
life, a life whose fascinations lured John Colter from
civilization to the wilds again and again till he came
back once too often and found himself stripped, helpless, captive, in the hands of the Blackfeet.
It would be poor sport torturing a prisoner who
showed no more fear than this impassive white man
coolly listening and waiting for them to compass his
death. So the chief dismissed the suggestion to shoot
at their captive as a target. Suddenly the Blackfoot
leader turned to Colter. " Could the white man run
fast?" he asked. In a flash Colter guessed what was
to be his fate. He, the hunter, was to be hunted. No,
he cunningly signalled, he was only a poor runner.
Bidding his warriors stand still, the chief roughly
13 178
led Colter out three hundred yards. Then he set his
captive free, and the exultant shriek of the running
warriors told what manner of sport this was to be. It
was a race for life.
The white man shot out with all the power of
muscles hard as iron-wood and tense as a bent bow.
Fear winged the man running for his life to outrace the
winged arrows coming from the shouting warriors three
hundred yards behind. Before him stretched a plain
six miles wide, the distance he had so thoughtlessly
paddled between the rampart walls of the canon but
a few hours ago. At the Jefferson was a thick forest
growth where a fugitive might escape. Somewhere
along the Jefferson was his own hidden cabin.
Across this plain sped Colter, pursued by a band
of six hundred shrieking demons. Kot one breath did
he waste looking back over his shoulder till he was
more than half-way across the plain, and could tell
from the fading uproar that he was outdistancing his
hunters. Perhaps it was the last look of despair; but
it spurred the jaded racer to redoubled efforts. All
the Indians had been left to the rear but one, who was
only a hundred yards behind.
There was, then, a racing chance of escape! Colter
let out in a burst of renewed speed that brought blood
gushing over his face, while the cactus spines cut his
naked feet like knives. The river was in sight. A
mile more, he would be in the wood! But the Indian
behind was gaining at every step. Another backward
look! The savage was not thirty yards away! He had
poised his spear to launch it in Colter's back, when the
white man turned fagged and beaten, threw up his arms
This is an Indian ruse to arrest tne pursuit of a
wild beast. By force of habit it stopped the Indian too,
and disconcerted him so that instead of launching his
spear, he fell flat on his face, breaking the shaft in his
hand. With a leap, Colter had snatched up the broken
point and pinned the savage through the body to the
That intercepted the foremost of the other warriors,
who stopped to rescue their brave and gave Colter time
to reach the river.
In he plunged, fainting and dazed, swimming for an
island in mid-current where driftwood had formed a
sheltered raft. Under this he dived, coming up with
his head among branches of trees.
All that day the Blackfeet searched the island for
Colter, running from log to log of the drift; but the
close-grown brushwood hid the white man. At night
he swam down-stream like any other hunted animal
that wants to 'throw pursuers off the trail, went ashore
and struck across country, seven days' journey for the
Missouri Company's fort on the Bighorn Biver.
Naked and unarmed, he succeeded in reaching the
distant fur post, having subsisted entirely on roots and
Chittenden says that poor Colter's adventure only
won for him in St. Louis the reputation of a colossal
liar. But traditions of his escape were current among
all hunters and Indian tribes on the Missouri, so that
when Bradbury, the English scientist, went west with
the Astorians in 1811, he sifted the matter, accepted it
as truth, and preserved the episode for history in a 180
small-type foot-note to his book published in London
in 1817.        |     | § i
Two other adventures are on record similar to Colter's: one of Oskononton's escape by diving under a
raft, told in Boss's Fur Hunters; the other of a poor
Indian fleeing up the Ottawa from pursuing Iroquois of
the Five Nations and diving under the broken bottom
of an old beaver-dam, told in the original Jesuit Bela-
And yet when the Astorians went up the Missouri
a few years later, Colter could scarcely resist the impulse to go a fourth time to the wilds. But fascinations stronger than the wooings of the wilds had come
to his life—he had taken to himself a bride. CHAPTER XIV
In the history of the world only one corporate company has maintained empire over an area as large as
Europe. Only one corporate company has Hved up to
its constitution for nearly three centuries. Only one
corporate company's sway has been so beneficent that
its profits have stood in exact proportion to the well-
being of its subjects. Indeed, few armies can boast a
rank and file of men who never once retreated in three
hundred years, whose lives, generation after generation, were one long bivouac of hardship, of danger, of
ambushed death, of grim purpose, of silent achievement.
Such was the company of | Adventurers of England
Trading into Hudson's Bay," as the charter of 1670
designated them.* Such is the Hudson's Bay Company
to-day still trading with savages in the white wilderness of the north as it was when Charles II granted
a royal charter for the fur trade to his cousin Prince
Governors and chief factors have changed with the
* Xhe spelling of the name with an apostrophe in the charter
seems to be the only reason for the company's name always having the apostrophe, whereas the waters are now known simply as
Hudson Bay.
181 182
changing centuries; but the character of the company's
personnel has never changed. Prince Rupert, the first
governor, was succeeded by the Duke of York (James
II); and the royal governor by a long line of distinguished public men down to Lord Strathcona, the present governor, and C. C. Chipman, the chief commissioner or executive officer. All have been men of noted
achievement, often in touch with the Crown, always
with that passion for executive and mastery of difficulty
which exults most when the conflict is keenest.
Pioneers face the unknown when circumstances
push them into it. Adventurers rush into the unknown for the zest of conquering it. It has been to
the adventuring class that fur traders have belonged.
Radisson and Groseillers, the two Frenchmen who
first brought back word of the great wealth in furs
round the far northern sea, had been gentlemen adventurers—" rascals" their enemies called them.
Prince Rupert, who leagued himself with the Frenchmen to obtain a charter for his fur trade, had been
an adventurer of the high seas—"pirate" we would
say—long before he became first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. And the Duke of Marlborough,
the company's third governor, was as great an adventurer as he was a general.
Latterly the word " adventurer " has fallen in such
evil repute, it may scarcely be applied to living actors.
But using it in the old-time sense of militant hero,
what cavalier of gold braid and spurs could be more of
an adventurer than young Donald Smith who traded in
the desolate wastes of Labrador, spending seventeen
years in the hardest field of the fur company, tramping
on snow-shoes half the width of a continent, camping THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   183
where night overtook him under blanketing of snowdrifts, who rose step by step from trader on the east
coast to commissioner in the west? And this Donald
Smith became Lord Strathcona, the governor of the
Hudson's Bay Company.
Men bold in action and conservative in traditions
have ruled the company. The governor resident in
England is now represented by the chief commissioner,
who in turn is represented at each of the many inland
forts by a chief factor of the district. Nominally, the
fur-trader's northern realm is governed by the Parliament of Canada. Virtually, the chief factor rules as
autocratically to-day as he did before the Canadian
Government took over the proprietary rights of the fur
How did these rulers of the wilds, these princes of
the fur trade, live in lonely forts and mountain fastnesses? Visit one of the northern forts as it exists
The colder the climate, the finer the fur. The farther north the fort, the more typical it is of the fur-
trader's realm.
For six, seven, eight months of the year, the fur-
trader's world is a white wilderness of snow; snow
water-waved by winds that sweep from the pole; snow
drifted into ramparts round the fort stockades till the
highest picket sinks beneath the white flood and the
corner bastions are almost submerged and the entrance
to the central gate resembles the cutting of a railway
tunnel; snow that billows to the unbroken reaches of
the circling sky-line like a white sea. East, frost-mist
hides the low horizon in clouds of smoke, for the sun
which rises from the east in other climes rises from 184
the south-east here; and until the spring equinox, bringing summer with a flood-tide of thaw, gray darkness
hangs in the east like a fog. South, the sun moves
across the snowy levels in a wheel of fire, for it has
scarcely risen full sphered above the sky-line before it
sinks again etching drift and tip of half-buried brush
in long lonely fading shadows. The west shimmers
in warm purplish grays, for the moist Chinook winds
come over the mountains melting the snow by magic.
North, is the cold steel of ice by day; and at night
Northern Lights darting through the polar dark like
burnished spears.
Christmas day is welcomed at the northern fur
posts by a firing of cannon from the snow-muffled bastions. Before the stars have faded, chapel services begin. Frequently on either Christmas or New Year's
day, a grand feast is given the tawny-skinned habitues
of the fort, who come shuffling to the main mess-room
with no other announcement than the lifting of the
latch, and billet themselves on the hospitality of a host
that has never turned hungry Indians from its doors.
For reasons well-known to the woodcraftsman, a
sudden lull falls on winter hunting in December, and
aU the trappers within a week's journey from the fort,
aU the half-breed guides who add to the instinct of
native craft the reasoning of the white, all the Indian
hunters ranging river-course and mountain have come
by snow-shoes and dog train to spend festive days at the
fort. A great jangling of beHs announces the huskies
(dog trains) scampering over the crusted snow-drifts.
A babel of barks and curses follows, for the huskies
celebrate their arrival by tangling themselves up in their
harness and enjoying a free fight. THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   185
Dogs unharnessed, in troop the trappers to the banquet-hall, flinging packs of tightly roped peltries down
promiscuously, to be sorted next day. One Indian enters just as he has left the hunting-field, clad from
head to heel in white caribou with the antlers left on
the capote as a decoy. His squaw has togged out for
the occasion in a comical medley of brass bracelets and
finger-rings, with a bear's claw necklace and ermine ruff
which no city connoisseur could possibly mistake for
rabbit. If a daughter yet remain unappropriated she
will display the gayest attire—red flannel galore, red
shawl, red scarf, with perhaps an apron of white fox-
skin and moccasins garnished in coloured grasses. The
braves outdo even a vain young squaw. Whole fox,
mink, or otter skins have been braided to the end
of their hair, and hang down in two plaits to the
floor. Whitest of buckskin has been ornamented with
brightest of beads, and over all hangs the gaudiest of
blankets, it may be a musk-ox-skin with the feats of
the warrior set forth in rude drawings on the smooth
Children and old people, too, come to the feast, for
the Indian's stomach is the magnet that draws his soul.
Grotesque little figures the children are, with men's
trousers shambling past their heels, rabbit-skin coats
with the fur turned in, and on top of all some old stovepipe hat or discarded busby coming half-way down to
the urchin's neck. The old people have more resemblance to parchment on gnarled sticks than to human
beings. They shiver under dirty blankets with every
sort of cast-off rag tied about their limbs, hobbling
lame from frozen feet or rheumatism, mumbling toothless requests for something to eat or something to wear, 186
for tobacco, the solace of Indian woes, or what is next
Among so many guests are many needs. One half-
breed from a far wintering outpost, where perhaps a
white man and this guide are living in a chinked shack
awaiting a hunting party's return, arrives at the fort
with frozen feet. Little Labree's feet must be thawed
out, and sometimes little Labree dies under the process*
leaving as a legacy to the chief factor the death-bed
pledge that the corpse be taken to a distant tribal bury-
ing-ground. And no matter how inclement the winter,
the chief factor keeps his pledge, for the integrity of a
promise is the only law in the fur-trader's realm. Special
attentions, too, must be paid those old retainers who
have acted as mentors of the fort in times of trouble.
A few years ago it would not have been safe to
give this treat inside the fort waUs. Rations would
have been served through loop-holes and the feast held
outside the gates; but so faithfully have the Indians
become bound to the Hudson's Bay Company there
are not three forts in the fur territory where Indians
must be excluded.
Of the feast little need be said. Like the camel,
the Indian lays up store for the morrow, judging from
his capacity for weeks of morrows. His benefactor no
more dines with him than a plantation master of the
South would have dined with feasting slaves. Elsewhere a bell calls the company officers to breakfast at
7.30, dinner at 1, supper at 7. Officers dine first, white
hunters and trappers second, that difference between
master and servant being maintained which is part of
the company's almost military discipline. In the large
forts are libraries, whither resort the officers for the THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   187
long winter nights. But over the feast wild hilarity
A French-Canadian fiddler strikes up a tuneless jig
that sets the Indians pounding the floor in figureless
dances with moccasined heels till midday glides into
midnight and midnight to morning. I remember hearing of one such midday feast in Red River settlement
that prolonged itself past four of the second morning.
Against the walls sit old folks spinning yarns of the
past. There is a print of Sir George Simpson behind
one raconteur's head. Ah! yes, the oldest guides all
remember Sir George, though half a century has passed
since his day. He was the governor who travelled with
flags flying from every prow, and cannon firing when he
left the forts, and men drawn up in procession like
soldiers guarding an emperor when he entered the fur
posts with coureurs and all the flourish of royal state.
Then some story-teller recalls how he has heard the old
guides tell of the imperious governor once provoking
personal conflict with an equally imperious steersman,
who first ducked the governor into a lake they were
traversing and then ducked into the lake himself to
rescue the governor.
And there is a crucifix high on the wall left by
Pere Lacomb the last time the famous missionary to
the red men of the Far North passed this way; and
every Indian calls up some kindness done, some sacrifice by Father Lacomb. On the gun-rack are old muskets and Indian masks and scalp-locks, bringing back
the days when Russian traders instigated a massacre
at this fort and when white traders flew at each other's
throats as Nor' Westers struggled with Hudson's Bay
for supremacy in the fur trade. 188
I Ah, oui, those white men, they were brave fighters, they did not know how to stop. Mais, sacre, they
were fools, those white men after all! Instead of
hiding in ambush to catch the foe, those white men
measured off paces, stood up face to face and fired
blank—-oui—fired blank! Ugh! Of course, one fool
he was kiU' and the other fool, most like, he was
wound'! Ugh, by Gar! What Indian would have so
little sense ? " *
Of hunting tales, the Indian store is exhaustless.
That enormous bear-skin stretched to four pegs on the
wall brings up Montagnais, the Noseless One, who still
lives on Peace River and once slew the largest bear
ever killed in the Rockies, returning to this very fort
with one hand dragging the enormous skin and the
other holding the place which his nose no longer
"Montagnais? Ah, bien messieur! Montagnais,
he brave man! Venez ici—bien—so—I tole you 'bout
heem," begins some French-Canadian trapper with a
strong tinge of Indian blood in his swarthy skin. " Bi-
gosh! He brave man! I tole you 'bout dat happen!
Montagnais, he go stumble t'rough snow—how you caU
dat?—hiU, steep—steep! Oui, by Gar! dat vas steep
hill! de snow, she go slide, sHde, lak* de—de gran'
rapeed, see?" emphasizing the snow-slide with iUus-
trative gesture. "Bien, done! Mais, Montagnais, he
stick gun-stock in de snow stop heem fall—so—see?
Tonnerre! Bigosh! for sure she go off wan beeg bang!
Sacr6!   She make so much noise she wake wan beeg
* To the Indian mind the hand-to-hand duels between white
traders were incomprehensible pieces of folly. THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   189
ol' bear sleep in snow. Montagnais, he tumble on hees
back! Mais, messieur, de bear—diable! 'fore Montagnais wink hees eye de bear jump on top lak' wan
beeg loup-garou! Montagnais, he brave man—he not
scare—he say wan leetle prayer, wan han' he cover his
eyes! Odder han'—sacre—dat grab hees knife out hees
belt—sz-sz-sz, messieur. For sure he feel her breat'—
diable!—for sure he fin' de place her heart beat—
Tonnerre! Vite! he stick dat knife in straight up hees
wrist, into de heart dat bear! Dat bes' t'ing do—for
sure de leetle prayer dat tole him best t'ing do! De
bear she roll over—over—dead's wan stone—c'est vrai!
she no mor' jump top Montagnais! Bien, ma frien' I
Montagnais, he roll over too—leetle bit scare! Mais,
hees nose! Ah! bigosh! de bear she got dat; dat all
nose he ever haf no mor'!   C'est vrai messieur, bien!"
And with a finishing flourish the story-teller takes
to himself all the credit of Montagnais's heroism.
But in all the feasting, trade has not been forgotten; and as soon as the Indians recover from postprandial torpor bartering begins. In one of the warehouses stands a trader. An Indian approaches with a
pack of peltries weighing from eighty to a hundred
pounds. Throwing it down, he spreads out the contents.
Of otter and mink and pekan there will be plenty, for
these fish-eaters are most easily taken before midwinter
frost has frozen the streams solid. In recent years
there have been few beaver-skins, a closed season of
several years giving the little rodents a chance to multiply. By treaty the Indian may hunt all creatures
of the chase as long as "the sun rises and the rivers
flow"; but the fur-trader can enforce a closed season
by refusing to barter for the pelts.   Of musk-rat-skins, 190
hundreds of thousands are carried to the forts every
season. The little haycock houses of musk-rats offer
the trapper easy prey when frost freezes the sloughs,
shutting off retreat below, and heavy snow-faU has not
yet hidden the little creatures' winter home.
The trading is done in several ways. Among the
Eskimo, whose arithmetical powers seldom exceed a
few units, the trader holds up his hand with one, two,
three fingers raised, signifying that he offers for the
skin before him equivalents in value to one, two, three
prime beaver. If satisfied, the Indian passes over the
furs and the trader gives flannel, beads, powder, knives,
tea, or tobacco to the value of the beaver-skins indicated
by the raised fingers. If the Indian demands more,
hunter and trader wrangle in pantomime till compromise is effected.
But always beaver-skin is the unit of coin. Beaver
are the Indian's dollars and cents, his shillings and
pence, his tokens of currency.
South of the Arctics, where native intelligence is
of higher grade, the beaver values are represented by
goose-quHls, small sticks, bits of shell, or, most common of aU, disks of lead, tea-chests melted down,
stamped on one side with the company arms, on the
other with the figures 1, 29 fjj J, representing so much
value in beaver.
First of all, then, furs in the pack must be sorted,
silver fox worth five hundred dollars separated from
cross fox and blue and white worth from ten dollars
down, according to quality, and from common red fox
worth less. Twenty years ago it was no unusual thing
for the Hudson's Bay Company to send to England yearly 10,000 cross fox-skins, 7,000 blue, 100,000 red, half THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   191
a dozen silver. Few wolf-skins are in the trapper's
pack unless particularly fine specimens of brown arctic
and white arctie, bought as a curiosity and not for
value as skins. Against the wolf, the trapper wages
war as against a pest that destroys other game, and not
for its skin. Next to musk-rat the most plentiful fur
taken by the Indian, though highly esteemed by the
trader, will be that of the rabbit or varying hare. Buffalo was once the staple of the hunter. What the buffalo was the white rabbit is to-day. From it the Indian gets clothing, tepee covers, blankets, thongs, food.
From it the white man who is a manufacturer of furs
gets gray fox and chinchilla and seal in imitation. Except one year in seven, when a rabbit plague spares the
land by cutting down their prolific numbers, the varying hare is plentiful enough to sustain the Indian.
Having received so many bits of lead for his furs,
the Indian goes to the store counter whete begins interminable dickering. Montagnais's squaw has only fifty
1 beaver " coin, and her desires are a hundredfold what
those will buy. Besides, the copper-skinned lady enjoys
beating down prices and driving a bargain so well that
she would think the clerk a cheat if he asked a
fixed price from the first She expects him to have a
sliding scale of prices for his goods as she has for her
furs. At the termination of each bargain, so many
coins pass across the counter. Frequently an Indian
presents himself at the counter without beaver enough
to buy necessaries. What then? I doubt if in all the
years of Hudson's Bay Company rule one needy Indian has ever been turned away. The trader advances
what the Indian needs and chalks up so many | beaver 1
against the trapper's next hunt.
M ft •
Long ago, when rival traders strove for the furs,
whisky played a disgracefully prominent part in all
bartering, the drunk Indian being an easier victim than
the sober, and the Indian mad with thirst for liquor
the most easily cajoled of all. But to-day when there
is no competition, whisky plays no part whatever.
Whisky is in the fort, so is pain killer, for which the
Indian has as keen an appetite, both for the exigencies
of hazardous Hfe in an unsparing climate beyond medical aid; but the first thing Hudson's Bay traders did
in 1885, when rebel Indians surrounded the Saskatchewan forts, was to split the casks and spill aU alcohol.
The second thing was to bury ammunition—showing
which influence they considered the more dangerous.
Ermine is at its best when the cold is most intense,
the tawny weasel coat turning from fawn to yellow,
from yellow to cream and snow-white, according to the
latitude north and the season. Unless it is the pelt of
the baby ermine, soft as swan's down, tail-tip jet as
onyx, the best ermine is not Hkely to be in a pack
brought to the fort as early as Christmas.
Fox, lynx, mink, marten, otter, and bear, the trapper
can take with steel-traps of a size varying with the
game, or even with the clumsily constructed deadfall,
the log suspended above the bait being heavy or light,
according to the hunter's expectation of large or small
intruder; but the ermine with fur as easily damaged
as finest gauze must be handled differently.
Going the rounds of his traps, the hunter has noted
curious tiny tracks like the dots and dashes of a telegraphic code. Here are little prints slurring into one
another in a dash; there, a dead stop, where the quick-
eared stoat has paused with beady eyes alert for snow-! THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   193
bird or rabbit. Here, again, a clear blank on the snow
where the crafty little forager has dived below the light
surface and wriggled forward like a snake to dart up
with a plunge of fangs into the heart-blood of the unwary snow-bunting. From the length of the leaps, the
trapper judges the age of the ermine; fourteen inches
from nose to tail-tip means a full-grown ermine with
hair too coarse to be damaged by a snare. The man
suspends the noose of a looped twine across the runway from a twig bent down so that the weight of the
ermine on the string sends the twig springing back
with a jerk that lifts the ermine off the ground, strangling it instantly. Perhaps on one side of the twine
he has left bait—smeared grease, or a bit of meat.
If the tracks are like the prints of a baby's fingers,
close and small, the trapper hopes to capture a pelt fit
for a throne cloak, the skin for which the Louis of
France used to pay, in modern money, from a hundred
dollars to a hundred and fifty dollars. The full-grown
ermines will be worth only some few "beaver" at the
fort. Perfect fur would be marred by the twine snare,
so the trapper devises as cunning a death for the ermine
as the ermine devises when it darts up through the snow
with its spear-teeth clutched in the throat of a poor
rabbit. Smearing his hunting-knife with grease, he
lays it across the track. The little ermine comes trotting in dots and dashes and gallops and dives to the
knife. It smells the grease, and all the curiosity which
has been teaching it to forage for food since it was
born urges it to put out its tongue and taste. That
greasy smell of meat it knows; but that frost-silvered
bit of steel is something new. The knife is frosted like
ice. Ice the ermine has licked, so he licks the knife.
14 rI
But alas for the resemblance between ice and steel!
Ice turns to water under the warm tongue; steel turns
to fire that blisters and holds the foolish little stoat by
his inquisitive tongue a hopeless prisoner till the trapper
comes. And lest marauding wolverine or lynx should
come first and gobble up priceless ermine, the trapper
comes soon.   And that is the end for the ermine.
Before settlers invaded the vaUey of the Saskatchewan the furs taken at a leading fort would amount to:
Bear of all varieties... 400
Ermine, medium...... 200
Blue fox  4
Redfox  91
Silver fox  8
Marten  2,000
Musk-rat  200,000
Mink  8,000
Otter  500
Skunk  6
Wolf  100
Beaver  5,000
Pekan (fisher)  50
Cross fox  30
White fox  400
Lynx  400
Wolverine  200
The value of these furs in " beaver " currency varied
with the fashions of the civilized world, with the scarcity or plenty of the furs, with the locaHty of the fort.'
Before beaver became so scarce, 100 beaver equalled 40
marten or 10 otter or 300 musk-rat; 25 beaver equaUed
600 rabbit; 1 beaver equalled 2 white fox; and so on
down the scale. But no set table of values can be given
other than the prices realized at the annual sale of
Hudson's Bay furs, held publicly in London.
To understand the values of these furs to the Indian, " beaver f currency must be compared to merchandise, one beaver buying such a red handkerchief as
trappers wear around their brows to notify other hunters not to shoot; one beaver buys a hunting-knife, two
an axe, from eight to twenty a gun or rifle, according THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   195
to its quality.   And in one old trading list I found—
vanity of vanities—" one beaver equals looking-glass."
Trading over, the trappers disperse to their winter
hunting-grounds, which the main body of hunters never
leaves from October, when they go on the fall hunt, to
June, when the long straggling brigades of canoes and
keel boats and pack horses and jolting ox-carts come
back to the fort with the harvest of winter furs.
Signs unnoted by the denizens of city serve to guide
the trappers over.trackless wastes of illimitable snow.
A whitish haze of frost may hide the sun, or continuous
snow-fall blur every land-mark. What heeds the trapper ? The slope of the rolling hills, the lie of the frozen
river-beds, the branches of underbrush protruding
through billowed drifts are hands that point the trapper's compass. For those hunters who have gone westward to the mountains, the task of threading pathless
forest stillness is more difficult. At a certain altitude,
in the mountains, much frequented by game because un-;
disturbed by storms, snow falls—falls—falls, without
ceasing, heaping the pines with snow mushrooms, blotting out the sun, cloaking in heavy white flakes the
notched bark blazed as a trail, transforming the rustling green forests to a silent spectral world without a
mark to direct the hunter. Here the woodcraftsman's
lore comes to his aid. He looks to the snow-eoned tops
of the pine trees. The tops of pine trees lean ever so
slightly towards the rising sun. With his snow-shoes
he digs away the snow at the roots of trees to get down
to the moss. Moss grows from the roots of trees on
the shady side—that is, the north. And simplest of all,
demanding only that a wanderer use his eyes—which-
the white man seldom does—the limbs of the northern 196
trees are most numerous on the south. The trapper
may be waylaid by storms, or starved by sudden migration of game from the grounds to which he has come,
or run to earth by the ravenous timber-wolves that pursue the dog teams for leagues; but the trapper with Indian blood in his veins will not be lost.
One imminent danger is of accident beyond aid. A
young Indian hunter of Moose Factory set out with his
wife and two children for the winter hunting-grounds
in the forest south of James Bay. To save the daily
allowance of a fish for each dog, they did not take the
dog teams. When chopping, the hunter injured his leg.
The wound proved stubborn. Game was scarce, and
they had not enough food to remain in the lodge.
Wrapping her husband in robes on the long toboggan
sleigh, the squaw placed the younger child beside him
and with the other began tramping through the forest
drawing the sleigh behind. The drifts were not deep
enough for swift snow-shoeing over underbrush, and
their speed was not half so speedy as the hunger that
pursues northern hunters like the Fenris Wolf of Norse
myth. The woman sank exhausted on the snow and
the older boy, nerved with fear, pushed on to Moose
Factory for help. Guided by the boy back through the
forests, the fort people found the hunter dead in the
Sleigh, the mother crouched forward unconscious from
cold, stripped of the clothing which she had wrapped
round the child taken in her arms to warm with her
own body. The child was alive and well. The fur
traders nursed the woman back to life, though she
looked more like a withered creature of eighty than a
woman barely in her twenties. She explained with a
simple unconsciousness of heroism that the ground had THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD 197
been too hard for her to bury her husband, and she was
afraid to leave the body and go on to the fort lest the
wolves should molest the dead.*
The arrival of the mail packet is one of the most
welcome breaks in the monotony of life at the fur post.
When the mail comes, all white habitants of the fort
takes a week's holidays to read letters and news of the
outside world.
Bailways run from Lake Superior to the Pacific;
but off the line of railways mail is carried as of old.
In summer-time overland runners, canoe, and company
steamers bear the mail to the forts of Hudson Bay,
of the Saskatchewan, of the Bockies, and the MacKenzie. In winter, scampering huskies with a running postman winged with snow-shoes dash across the snowy
wastes through silent forests to the lonely forts of the
bay, or slide over the prairie drifts with the music of
tinkling bells and soft crunch-crunch of sleigh runners
through the snow crust to the leagueless world of the
Far North.
Forty miles a day, a couch of spruce boughs where
the racquets have dug a hole in the snow, sleighs placed
on edge as a wind break, dogs crouched on the buffalo-
robes snarling over the frozen fish, deep hayings from
the running wolf-pack, and before the stars have faded
from the frosty sky, the mail-carrier has risen and is
coasting away fast as the huskies can gallop.
Another picturesque feature of the fur trade was
the long caravan of ox-carts that used to screech and
creak and jolt over the rutted prairie roads between
* It need hardly be explained that it is the prairie Indian and
not the forest 0jibway who places the body on high scaffolding
above the ground; hence the woman's dilemma. 198
Winnipeg and St. Paul. More than 1,500 Hudson's Bay
Company carts manned by 500 traders with tawny
spouses and black-eyed impish children, squatted on
top of the load, left Canada for St. Paul in August and
returned in October. The carts were made without
a rivet of iron. Bent wood formed the tires of the two
wheels. Hardwood axles told their woes to the world
in the scream of shrill bagpipes. Wooden racks took
the place of cart box. In the shafts trod a staid old ox
guided from the horns or with a halter, drawing the
load with collar instead of a yoke. The harness was
of skin thongs. In place of the ox sometimes was a
" shagganippy" pony, raw and unkempt, which the
imps lashed without mercy or the slightest inconvenience to the horse.
A red flag with the letters H. B. C. in white decorated the leading cart. During the Sioux massacres
the fur caravans were unmolested, for the Indians recognised the flags and wished to remain on good terms
with the fur traders.
Ox-carts still bring furs to Hudson's Bay Company
posts, and screech over the corduroyed swamps of the
MacKenzie; but the railway has replaced the caravan
as a carrier of freight.
Hudson's Bay Company steamers now ply on the
largest of the inland rivers with long lines of fur-laden
barges in tow; but the canoe brigades still bring the
winter's hunt to the forts in spring. Five to eight
craft make a brigade, each manned by eight paddlers
with an experienced steersman, who is usually also
guide. But the one ranking first in importance is the
bowman, whose quick eye must detect signs of nearing
rapids, whose steel-shod pole gives the cue to the other   THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   199
paddlers and steers the craft past foamy reefs. The
bowman it is who leaps out first when there is " tracking"—pulling the craft up-stream by tow-line—who
stands waist high in ice water steadying the roeking
bark lest a sudden swirl spiU furs to the bottom, who
hands out the packs to the others when the waters are
too turbulent for "tracking" and there must be a
"portage" and who leads the brigade on a run—
half trot, half amble—overland to the calmer currents.
I Pipes " are the measure of a portage—that is, the
pipes smoked while the voyageurs are on the run. The
bowman it is who can thread a network of water-ways
by day or dark, past rapids or whirlpools, with the certainty of an arrow to the mark. On aU long trips by
dog train or canoe, pemmican made of buffalo meat and
marrow put in air-tight bags was the standard food.
The pemmican now used is of moose or caribou beef.
The only way to get an accurate idea of the size of
the kingdom ruled by these monarchs of the lonely
wastes is by comparison.
Take a map of North America. On the east is
Labrador, a peninsula as vast as Germany and Holland and Belgium and half of France. On the coast
and across the unknown interior are the magical letters
H. B. C, meaning Hudson's Bay Company fort (past
or present), a little whitewashed square with eighteen-
foot posts planted picket-wise for a wall, match-box
bastions loopholed for musketry, a barracks-like structure across the court-yard with a high lookout of some
sort near the gate. Here some trader with wife and
children and staff -of Indian servants has held his own
against savagery and desolating loneliness. In one of
these forts Lord Strathcona passed his youth. 200
Once more to the map. With one prong of a compass in the centre of Hudson Bay, describe a circle. The
northern half embraces the baffling arctics; but on the
line of the southern circumference like beads on a
string are Churchill high on the left, York below in
black capitals as befits the importance of the great fur
emporium of the bay, Severn and Albany and Moose
and Bupert and Fort George round the south, and to
the right, larger and more strongly built forts than in
Labrador, with the ruins of stone walls at Churchill
that have a depth of fifteen feet. Six-pounders once
mounted these bastions. The remnants of galleries for
soldiery run round the inside walls. A flag floats over
each foTt with the letters H. B. C* Officers' dwellings
occupy the centre of the court-yard. Banked against
the walls are the men's quarters, fur presses, stables,
storerooms. Always there is a chapel, at one fort a
hospital, at others the relics of stoutly built old powder
magazines made to withstand the siege of hand grenades tossed in by French assailants from the bay, who
knew that the loot of a fur post was better harvest than
a treasure ship. Elsewhere two small bastions situated diagonally across from each other were sufficient to
protect the fur post by sending a raking fire along the
walls; but here there was danger of the French fleet,
and the walls were built with bastion and trench and
Again to the map. Between Hudson Bay and the
Bocky Mountains stretches an American Siberia—the
Barren Lands.   Here, too, on every important water-
* The flag was hoisted on Sundays to notify the Indians there
way, Athabasca and the Liard and the MacKenzie into
the land of winter night and midnight sun, extend Hudson's Bay Company posts. We think of these northern
streams as ice-jammed, sluggish currents, with mean
log villages on their banks. The fur posts of the sub-
arctics are not imposing with picket fences in place of
stockades, for no French foe was feared here. But the
MacKenzie Kiver is one of the longest in the world, with
two tributaries each more than 1,000 miles in length.
It has a width of a mile, and a succession of rapids that
rival the St. Lawrence, and palisaded banks higher than
the Hudson River's, and half a dozen lakes into one of
which you could drop two New England States without
raising a sand bar. |f|
The map again. Between the prairie and the Pacific Ocean is a wilderness of peaks, a Switzerland
stretched into half the length of a continent. Here,
too, like eagle nests in rocky fastnesses are fur posts.
Such is the realm of the Hudson's Bay Company
Before 1812 there was no international boundary
in the fur trade. But after the war Congress barred
out Canadian companies. The next curtailment of
hunting-ground came in 1869-'70, when the company
surrendered proprietary rights to the Canadian Government, retaining only the right to trade in the vast
north land. The formation of new Canadian provinces
took place south of the Saskatchewan; but north the
company barters pelts undisturbed as of old. Yearly
the staffs are shifted from post to post as the fortunes of the hunt vary; but the principal posts not
including winter quarters for a special hunt have probably not exceeded two hundred in number, nor fallen
lil 202
<below one hundred for the last century* Of these the
greater numbers are of course in the Far North. When
the Hudson's Bay Company was fighting rivals, Nor'
Westers frorn Montreal, Americans from St. Louis, it
must have employed as traders, packers, coureurs, canoe men, hunters, and guides, at least 5,000 men; for
its rival employed that number, and | The Old Lady,"
as the enemy called it, always held her own. Over this
wilderness army were from 250 to 300 officers, each
with the power of life and death in his hands. To the
honour of the company, be it said, this power was seldom abused.* Occasionally a brutal sea-captain might
use lash and triangle and branding along the northern
coast; but officers defenceless among savage hordes must
of necessity have lived" on terms of justice with their
The Canadian Government now exercises judicial
functions; but where less than 700 mounted police patrol a territory as large as Siberia, the company's factor is still the chief representative of the law's power.
Times without number under the old regime has a Hudson's Bay officer set out alone and tracked an Indian
murderer to hidden fastness, there to arrest him or
shoot him dead on the spot; because if murder went unpunished that mysterious impulse to kill which is as
rife in the savage heart as in the wolf's would work its
havoc unchecked.
Just as surely as "the sun rises and the rivers
flow" the savage knows when the hunt fails he will
receive help from the Hudson's Bay officer.   But just
* Governor Norton will, of course, be recalled as the most
conspicuous for his brutality. THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD   203
as surely he knows if he commits any crime that same
unbending, fearless white man will pursue—and pursue—and pursue guilt to the death. One case is on record of a trader thrashing an Indian within an inch
of his life for impudence to officers two or three years
before. Of course, the vendetta may cut both ways,
the Indian treasuring vengeance in his heart till he can
wreak it. That is an added reason why the white man's
justice must be unimpeachable. "Pro pelle cutem,"
says the motto of the company arms. Without flippancy it might be said " Ay eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth," as well as " A skin for a skin "—which explains the freedom from crime among northern Indians.
And who are the subjects living under this Mosaic
paternalism ?
Stunted Eskimo of the Far North, creatures as amphibious as the seals whose coats they wear, with the
lustreless eyes of dwarfed intelligence and the agility
of seal flippers as they whisk double-bladed paddles
from side to side of the darting kyacks; wandering
Montagnais from the domed hills of Labrador, lonely
and sad and silent as the naked desolation of their
Tugged land; 0jibways soft-voiced as the forest glooms
in that vast land of spruce tangle north of the Great
Lakes; Crees and Sioux from the plains, cunning with
the stealth of creatures that have hunted and been
hunted on the shelterless prairie; Blackfeet and Crows,
game birds of the foothills that have harried all other
tribes for tribute, keen-eyed as the eagles on the mountains behind them, glorying in war as the finest kind
of hunting; mountain tribes—Stonies, Kootenais, Sho-
shonies—splendid types of manhood because only the
fittest can survive the hardships of the mountains; THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
coast Indians, Chinook and Chileoot—low and lazy because the great rivers feed them with salmon and they
have no need to work.
Over these lawless Arabs of the New World wilderness the Hudson's Bay Company has ruled for two and
a half centuries with smaller loss of life in the aggregate than the railways of the United States cause in a
single year.
Hunters have been lost in the wilds. White trappers have been assassinated by Indians. Forts have
been wiped out of existence. Ten, twenty, thirty traders have been massacred at different times. But, then,
the loss of life on railways totals up to thousands in a
single year.
When fighting rivals long ago, it is true that the
Hudson's Bay Company recognised neither human nor
divine law. Grant the charge and weigh it against the
benefits of the company's rule. When Hearne visited
Chippewyans two centuries ago he found the Indians
in a state uncontaminated by the trader; and that state
will give the ordinary reader cold shivers of horror at
the details of massacre and degradation. Every visitor
since has reported the same tribe improved in standard
of living under Hudson's Bay rule. Eecently a well-
known Canadian governor making an itinerary of the
territory round the bay found the Indians such devout
Christians that they put his white retinue to shame.
Returning to civilization, the governor was observed attending the services of his own denomination with a
greater fury than was his wont. Asked the reason, he
confided to a club friend that he would be blanked if
he could allow heathen Indians to be better Christians
Some of the shiftless Indians may be hopelessly in
debt to the company for advanced provisions, but if the
company had not made these advances the Indians
would have starved, and the debt is never exacted by
seizure of the hunt that should go to feed a family.
Of how many other creditors may that be said? Of
how many companies that it has cared for the sick,
sought the lost, fed the starving, housed the homeless ?
With all its faults, that is the record of the Hudson's
Bay Company. Ifcj
Old whaling ships, that tumble round the world
and back again from coast to coast over strange seas,
hardly ever suffer any of the terrible disasters that are
always overtaking the proud men-of-war and swift
liners equipped with aU that science can do for them
against misfortune. Ask an old salt why this is, and
he wiU probably tell you that he feels his way forward
or else that he steers by the same chart as that—jerking his thumb sideways from the wheel towards some
sea gull careening over the biHows. A something, that
is akin to the instinct of wild creatures warning them
when to go north for the summer, when to go south
for the winter, when to scud for shelter from coming
storm, guides the old whaler across chartless seas.
So it is with the trapper. He may be caught in
one of his great steel-traps and perish on the prairie.
He may run short of water and die of thirst on the
desert. He may get his pack horses tangled up in a
vaUey where there is no game and be reduced to the
alternative of destroying what will carry him back to
safety or starving with a horse still under him, before
he can get over the mountains into another valley—
but the true trapper wiU literally never lose himself.
Lewis and Clark rightly merit the fame of having first
explored the Missouri-Columbia route; but years before the Louisiana purchase, free trappers were already
on the Columbia. David Thompson of the North-West
Company was the first Canadian to explore the lower
Columbia; but before Thompson had crossed the Bockies, French hunters were already ranging the forests
of the Pacific slope. How did these coasters of the
wilds guide themselves over prairies that were a chart-
less sea and mountains that were a wilderness? How
does the wavey know where to find the rush-grown inland pools? Who tells the caribou mother to seek refuge on islands where the water will cut off the wolves
that would prey on her young?
Something, which may be the result of generations
of accumulated observation, guides the wavey and the
caribou. Something, which may be the result of unconscious inference from a life-time of observation,
guides the man. In the animal we call it instinct, in
the man, reason; and in the case of the trapper tracking pathless wilds, the conscious reason of the man
seems almost merged in the automatic instinct of the
brute. It is not sharp-sightedness—though no man
is sharper of sight than the trapper. It is not acute-
ness of hearing—though the trapper learns to listen
With the noiseless stealth of the pencil-eared lynx. It
is not touch—in the sense of tactile contact—any more
than it is touch that tells a suddenly awakened sleeper
of an unexpected noiseless presence in a dark room.
It is something deeper than the tabulated u\e senses,
a sixth sense—a sense of feel, without contact—a sense
on which the whole sensate world writes its records as
on a palimpsest. This palimpsest is the trapper's chart,
this sense of feel, his weapon against the instinct of the 208
brute. What part it plays in the life of every ranger
of the wilds can best be illustrated by telling how Koot
found his way to the fur post after the rabbit-hunt.
When the midwinter lull falls on the hunt, there
is little use in the trapper going far afield. Moose
have "yarded up." Bear have "holed up" and the
beaver are housed till dwindling stores compel them
to come out from their snow-hidden domes. There are
no longer any buffalo for the trapper to hunt during
the lull; but what buffalo formerly were to the hunter,
rabbit are to-day. Shields and tepee covers, moccasins, caps and coats, thongs and meat, the buffalo used
to supply. These are now supplied by "wahboos—
little white chap," which is the Indian name for rabbit.
And there is no midwinter lull for "wahboos."
While the 1 little white chap " runs, the long-haired,
owlish-eyed lynx of the Northern forest runs too. So
do all the lynx's feline cousins, the big yellowish cougar of the mountains slouching along with his head
down and his tail lashing and a footstep as light and
sinuous and silent as the motion of a snake; the short-
haired lucifee gorging himself full of "little white
chaps " and stretching out to sleep on a limb in a dapple of sunshine and shadow so much like the lucifee's
skin not even a wolf would detect the sleeper; the
bunchy bob-cat bounding and skimming over the snow
for all the world like a bouncing footbaU done up in
gray fur—all members of the cat tribe running wherever the " little white chaps " run.
So when the lull fell on the hunt and the mink
trapping was well over and marten had not yet begun,
Koot gathered up his traps, and getting a supply of ^S^S^^^sas
provisions at the fur post, crossed the white wastes of
prairie to lonely swamp ground where dwarf alder and
willow and cottonwood and poplar and pine grew in a
tangle. A few old logs dovetailed into a square made
the wall of a cabin. Over these he stretched the canvas of his tepee for a roof at a sharp enough angle
to let the heavy snow-fall slide off from its own weight.
Moss chinked up the logs. Snow banked out the wind.
Pine boughs made the floor, two logs with pine boughs,
a bed. An odd-shaped stump served as chair or table;
and on the logs of the inner walls hung wedge-shaped
slabs of cedar to stretch the skins. A caribou curtain
or bear-skin across the entrance completed Knot's
winter quarters for the rabbit-hunt.
Knot's genealogy was as vague as that of all old
trappers hanging round fur posts. Part of him—that
part which served best when he was on the hunting-
field—was Ojibway. The other part, which made him
improvise logs into chair and table and bed, was white
man; and that served him best when he came to bargain with the chief factor over the pelts. At the fur
post he attended the Catholic mission. On the hunting-field, when suddenly menaced by some great danger, he would cry out in the Indian tongue words that
meant"0 Great Spirit!"- And it is altogether probable that at the mission and on the hunting-field, Koot
was worshipping the same Being. When he swore-r-
strange commentary on civilization—he always used
white man's oaths, French patois or straight English.
Though old hermits may be found hunting alone
through the Bockies, Idaho, Washington, and Minnesota, trappers do not usually go to the wilds alone; but
there was so little danger in rabbit-snaring, that Koot
15 210
had gone out accompanied by only the mongrel dog
that had drawn his provisions from the fort on a sort
of toboggan sleigh.
The snow is a white page on which the wild orea-
tures write their daily record for those who can read.
All over the white swamp were little deep tracks; here,
holes as if the runner had sunk; there, padded marks
as from the bound—bound—bound of something soft;
then, again, where the thicket was like a hedge with
only one breach through, the footprints had beaten a
little hard rut walled by the soft snow. Koot's dog
might have detected a motionless form under the
thicket of spiney shrubs, a form that was gray almost
to whiteness and scarcely to be distinguished from the
snowy underbrush but for the blink of a prism light—
the rabbit's eye. If the dog did catch that one telltale glimpse of an eye which a cunning rabbit would
have shut, true to the training of his trapper master
he would give no sign of the discovery except perhaps
the pricking forward of both ears. Koot himself preserved as stolid a countenance as the rabbit playing
dead or simulating a block of wood. Where the footprints ran through the breached hedge, Koot stooped
down and planted little sticks across the runway till
there was barely room for a weasel to pass. Across
the open he suspended a looped string hung from a
twig bent so that the slightest weight in the loop
would send it up with a death jerk for anything caught
in the tightening twine.
All day long, Koot goes from hedge to hedge, from
runway to runway, choosing always the places where
natural barriers compel the rabbit to take this path
and no other, travelling if he can in a circle from his KOOT AND THE BOB-CAT
,eabin so that the last snare set will bring him back
with many a zigzag to the first snare made. If rabbits were plentiful—as they always were in the fur
country of the North except during one year in seven
when an epidemic spared the land from a rabbit pest—
Koot's circuit of snares would run for miles through
the swamp. Traps for large game would be set out so
that the circuit would require only a day; but where
rabbits are numerous, the foragers that prey—wolf
and wolverine and lynx and bob-cat—will be numerous, too; and the trapper will not set out more snares
than he can visit twice a day. Noon—the Indian's
hour of the short shadow—is the best time for the
first visit, nightfall, the time of no shadow at all, for
the second. If the trapper has no wooden door to his
cabin, and in it—instead of caching in a tree—keeps
fish or bacon that may attract marauding wolverine,
he will very probably leave his dogs on guard while he
makes the round of the snares.
Finding tracks about the shack when he came back
for his noonday meal, Koot shouted sundry instructions into the mongrel's ear, emphasized them with a
moccasin kick, picked up the sack in which he carried
bait, twine, and traps, and set out in the evening to
make the round of his snares, unaccompanied by the
dog. Babbit after rabbit he found, gray and white,
hanging stiff and stark, dead from their own weight,
strangled in the twine snares. Snares were set anew,
the game strung over his shoulder, and Koot was
walking through the gray gloaming for the cabin when
that strange sense of feel told him that he was being
followed. What was it? Could it be the dog? He
whistled—he called it by name. THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
In aU the world, there is nothing so ghostly silent,
so deathly quiet as the swamp woods, muffled in the
snow of midwinter, just at nightfall. By day, the
grouse may utter a lonely cluck-cluck, or the snow-
buntings chirrup and twitter and flutter from drift
to hedge-top, or the saucy jay shriek some scolding
impudence. A squirrel may chatter out his noisy protest at some thief for approaching the nuts which lie
cached under the rotten leaves at the foot of the tree,
or the sun-warmth may set the melting snow showering from the swan's-down branches with a patter like
rain. But at nightfall the frost has stilled the drip
of thaw. Squirrel and bird are wrapped in the utter
quiet of a gray darkness. And the marauders that
fill midnight with sharp bark, shriU trembling scream,
deep baying over the snow are not yet abroad in the
woods. All is shadowless—stillness—a quiet that is
Koot turned sharply and whistled and called his
dog. There wasn't a sound. Later when the frost
began to tighten, sap-frozen twigs would snap. The
ice of the swamp, frozen like rock, would by-and-bye
crackle with the loud echo of a pistol-shot—crackle—
and strike—and break as if artiUery were firing a fusillade and infantry shooters answering sharp. By-and-
bye, moon and stars and Northern Lights would set the
shadows dancing; and the wail of the cougar would be
echoed by the lifting scream of its mate. But now,
was not a sound, not a motion, not a shadow, only the
noiseless stillness, the shadowless quiet, and the
feel, the feel of something back where the darkness was
gathering like a curtain in the bush.
It might, of course, be only a silly long-ears loping KOOT AND THE BOB-CAT
under cover parallel to the man, looking with rabbit
curiosity at this strange newcomer to the swamp home
of the animal world. Koot's sense of feel told him
that it wasn't a rabbit; but he tried to persuade himself that it was, the way a timid listener persuades herself that creaking floors are burglars. Thinking of
his many snares, Koot smiled and walked on. Then it
came again, that feel of something coursing behind
the underbrush in the gloom of the gathering darkness.
Koot stopped short—and listened—and listened—
listened to a snow-muffled silence, to a desolating solitude that pressed in on the lonely hunter like the
waves of a limitless sea round a drowning man.
The sense of feel that is akin to brute instinct gave
him the impression of a presence. Beason that is
man's told him what it might be and what to do. Was
he not carrying the snared rabbits over his shoulder?
Some hungry flesh-eater, more bloodthirsty than courageous, was still hunting him for the food on his back
and only lacked the courage to attack. Koot drew a
steel-trap from his bag. He did not wish to waste a
rabbit-skin, so he baited the spring with a piece of fat
bacon, smeared the trap, the snow, everything that he
had touched with a rabbit-skin, and walked home
through the deepening dark to the little log cabin
where a sharp " woof -woof " of welcome awaited him.
That night, in addition to the skins across the doorway, Koot jammed logs athwart; "to keep the cold
out" he told himself. Then he kindled a fire on the
rough stone hearth built at one end of the cabin and
with the little clay pipe beneath his teeth sat down
on the stump chair Ho broil rabbit. The waste of the
rabbit he had placed in traps outside the lodge.   Once 214
his dog sprang alert with pricked ears. Man and dog
heard the sniff—sniff—sniff of some creature attracted
to the cabin by the smeU of broiling meat, and now
rummaging at its own risk among the traps. And
once when Koot was stretched out on a bear-skin before the fire puffing at his pipe-stem, drying his moccasins and listening to the fusillade of frost rending
ice and earth, a long low piercing wail rose and fell
and died away. Instantly from the forest of the
swamp came the answering scream—a lifting tumbling
eldritch shriek.
" I should have set two traps," says Koot.   " They
are out in pairs."
Black is the flag of danger to the rabbit world.
The antlered shadows of the naked poplar or the tossing arms of the restless pines, the rabbit knows to be
harmless shadows unless their dapple of sun and shade
conceals a brindled cat. But a shadow that walks and
runs means to the rabbit a foe; so the wary trapper
prefers to visit his snares at the hour of the short
It did not surprise the trapper after he had heard
the lifting wail from the swamp woods the night before that the bacon in the trap lay untouched. The
still hunter that had crawled through the underbrush
lured by the dead rabbits over Koot's shoulder wanted
rabbit, not bacon.". But at the nearest rabbit snare,
where a poor dead prisoner had been torn from the
twine, were queer padded prints in the snow, not of
the rabbit's making. Koot stood looking at the telltale mark. The dog's ears were all aprick. So was
Koot's sense of feel, but he couldn't make this thing KOOT AND THE BOB-CAT
out. There was no trail of approach or retreat. The
padded print of the thief was in the snow as if the animal had dropped from the sky and gone back to the
Koot measured off ten strides from the rifled snare
and made a complete circuit round it. The rabbit
runway cut athwart the snow circle, but no mark like
that shuffling padded print.
" It isn't a wolverine, and it isn't a fisher, and it
isn't a coyote," Koot told himself.
The dog emitted stupid little sharp barks looking
everywhere and nowhere as if he felt what he could
neither see nor hear. Koot measured off ten strides
more from this circuit and again walked completely
round the snare. Not even the rabbit runways cut
this circle. The white man grows indignant when baffled, the Indian superstitious. The part that was
white man in Koot sent him back to the scene in quick
jerky steps to scatter poisoned rabbit meat over the
snow and set a trap in which he readily sacrificed a
full-grown bunny. The part that was Indian set a
world of old memories echoing, memories that were as
much Koot's nature as the swarth of his skin, memories that Koot's mother and his mother's ancestors
held of the fabulous man-eating wolf called the loup-
garou, and the great white beaver father of all beavers
and all Indians that glided through the swamp mists
at night like a ghost, and the monster grisly that
stalked with uncouth gambols through the dark devouring benighted hunters.
This time when the mongrel uttered his little
sharp barkings that said as plainly as a dog could
speak, I Something's somewhere!  Be careful there— 216
oh!—I'll be on to you in just one minute!" Koot
kicked the dog hard with plain anger; and his anger
was at himself because his eyes and his ears failed to
localize, to real-ize, to visualize what those little pricks
and shivers tingling down to his finger-tips meant.
Then the civilized man came uppermost in Koot and
he marched off very matter of fact to the next snare.
But if Koot's vision had been as acute as his sense
of feel and he had glanced up to the topmost spreading
bough of a pine just above the snare, he might have
detected lying in a dapple of sun and shade something
with large owl eyes, something whose pencilled ear-
tufts caught the first crisp of the man's moccasins
over the snow-crust. Then the ear-tufts were laid
fiat back against a furry form hardly differing from
the dapple of sun and shade. The big owl eyes closed
to a tiny blinking slit that let out never a ray of telltale light. The big round body mottled gray and
white like the snowy tree widened—stretched—flattened till it was almost a part of the tossing pine
bough. Only when the man and dog below the tree had
passed far beyond did the pencilled ears blink forward
and the owl eyes open and the big body bunch out like
a cat with elevated haunches ready to spring.
But by-and-bye the man's snares began to tell on
the rabbits. They grew scarce and timid. And the
thing that had rifled the rabbit snares grew hunger-
bold. One day when Koot and the dog were skimming
across the billowy drifts, something black far ahead
bounced up, caught a bunting on the wing, and with
another bounce disappeared among the trees.
Koot said one word—" Cat!"—and the dog was off
full cry.
Ever since he had heard that wailing call from the
swamp woods, he had known that there were rival hunters, the keenest of all still hunters among the rabbits.
Every day he came upon the trail of their ravages,
rifled snares, dead squirrels, torn feathers, even the remains of a fox or a coon. And sometimes he could
teU from the printings on the white page that the still
hunter had been hunted full cry by coyote or timber-
wolf. Against these wolfish foes the cat had one sure
refuge always—a tree. The hungry coyote might try
to starve the bob-cat into surrender; but just as often,
the bob-cat could starve the coyote into retreat; for if
a foolish rabbit darted past, what hungry coyote could
help giving chase? The tree had even defeated both
dog and man that first week when Koot could not find
the cat. But a dog in full chase could follow the trail
to a tree, and a man could shoot into the tree.
As the rabbits decreased, Koot set out many traps
for the bob-cats now reckless with hunger, steel-traps
and deadfalls and pits and log pens with a live grouse
clucking inside. The midwinter lull was a busy sea^
son for Koot.
Towards March, the sun-glare has produced a crust
on the snow that is almost like glass. For Koot on his
snow-shoes this had no danger; but for the mongrel
that was to draw the pelts back to the fort, the snow
crust was more troublesome than glass. Where the
crust was thick, with Koot leading the way snow-shoes
and dog and toboggan glided over the drifts as if on
steel runners. But in midday the crust was soft and
the dog went floundering through as if on thin ice, the
sharp edge cutting his feet. Koot tied little buckskin sacks round the dog's feet and made a few more 218
rounds of the swamp; but the crust was a sign that
warned him it was time to prepare for the marten-
hunt. To leave his furs at the fort, he must cross the
prairie while it was yet good travelling for the dog.
Dismantling the Httle cabin, Koot packed the pelts on
the toboggan, roped all tightly so there could be no
spill from an upset, and putting the mongrel in the
traces, led the way for the fort one night when the
snow-crust was hard as ice.
The moon came up over the white fields in a great
silver disk. Between the running man and the silver
moon moved black skulking forms—the foragers on
their night hunt. Sometimes a fox loped over a drift,
or a coyote rose ghostly from the snow, or timber-
wolves dashed from wooded ravines and stopped to look
till Koot fired a shot that sent them galloping.
In the dart that precedes daylight, Koot camped
beside a grove of poplars—that is, he fed the dog a
fish, whittled chips to make a fire and boil some tea
for himself, then digging a hole in the drift with
his snow-shoe, laid the sleigh to windward and cuddled down between bear-skins with the dog across his
Daylight came in a blinding glare of sunshine and
white snow. The way was untrodden. Koot led at
an ambling run, followed by the dog at a fast trot, so
that the trees were presently left far on the offing and
the runners were out on the bare white prairie with
never a mark, tree or shrub, to break the dazzling
reaches of sunshine and snow from horizon to horizon.
A man who is breaking the way must keep his eyes on
the ground; and the ground was so blindingly bright KOOT AND THE BOB-CAT
that Koot began to see purple and yellow and red
patches dancing wherever he looked on the snow. He
drew his capote over his face to shade his eyes; but the
pace and the sun grew so hot that he was soon running
again unprotected from the blistering light.
Towards the afternoon, Koot knew that something
had gone wrong. Some distance ahead, he saw a black
object against the snow. On the unbroken white, it
looked almost as big as a barrel and seemed at least a
mile away. Lowering his eyes, Koot let out a spurt of
speed, and the next thing he knew he had tripped hia
snow-shoe and tumbled. Scrambling up, he saw that a
stick had caught the web of his snow-shoe; but where
was the barrel for which he had been steering? There
wasn't any barrel at all—the barrel was this black
stick which hadn't been fifty yards away. Koot rubbed
his eyes and noticed that black and red and purple
patches were all over the snow. The drifts were heaving and racing after each other like waves on an angry
sea. He did not go much farther that day; for every
glint of snow scorched his eyes like a hot iron. He
camped at the first bluff and made a poultice of cold
tea leaves which he laid across his blistered face for
the night.
Any one who knows the tortures of snow-blindness
will understand why Koot did not sleep that night.
It was a long night to the trapper, such a very long
night that the sun had been up for two hours before
its heat burned through the layers of his capote into
his eyes and roused him from sheer pain. Then he
sprang up, put up an ungantled hand and knew from
the heat of the sun that it was broad day. But when
he took the bandage off his eyes, all he saw was a black 220
curtain one moment, rockets and wheels and dancing
patches of purple fire the next.
Koot was no fool to become panicky and feeble
from sudden peril. He knew that he was snow-blind
on a pathless prairie at least two days away from the
fort. To wait until the snow-blindness had healed
would risk the few provisions that he had and perhaps
expose him to a blizzard. The one rule of the trapper's life is to go ahead, let the going cost what it may;
and drawing his capote over his face, Koot went on.
The heat of the sun told him the directions; and
when the sun went down, the crooning west wind,
bringing thaw and snow-crust, was his compass. And
when the wind fell, the tufts of shrub-growth sticking
through the snow pointed to the warm south. Now
he tied himself to his dog; and when he camped beside trees into which he had gone full crash before he
knew they were there, he laid his gun beside the dog
and sleigh. Going out the full length of his cord, he
whittled the chips for his fire and found his way back
by the cord.
On the second day of his blindness, no sun came up;
nor could he guide himself by the feel of the air, for
there was no wind. It was one of the dull dead gray
days that precedes storms. How would he get his directions to set out? Memory of last night's travel
might only lead him on the endless circling of the lost.
Koot dug his snow-shoe to the base of a tree, found
moss, felt it growing on only one side of the tree, knew
that side must be the shady cold side, and so took his
bearings from what he thought was the north.
Koot said the only time that he knew any fear was
on the evening of the last day.   The atmosphere boded cv
storm. The fort lay in a valley. Somewhere between
Koot and that valley ran a trail. What if he had
crossed the trail? What if the storm came and wiped
out the trail before he could reach the fort? All day,
whisky-jack and snow-bunting and fox scurried from
his presence; but this night in the dusk when he felt
forward on his hands and knees for the expected trail,
the wild creatures seemed to* grow bolder. He imagined that he felt the coyotes closer than on the other
nights. And then the fearful thought came that he
might have passed the trail unheeding. Should, he
turn back?
Afraid to go forward or back, Koot sank on the
ground, unhooded his face and tried to force his eyes
to see. The pain brought biting salty tears. It was
quite useless. Either the night was very dark, or the
eyes were very blind.
And then white man or Indian—who shall say
which came uppermost?—Koot cried out to the Great
Spirit.   In mockery back came the saucy scold of a
iay- 1
But that was enough for Koot—it was prompt
answer to his prayer; for where do the jays quarrel and
fight and flutter but on the trail? Bunning eagerly
forward, the trapper felt the ground. The rutted
marks of a " jumper" sleigh cut the hard crust. With
a shout, Koot headed down the sloping path to the
valley where lay the fur post, the low hanging smoke
of whose chimneys his eager nostrils had already
Musquash the Musk-rat
Every  chapter  in the  trapper's  life  is not
"stunt."   g;f.    yj. / ■    "      ..
There are the uneventful days when the trapper
seems to do nothing but wander aimlessly through the
woods over the prairie along the margin of rush-grown
marshy ravines where the stagnant waters lap lazily
among the flags, though a feathering of ice begins to
rim the quiet pools early in autumn. Unless he is
duck-shooting down there in the hidden slough where
is a great "quack-quack" of young teals, the trapper
may not uncase his gun. For a whole morning he lies
idly in the sunlight beside some river where a roundish black head occasionally bobs up only to dive under
when it sees the man. Or else he sits by the hour still
as a statue on the mossy log of a swamp where a long
wriggling—wriggling trail marks the snaky motion of
some creature below the amber depths.
To the city man whose days are regulated by clockwork and electric trams with the ceaseless iteration of
222 K\
gongs and "step fast there!" such a life seems the
type of utter laziness. But the best-learned lessons are
those imbibed unconsciously and the keenest pleasures
come unsought. Perhaps when the great profit-and-
loss account of the hereafter is cast up, the trapper
may be found to have a greater sum total of happiness, of usefulness, of real knowledge than the multimillionaire whose life was one buzzing round of drive
and worry and grind. Usually the busy city man has
spent nine or ten of the most precious years of his
youth in study and travel to learn other men's thoughts
for his own life's work. The trapper spends an idle
month or two of each year wandering through a wild
world learning the technic of his craft at first hand.
And the trapper's learning is all done leisurely, calmly,
without bluster or drive, just as nature herself carries on the work of her realm.
On one of these idle days when the trapper seems
to be slouching so lazily over the prarie comes a whiff
of dank growth on the crisp autumn air. Like all
wild creatures travelling up-wind, the trapper at once
heads a windward course. It comes again, just a whiff
as if the light green musk-plant were growing somewhere on a dank bank. But ravines are not dank in
the clear fall days; and by October the musk-plant has
wilted dry. This is a fresh living odour with all the
difference between it and dead leaves that there is between June roses and the dried dust of a rose jar. The
wind falls. He may not catch the faintest odour of
swamp growth again, but he knows there must be stagnant water somewhere in these prairie ravines; and a
sense that is part feel, part intuition, part inference
from what the wind told of the marsh smell, leads his THE STORY OP THE TRAPPER
footsteps down the browned hiUside to the soggy bok
torn of a slough.
A covey of teak—very young, or they would not be
so bold—flackers up, wings about with a clatter, then
settles again a space farther ahead when the ducks see
that the intruder remains so stiU. The man parts the
flags, sits down on a log motionless as the log itself—
and watches! Something else had taken alarm from
the crunch of the hunter's moccasins through the dry
reeds; for a wriggling trail is there, showing where a
creature has dived below and is running among the wet
under-tangle. Not far off on another log deep in the
shade of the highest flags solemnly perches a small
prairie-owl. It is almost the russet shade of the dead
log. It hunches up and blinks stupidly at aU this
noise in the swamp.
" Oho," thinks the trapper, " so I've disturbed a
stiU hunt," and he sits if anything stiller than ever,
only stooping to lay his gun down and pick up a stone.
At first there is nothing but the quacking of the
ducks at the far end of the swamp. A lapping of the
water against the brittle flags and a water-snake has
splashed away to some dark haunt. The whisky-jack
calls out officious note from a topmost bough, as much
as to say: " It's aU right! Me—me!—I'm always
there!—I've investigated!—it's all right!—he's quite
harmless!" And away goes the jay on business of
state among the gopher mounds.
Then the interrupted activity of the swamp is resumed,, scolding mother ducks reading the riot act to
young teals, old geese coming craning and craning
their long necks to drink at the water's edge, lizards
and water-snakes splashing down the banks, midgets MUSQUASH THE MUSK-RAT
and gnats sunning themselves in clouds during the
warmth of the short autumn days, with a feel in the
air as of crisp ripeness, drying fruit, the harvest-home
of the year. In all the prairie region north and west of
Minnesota—the Indian land of "sky-coloured water"
—the sloughs lie on the prairie under a crystal sky that
turns pools to silver. On this almost motionless surface are mirrored as if by an etcher's needle the sky
above, feathered wind clouds, flag stems, surrounding
cliffs, even the flight of birds on wing. As the mountains stand for majesty, the prairies for infinity, so the
marsh lands are types of repose.
But it is not a lifeless repose. Barely has the trap-
per settled himself when a little sharp black nose
pokes up through the water at the fore end of the
wriggling trail. A round rat-shaped head follows this
twitching proboscis. Then a brownish earth-coloured
body swims with a wriggling sidelong movement for
the log, where roosts the blinking owlet. A little
noiseless leap! and a dripping musk-rat with long
flat tail and webbed feet scrabbles up the moss-covered tree towards the stupid bird. Another moment,
and the owl would have toppled into the water with a
pair of sharp teeth clutched to its throat. Then the
man shies a well-aimed stone!
Splash! Flop! The owl is flapping blindly
through the flags to another hiding-place, while the
wriggle-wriggle of the waters tells where the marsh-
rat has darted away under the tangled growth. From
other idle days like these, the trapper has learned that
musk-rats are not solitary but always to be found in
colonies. Now if the musk-rat were as wise as the
beaver to whom the Indians say he is closely akin, that
16 226
alarmed marauder would carry the news of the man-
intruder to the whole swamp. Perhaps if the others
remembered from the prod of a spear or the flash of a
gun what man's coming meant, that news would cause
terrified flight of every musk-rat from the marsh. But
musquash—little beaver, as the Indians caU him—is
not so wise, not so timid, not so easily frightened from
his home as amisk,* the beaver. In fact, nature's provision for the musk-rat's protection seems to have emboldened the little rodent almost to the point of
stupidity. His skin is of that burnt umber shade
hardly to be distinguished from the earth. At one
moment his sharp nose cuts the water, at the next he
is completely hidden in the soft clay of the under-
tangle; and while you are straining for a sight of him
through the pool, he has scurried across a mud bank
to his burrow. |*
Hunt him as they may, men and boys and ragged
squaws wading through swamps knee-high, yet after a
century of hunting from the Chesapeake and the
Hackensack to the swamps of " sky-coloured water " on
the far prairie, little musquash still yields 6,000,000
pelts a year with never a sign of diminishing. A hundred years ago, in 1788, so little was musk-rat held in
esteem as a fur, the great North-West Company of
* A misk, the Chippewyan, umish, the Cree, with much the
same sound. A well-known trader told the writer that he considered the variation in Indian language more a matter of dialect
than difference in meaning, and that while he could speak only
O jib way he never had any difficulty in understanding and being
understood by Cree, Chippewyan, and Assiniboine. For instance,
rabbit, "the little white chap," is wahboos on the Upper Ottawa,
wapus on the Saskatchewan, wapauce on the MacKenzie. MUSQUASH THE MUSK-RAT
Canada sent out only 17,000 or 20,000 skins a year.
So rapidly did musk-rat grow in favour as a lining and
imitation fur that in 1888 it was no unusual thing for
200,000 musk-rat-skins to be brought to a single Hudson's Bay Company fort. In Canada the climate compels the use of heavier furs than in the United States,
so that the all-fur coat is in greater demand than the
fur-lined; but in Canada, not less than 2,000,000 musk-
rat furs are taken every year. In the United States
the total is close on 4,000,000. In one city alone, St.
Paul, 50,000 musk-rat-skins are cured every year. A
single stretch of good marsh ground has yielded that
number of skins year after year without a sign of the
hunt telling on the prolific little musquash. Multiply
50,000 by prices varying from 7 cents to 75 cents and
the value of the musk-rat-hunt becomes apparent.
What is the secret of the musk-rat's survival while
the strong creatures of the chase like buffalo and timber-wolf have been almost exterminated? In the first
place, settlers can't farm swamps; so the musk-rat
thrives just as well in the swamps of New Jersey today as when the first white hunter set foot in America.
Then musquash lives as heartily on owls and frogs and
snakes as on water mussels and lily-pads. If one sort
of food fails, the musk-rat has as omnivorous powers of
digestion as the bear and changes his diet. Then he
can hide as well in water as on land. And most important of all, musk-rat's family is as numerous as a
caf s, five to nine rats in a litter, and two or three litters a year. These are the points that make for little
musquash's continuance in spite of all that shot and
trap can do.
Having discovered what the dank whiff, half ani- 228
mal, half vegetable, signified, the trapper sets about
finding the colony. He knows there is no risk of the
little stiU-hunter carrying alarm to the other musk-rats.
If he waits, it is altogether probable that the fleeing
musk-rat wiU come up and swim straight for the colony.
On the other hand, the musk-rat may have scurried
overland through the rushes. Besides, the trapper observed tracks, tiny leaf-like tracks as of little webbed
feet, over-the soft clay of the marsh bank. These wiU
lead to the colony, so the trapper rises and parting the
rushes not too noisily, foUows the little footprint along
the margin of the swamp.
Here .the track is lost at the narrow ford of an inflowing stream, but across the creek lies a fallen poplar
littered with—what? The feathers and bones of a
dead owlet. Balancing himself—how much better the
moccasins cling than boots!—the trapper crosses the
log and takes up the trail through the rushes. But
here musquash has dived off into the water for the express purpose of throwing a possible pursuer off the
scent. But the tracks betrayed which way musquash
was travelling; so the trapper goes on, knowing if he
does not find the little haycock houses on this side,
he can cross to the other.
Presently, he almost stumbles over what sent the
musk-rat diving just at this place. It is the wreck of
a wolverine's ravage—a little wattled dome-shaped
house exposed to that arch-destroyer by the shrinking
of the swamp. So shaUow has the water become, that
a wolverine has easily waded and leaped clear across
to the roof of the musk-rat's house. A beaver-dam
two feet thick cannot resist the onslaught of the wolverine's claws; how much less wiU this round nest of   MUSQUASH THE MUSK-RAT
reeds and grass and mosses cemented together with
soft clay? The roof has been torn from the domed
house, leaving the inside bare and showing plainly the
domestic economy of the musk-rat home, smooth round
walls inside, a floor or gallery of sticks and grasses,
where the family had lived in an air chamber above
the water, rough walls below the water-line and two
or three little openings that must have been safely under water before the swamp receded. Perhaps, a mussel or lily bulb has been left in the deserted larder.
From the oozy slime below the mid-floor to the topmost wall will not measure more than two or three
feet. If the swamp had not dried here, the stupid little musk-rats that escaped the ravager's claws would
probably have come back to the wrecked house, built
up the torn roof, and gone on living in danger till
another wolverine came. But a water doorway the
musk-rat must have. That he has learned by countless
assaults on his house-top, so when the marsh retreated
the musk-rats abandoned their house.
All about the deserted house are runways, tiny
channels across oozy peninsulas and islands of the
musk-rat's diminutive world such as a very small beaver
might make. The trapper jumps across to a dry
patch or mound in the midst of the slimy bottom and
prods an earth bank with a stick. It is as he thought
—hollow; a musk-rat burrow or gallery in the clay wall
where the refugees from this house had scuttled from
the wolverine. But now all is deserted. The water
has shrunk—that was the danger signal to the musk-
rat; and there had been a grand moving to a deeper
part of the swamp. Perhaps, after all, this is a very
old house not used since last winter. THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
Going back to the bank, the trapper skirts through
the crush of brittle rushes round the swamp. Coming
sharply on deeper water, a dank, stagnant bayou,
heavy with the smeU of furry life, the trapper pushes
aside the flags, peers out and sees what resembles a
prairie-dog town on water—such a number of wattled
houses that they had shut in the water as with a dam.
Too many flags and wiUows lie over the colony for a
glimpse of the teU-tale wriggling trail across the
water; but from the wet tangle of grass and moss comes
an oozy pattering.
If it were winter, the trapper could proceed as he
would against a beaver colony, staking up the outlet
from the swamp, trenching the ice round the different
houses, breaking open the roofs and penning up any
fugitives in their own bank burrows tiU he and his dog
and a spear could clear out the gallery. But in winter there is more important work than hunting musk-
rat. Musk-rat-trapping is for odd days before the regular hunt.
Opening the sack which he usually carries on his
back, the trapper draws out three dozen small traps
no larger than a rat or mouse trap. Some of these
he places across the runways without any bait; for the
musk-rat must pass this way. Some he smears with
strong-smelling pomatum. Some he baits with carrot
or apple. Others he does not bait at all, simply laying
them on old logs where he knows the owlets roost by
day. But each of the traps—bait or no bait—he attaches to a stake driven into the water so that the
prisoner wiU be held under when he plunges to escape tiB he is drowned. Otherwise, he would gnaw
his foot free of the trap and disappear in a burrow. MUSQUASH THE MUSK-RAT
If the marsh is large, there will be more than one
musk-rat colony. Having exhausted his traps on the
first, the trapper lies in wait at the second. When the
moon comes up over the water, there is a great splashing about the musk-rat nests; for autumn is the time
for house-building and the musk-rats work at night. If
the trapper is an Eastern man, he will wade in as they
do in New Jersey; but if he is a type of the Western
hunter, he lies on the log among the rushes, popping a
shot at every head that appears in the moonlit water.
His dog swims and dives for the quarry. By the time
the stupid little musk-rats have taken alarm and hidden, the man has twenty or thirty on the bank. Going home, he empties and resets the traps.
Thirty marten traps that yield six martens do well.
Thirty musk-rat traps are expected to give thirty musk-
rats. Add to that the twenty shot, and what does the
day's work represent? Here are thirty skins of a
coarse light reddish hair, such as lines the poor man's
overcoat. These will sell for from 7 to 15 cents each.
They may go roughly for $3 at the fur post. Here are
ten of the deeper brown shades, with long soft fur that
lines a lady's cloak. They are fine enough to pass for
mink with a little dyeing, or imitation seal if they are
properly plucked. These will bring 25 or 30 cents—
say $2.50 in all. But here are ten skins, deep, silky,
almost black, for which a Bussian officer will pay high
prices, skins that will go to England, and from England to Paris, and from Paris to St. Petersburg with
accelerating cost mark till the Bussian grandee is paying $1 or more for each pelt. The trapper will ask
30, 40, 50 cents for these, making perhaps $3.50 in all.
Then this idle fellow's day has totaled up to $9, not a THE STORY OF THE TRAPPER
bad day's work, considering he did not go to the university for ten years to learn his craft, did not know
what wear and tear and drive meant as he worked, did
not spend more than a few cents' worth of shot. But
for his musk-rat-pelts the man wBl not get $9 in coin
unless he lives very near the great fur markets. He
wil get powder and clothing and food and tobacco
whose first cost has been increased a hundredfold by
ship rates and railroad rates, by keel-boat freight and
pack-horse expenses and portage charges past countless rapids. But he wiU get aU that he needs, all that
he wants, all that his labour is worth, this " lazy vagabond " who spends half his time idling in the sun. Of
how many other men can that be said?
But what of the ruthless slaughter among the little
musk-rats? Does humanity not revolt at the thought?
Is this trapping not after all brutal butchery?
Animal kindliness—if such a thing exists among
musk-rats—could hardly protest against the slaughter,
seeing the musk-rats themselves wage as ruthless a war
against water-worm and owlet as man wages against
musk-rats. It is the old question, should animal life
be sacrificed to preserve human life? To that question there is only one answer. Linings for coats are
more important life-savers than all the humane societies of the world put together. It is probable that the
first thing the prehistoric man did to preserve his own
life when he realized himself was to slay some destructive animal and appropriate its coat. SIKAK THE SKUNK
Sikak the Skunk
Sikak the skunk it is who supplies the best imitations of sable. But cleanse the fur never so weU, on a
damp day it stiU emits the heavy sickening odour that
betrays its real nature. That odour is sikak's invincible defence against the white trapper. The hunter
may follow the little four-abreast galloping footprints
that lead to a hole among stones or to rotten logs, but
long before he has reached the nesting-place of his
quarry comes a stench against which white blood is
powerless. Or the trapper may find an unexpected
visitor in one of the pens which he has dug for other
animals—a little black creature the shape of a squirrel
and the size of a cat with white stripings down his
back and a bushy tail. It is then a case of a quick
deadly shot, or the man will be put to rout by an odour
that will poUute the air for miles around and drive
him off that section of the hunting-field. The cuttlefish is the only other creature that possesses as powerful means of defence of a similar nature, one drop
of the inky fluid which it throws out to hide it from
pursuers burning the fisherman's eyes like scalding
acid. As far as white trappers are concerned, sikak
is only taken by the chance shots of idle days. Yet
the Indian hunts the skunk apparently utterly oblivious of the smell. Traps, poison, deadfalls, pens are
the Indian weapons against the skunk; and a Cree will
deliberately skin and stretch a pelt in an atmosphere
that is blue with what is poison to the white man.
The only case I ever knew of white trappers hunting the skunk was of three men on the North Sas-
M 234
katchewan. One was an Englishman who had been
long in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and
knew aU the animals of the north. The second was
the guide, a French-Canadian, and the third a Sandy,
fresh | frae oot the land o' heather." The men were
wakened one night by the noise of some animal scrambling through the window into their cabin and rummaging in the dark among the provisions. The
Frenchman sprang for a light and Sandy got hold of
his gun.
" Losh, mon, it's a wee bit beastie a' strip't black
and white wi' a tail like a so'dier's cocade!"
That information brought the Englishman to his
feet howling, "Don't shoot it! Don't shoot it! Leave
that thing alone, I teU you! |
But Sandy being a true son of Scotia with a Presbyterian love of argument wished to debate the question.
"An' what for wu'd a leave it eating a' the oatmeal? I'll no leave it rampagin' th' eatables—I wull
be pokin' it oot!—shoo!—shoo!"
At that the Frenchman flung down the light and
bolted for the door, followed by the English trader
cursing between set teeth that before "that blundering blockhead had argued the matter" something
would happen.
Something did happen.
Sandy came through the door with such precipitate
haste that the topmost beam brought his head a mighty
thwack, roaring out at the top of his voice that the
deil was after him for a' the sins that iver he had
committed since he was born. WENUSK THE BADGER
Wenusk the Badger
Badger, too, is one of the furs taken by the trapper on idle days. East of St. Paul and Winnipeg, the
fur is comparatively unknown, or if known, so badly
prepared that it is scarcely recognisable for badger.
This is probably owing to differences in climate. Badger
in its perfect state is a long soft fur, resembling wood
marten, with deep overhairs almost the length of
one's hand and as dark as marten, with underhairs as
thick and soft and yielding as swan's-down, shading
in colour from fawn to grayish white. East of the
Mississippi, there is too much damp in the atmosphere
for such a long soft fur. Consequently specimens of
badger seen in the East must either be sheared of the
long overhairs or left to mat and tangle on the first
rainy day. In New York, Quebec, Montreal, and
Toronto—places where the finest furs should be on
sale if anywhere—I have again and again asked for
badger, only to be shown a dull matted short fawnish
fur not much superior to cheap dyed furs. It is not
surprising there is no demand for such a fur and Eastern dealers have stopped ordering it. In the North-
West the most common mist during the winter is a
frost mist that is more a snow than a rain, so there is
little injury to furs from moisture. Here the badger is
prime, long, thick, and silky, almost as attractive as
ermine if only it were enhanced by as high a price.
Whether badger will ever grow in favour like musk-rat
or 'coon, and play an important part in the returns of
the fur exporters, is doubtful. The world takes its
fashions from European capitals; and European capi-
m 236
tals are too damp for badger to be in fashion with
them. Certainly, with the private dealers of the
North and West, badger is yearly becoming more
Like the musk-rat, badger is prime in the autumn. Wherever the hunting-grounds of the animals are, there wiU the hunting-grounds of the trapper be. Badgers run most where gophers sit sunning themselves on the clay mounds, ready to bolt
down to their subterranean burrows on the first approach of an enemy. Eternal enemies these two are,
gopher and badger, though they both live in ground
holes, nest their lairs with grasses, run all summer and
sleep all winter, and alike prey on the creatures smaller
than themselves—mice, moles, and birds. The gopher,
or ground squirrel, is smaller than the wood squirrel>
while the badger is larger than a Manx cat, with a
shape that varies according to the exigencies of the
situation. NormaUy, he is a flattish, fawn-coloured
beast, with a turtle-shaped body, little round head, and
small legs with unusuaUy strong claws. Bide after
the badger across the prairie and he stretches out in
long, Hthe shape, resembling a baby cougar, turning at
every pace or two to snap at your horse, then off again
at a hulking scramble of astonishing speed. Pour
water down his burrow to compel him to come up or
down, and he swells out his body, completely filling
the passage, so that his head, which is downward, is in
dry air, while his hind quarters alone are in the water.
In captivity the badger is a business-like little body,
with very sharp teeth, of which his keeper must beware,
and some of the tricks of the skunk, but inclined, on
the whole, to mind his affairs if you wiU mind yours. WENUSK THE BADGER
Once a day regularly every afternoon out of his lair
he emerges for the most comical sorts of athletic exercises. Hour after hour he will trot diagonally—because that gives him the longest run—from corner to
corner of his pen, rearing up on his hind legs as he
reaches one corner, rubbing the back of his head, then
down again and across to the other corner, where he
repeats the performance. There can be no reason for
the badger doing this, unless it was his habit in the
wilds when he trotted about leaving dumb signs on
mud banks and brushwood by which others of his kind
might know where to find him at stated times.
Sunset is the time when he is almost sure to be
among the gopher burrows. In vain the saucy jay
shrieks out a warning to the gophers. Of all the
prairie creatures, they are the stupidest, the most beset
with curiosity to know what that jay's shriek may
mean. Sunning themselves in the last rays of daylight,
the gophers perch on their hind legs to wait developments of what the jay announced. But the badger's
fur and the gopher mounds are almost the same colour.
He has pounced on some playful youngsters before the
rest see him. Then there is a wild scuttling down to
the depths of the burrows. That, too, is vain; for the
badger begins ripping up the clay bank like a grisly,
down—down—in pursuit, two, three, five feet, even
Then is seen one of the most curious freaks in all
the animal life of the prairie. The underground galleries of the gophers connect and lead up to different
exits. As the furious badger comes closer and closer
on the cowering gophers, the little cowards lose heart,
dart up the galleries to open doors, and try to escape 238
through the grass of the prairie,. But no sooner is the
badger hard at work than a gray form seems to rise
out of the earth, a coyote who had been slinking to
the rear all the while; and as the terrified gophers
scurry here, scurry there, coyote's white teeth snap!—
snap! He is here—there—everywhere—pouncing—
jumping—having the fun of his life, gobbling gophers
as cats catch mice. Down in the bottom of the burrow,
the badger may get half a dozen poor cooped huddling
prisoners; but the coyote up on the prairie has devoured a whole colony.
Do these two, badger and coyote, consciously hunt
together? Some old trappers vow they do—others just
as vehemently that they don't. The fact remains that
wherever the badger goes gopher-hunting on an unsettled prairie, there the coyote skulks reaping reward
of all the badger's work. The coincidence is no
stranger than the well-known fact that sword-fish and
thrasher—two different fish—always league together to
attack the whale.
One thing only can save the gopher colony, and
that is the gun barrel across yon earth mound where a
trapper lies in wait for the coming of the badger.
The 'Coon
Sir Alexander MacKenzie reported that in 1798
the North-West Company sent out only 100 raccoon
from the fur country. Last year the city of St. Paul
alone cured 115,000 'coon-skins. What brought about
the change? Simply an appreciation of the qualities
of 'coon, which combines the greatest warmth with THE 'COON
the lightest weight and is especially adapted for a
cold climate and constant wear. What was said of
badger applies with greater force to 'coon. The
'coon in the East is associated in one's mind with
cabbies, in the West with fashionably dressed men
and women. And there is just as wide a difference
in the quality of the fur as in the quality of the
people. The cabbies' 'coon coat is a rough yellow
fur with red stripes. The Westerner's 'coon is a silky
brown fur with black stripes. One represents the fall
hunt of men and boys round hollow logs, the other the
midwinter hunt of a professional trapper in the Far
North. A dog usually bays the 'coon out of hiding in
the East. Tiny tracks, like a child's hand, tell the
Northern hunter where to set his traps.
Wahboos the rabbit, musquash the musk-rat, sikak
the skunk, wenusk the badger, and the common 'coon—i
these are the little chaps whose hunt fills the idle days
of the trapper's busy life. At night, before the rough
stone hearth which he has built in his cabin, he is
still busy by fire-light preparing their pelts. Each
skin must be stretched and cured. Turning the skin
fur side in, the trapper pushes into the pelt a wedge-
shaped slab of spliced cedar. Into the splice he shoves
another wedge of wood which he hammers in, each
blow widening the space and stretching the skin. All
pelts are stretched fur in but the fox. Tacking the
stretched skin on a flat board, the trapper hangs it to
dry till he carries all to the fort; unless, indeed, he
should need a garment for himself—cap, coat, or
gantlets—in which case he takes out a square needle
and passes his evenings like a tailor, sewing. CHAPTEE XVII
Sakwasew the Mink
There are other little chaps with more valuable
fur than musquash, whose skin seldom attains higher
honour than inside linings, and wahboos, whose snowy
coat is put to the indignity of imitating ermine with a
dotting of black cat for the ermine's jet tip. There
are mink and otter and fisher and fox and ermine
and sable, aU little fellows with pelts worth their
weight in coin of the realm.
On one of those idle days when the trapper seems
to be doing nothing but lying on his back in the sun,
he has witnessed a curious, but common, battle in
pantomine between bird and beast. A prairie-hawk
circles and drops, lifts and wheels again with monotonous silent persistence above the swamp. What
quarry does he seek, this lawless forager of the upper
airs still hunting a hidden nook of the low prairie?
If he were out purely for exercise, like the little badger
when it goes rubbing the back of its head from post to
post, there would be a buzzing of wings and shrill
lonely callings to an unseen mate.
But the circling hawk is as silent as the very personification of death. Apparently he can't make up
his mind for the death-drop on some rat or frog down
there in the swamp. The trapper notices that the
hawk keeps circling directly above the place where the
waters of the swamp tumble from the ravine in a small
cataract to join a lower river. He knows, too, from
the rich orange of the plumage that the hawk is young.
An older fellow would not be advertising his intentions in this fashion. Besides, an older hawk would
have russet-gray feathering. Is the rascally young
hawk meditating a clutch of talons round some of
the unsuspecting trout that usually frequent the
quiet pools below a waterfall. Or does he aim at
bigger game? A young hawk is bold with the courage
that has not yet learned the wisdom of caution. That
is why there are so many more of the brilliant young
red hawks in our museums than old grizzled gray veterans whose craft circumvents the specimen hunter's
cunning. Now the trapper comes to have as keen a
sense of feel for all the creatures of the wilds as the
creatures of the wilds have for man; so he shifts
his position that he may find what is attracting the
Down on the pebbled beach below the waterfalls lies
an auburn bundle of fur, about the size of a very long,
slim, short-legged cat, still as a stone—some member
of the weasel family gorged torpid with fish, stretched
out full length to sleep in the sun. To sleep, ah, yes,
and as the Danish prince said, % perchance to dream ";
for all the little fellows of river and prairie take good
care never to sleep where they are exposed to their
countless eneniies. This sleep of the weasel arouses the
17 242
man's suspicion. The trapper draws out his field-glass.
The sleeper is a mink, and its sleep is a sham with
beady, red eyes blinking a deal too lively for real
death. Why does it lie on its back rigid and straight
as if it were dead with all four tiny paws clutched out
stiff? The trapper scans the surface of the swamp to
see if some foolish musk-rat is swimming dangerously
near the sleeping mink.
Presently the hawk circles lower—lower!—Drop
straight as a stone! Its talons are almost in the mink's
body, when of a sudden the sleeper awakens—awakens
—with a leap of the four stiff little feet and a darting
spear-thrust of snapping teeth deep in the neck of the
hawk! At first the hawk rises tearing furiously at the
clinging mink with its claws. The wings sag, Down
bird and beast fall. Over they roll on the sandy
beach, hawk and mink, over and over with a thrashing
of the hawk's wings to beat the treacherous little
vampire off. Now the blood-sucker is on top clutching—clutching! Now the bird flounders up craning
his neck from the death-grip. Then the hawk falls on
his back.   His wings are prone.   They cease to flutter.
Bunning to the bank the trapper is surprised to see
the little blood-sucker making off with the prey instead
of deserting it as aU creatures akin to the weasel family
usually do. That means a family of mink somewhere
near, to be given their first lesson in bird-hunting, in
mink-hawking by the body of this poor, dead, foolish
By a red mark here, by a feather there, crushed
grass as of something dragged, a little webbed footprint on the wet clay, a tiny marking of double dots
where the feet have crossed a dry atone, the trapper SAKWASEW THE MINK
slowly takes up the trail of the mink. Mink are not
prime till the late fall. Then the reddish fur assumes
the shades of the russet grasses where they run until
the white of winter covers the land. Then—as if
nature were to exact avengement for aU the red
slaughter the mink has wrought during the rest of the
year—his coat becomes dark brown, almost black, the
very shade that renders him most conspicuous above
snow to all the enemies of the mink world. But while
the trapper has no intention of destroying what would
be worthless now but will be valuable in the winter, it
is not every day that even a trapper has a chance to
trail a mink back to its nest and see the young family.
But suddenly the trail stops. Here is a sandy
patch with some tumbled stones under a tangle of
grasses and a rivulet not a foot away. Ah—there it
is—a nest or lair, a tiny hole almost hidden by the
rushes! But the nest seems empty. Fast as the
trapper has come, the mink came faster and hid her
family. To one side, the hawk had been dropped
among the rushes. The man pokes a stick in the lair
but finds nothing. Putting in his hand, he is dragging
out bones, feathers, skeleton musk-rats, putrid frogs,
promiscuous remnants of other quarries brought to the
burrow by the mink, when a little cattish s-p-i-t!
almost touches his hand. His palm closes over something warm, squirming, smaller than a kitten with
very downy fur, on a soft mouse-like skin, eyes that
are still blind and a tiny mouth that neither meows
nor squeaks, just spits!—spits!—spits!—in impotent
viperish fury. All the other minklets, the mother had
succeeded in hiding under the grasses, but somehow
this one had been left.   Will he take it home and try 244
the experiment of rearing a young mink with a family
of kittens?
The trapper calls to mind other experiments.
There was the little beaver that chewed up his canoe
and gnawed a hole of escape through the door. There
were the three little bob-cats left in the woods behind
his cabin last year when he refrained from setting out
traps and tied up his dog to see if he could not catch
the whole family, mother and kittens, for an Eastern
museum. Furtively at first, the mother had come to
feed her kittens. Then the man had put out rugs to
keep the kittens warm and lain in wait for the mother;
but no sooner did she see her offspring comfortably
cared for, than she deserted them entirely, evidently
acting on the proverb that the most gracious enemy is
the most dangerous, or else deciding that the kits were
so well off that she was not needed. Adopting the
three little wild-cats, the trapper had reared them past
blind-eyes, past colic and dumps and all the youthful
ills to which live kittens are heirs, when trouble began.
The longing for the wilds came. Even catnip green
and senna tea boiled can't cure that. So keenly did the
gipsy longing come to one little bob that he perished
escaping to the woods by way of the chimney flue. The
second little bob succeeded in escaping through a
parchment stop-gap that served the trapper as a
window. And the third bobby dealt such an ill-tempered gash to the dog's nose that the combat ended
in instant death for the cat.
Thinking over these experiments, the trapper wisely
puts the mink back in the nest with words which it
would have been well for that litle ball of down to have
understood.   He told it he would come back for it next SAKWASEW THE MINK
winter and to be sure to have its best black coat on.
For the little first-year minks wear dark coats, almost
as fine as Bussian sable. Yes—he reflects, poking it
back to the hole and retreating quickly so that the
mother will return—better leave it till the winter; for
wasn't it Koot who put a mink among his kittens, only
to have the little viper set on them with tooth and
claw as soon as its eyes opened? Also mink are bad
neighbours to a poultry-yard. Forty chickens in a single night will the little mink destroy, not for food but
—to quote man's words—for the zest of the sport. The
mink, you must remember, like other pot-hunters, can
boast of a big bag.
The trapper did come back next fall. It was when
he was ranging all the swamp-lands for beaver-dams.
Swamp lands often mean beaver-dams; and trappers
always note what stops the current of a sluggish:
stream. Frequently it is a beaver colony built across
a valley in the mountains, or stopping up the outlet of
a slough. The trapper was sleeping under his canoe
on the banks of the river where the swamp tumbled
out from the ravine. Before retiring to what was a
boat by day and a bed by night, he had set out a fish
net and some loose lines—which the flow of the current would keep in motion—below the waterfall. Carelessly, next day, he threw the fish-heads among the
stones. The second morning he found such a multitude of little tracks dotting the rime of the hoar frost
that he erected a tent back from the waterfalls, and
decided to stay trapping there till the winter. The
fish-heads were no longer thrown away. They were
left among the stones in small steel-traps weighted
with other stones, or attached to a loose stick that
is If
would impede flight. And if the poor gyrfalcon could
have seen the mink held by the jaws of a steel-trap,
hissing, snarling, breaking its teeth on the iron, spitting out aU the rage of its wicked nature, the bird
would have been avenged.
And as winter deepened, the quality of minks
taken from the traps became darker, silkier, erisper,
almost brown black in some of the young, but for
light fur on the under lip. The Indians say that
sakwasew the mink would sell his family for a fish,
and as long as fish lay among the stones, the trapper
gathered his harvest of fur: reddish mink that would
be made into little neck ruffs and collar pieces, reddish
brown mink that would be sewed into costly coats and
cloaks, rare brownish black mink that would be put
into the beautiful flat scarf collars almost as costly as
a full coat. And so the mink-hunt went on merrily
for the man till the midwinter lull came at Christmas.
For that year the mink-hunt was over.
Nekik the Otter
Sakwasew was not the only fisher at the pool below
the falls. On one of those idle days when the trapper
sat lazily by the river side, a round head slightly sunburned from black to russet had hobbled up to the surface of the water, peered sharply at the man sitting so
still, paddled little flipper-like feet about, then ducked
down again. Motionless as the mossed log under him
sits the man; and in a moment up comes the little black
head again, round as a golf ball, about the size of a
very large cat, followed by three other little bobbing
heads—a mother otter teaching her babies to dive and
swim and duck from the river surface to the burrows
below the water along the river bank. Perhaps the
trapper has found a dead fish along this very bank with
only the choice portions of the body eaten—a sure sign
that nekik the otter, the little epicure of the water
world, has been fishing at this river.
With a scarcely perceptible motion, the man turns
his head to watch the swimmers. Instantly, down they
plunge, mother and babies, to come to the surface
again higher up-stream, evidently working up-current
like the beaver in spring for a glorious frolic in the
cold clear waters of the upper sources. At one place
on the sandy beach they all wade ashore. The man
utters a slight "Hiss!" Away they scamper, the
foolish youngsters, landward instead of to the safe
water as the hesitating mother would have them do,
all the little feet scrambling over the sand with the
funny short steps of a Chinese lady in tight boots.
Maternal care proves stronger than fear. The frightened mother follows the young otter and will no doubt
read them a sound lecture on land dangers when she
has rounded them back to the safe water higher upstream.
Of all wild creatures, none is so crafty in concealing its lairs as the otter. Where did this family come
from? They had not been swimming up-stream; for
the man had been watching on the river bank long before they appeared on the surface. Stripping, the
trapper dives in mid-stream, then half wades, half
swims along the steepest bank, running his arm against
the clay cliff to find a burrow. On land he could not do
this at the lair of the otter; for the smell of the 248
man-touch would be left on his trail, and the otter,
keener of scent and fear than the mink, would take
alarm. But for the same reason that the river is the
safest refuge for the otter, it is the surest hunting for the man—water does not keep the scent of
a trail. So the man runs his arm along the bank. The
river is the surest hunting for the man, but not the
safest. If an old male were in the bank burrow now,
or happened to be emerging from grass-lined subterranean air chambers above the bank gallery, it might
be serious enough for the exploring trapper. One bite
of nekik the otter has crippled many an Indian.
Knowing from the remnants of half-eaten fish and
from the holes in the bank that he has found an otter
runway, the man goes home as well satisfied as if he
had done a good day's work.
And so that winter when he had camped below the
swamp for the mink-hunt, the trapper was not surprised one morning to find a half-eaten fish on the
river bank. Sakwasew the mink takes good care to
leave no remnants of his greedy meal. What he cannot eat he caches. Even if he has strangled a dozen
water-rats in one hunt, they will be dragged in a heap
and covered. The half-eaten fish left exposed is not
mink's work. Otter has been here and otter will come
back; for as the frost hardens, only those pools below
the falls keep free from ice. No use setting traps with
fish-heads as long as fresh fish are to be had for the
taking. Besides, the man has done nothing to conceal
his tracks; and each morning the half-eat en fish lie
farther off the line of the man-trail.
By-and-bye the man notices that no more half-eaten
fish are on his side of the river.    Little tracks of NEKIK THE OTTER
webbed feet furrowing a deep rut in the soft snow of
the frozen river tell that nekik has taken alarm and
is fishing from the other side. And when Christmas
comes with a dwindling of the mink-hunt, the man,
too, crosses to the other side. Here he finds that the
otter tracks have worn a path that is almost a toboggan slide down the crusted snow bank to the iced edge
of the pool. By this time nekik's pelt is prime, almost
black, and as glossy as floss. By this time, too, the
fish are scarce and the epicure has become ravenous as
a pauper. One night when the trapper was reconnoitring the fish hole, he had approached the snow
bank so noiselessly that he came on a whole colony of
otters without their knowledge of his presence. Down
the snow bank they tumbled, head-first, tail-first,
slithering through the snow with their little paws
braced, rolling down on their backs like lads upset from
a toboggan, otter after otter, till the man learned that
the little beasts were not fishing at all, but coasting
the snow bank like youngsters on a night frolic. No
sooner did one reach the bottom than up he scampered
to repeat the fun; and sometimes two or three went
down in a rolling bunch mixed up at the foot of a slide
as badly as a couple of toboggans that were unpre-
meditatedly changing their occupants. Bears wrestle.
The kittens of all the cat tribe play hide and seek.
Little badger finds it fun to run round rubbing the
back of his head on things; and here was nekik the
otter at the favourite amusement of his kind—coasting
down a snow bank.
If the trapper were an Indian, he would lie in wait
at the landing-place and spear the otter as they came
from the water.   But the white man's craft is deeper.
i i 250
He does not wish to frighten the otter till the last has
been taken. Coming to the slide by day, he baits a steel-
trap with fish and buries it in the snow just where the
otter will be coming down the hill or up from the pool.
Perhaps he places a dozen such traps around the hole
with nothing visible but the frozen fish lying on the
surface. If he sets his traps during a snow-fall, so
much the better. His own tracks will be obliterated
and the otter's nose will discover the fish. Then he
takes a bag filled with some substance of animal odour,
pomatum, fresh meat, pork, or he may use the flesh
side of a fresh deer-hide. This he drags over the snow
where he has stepped. He may even use a fresh hide
to handle the traps, as a waiter uses a serviette to pass
plates. There must be no man-smell, no man-track
near the otter traps.
While the mink-hunt is fairly over by midwinter,
otter-trapping lasts from October to May. The value
of all rare furs, mink, otter, marten, ermine, varies with
two things: (1) the latitude of the hunting-field; (2)
the season of the hunt. For instance, ask a trapper of
Minnesota or Lake Superior what he thinks of the
ermine, and he will tell you that it is a miserable sort
of weasel of a dirty drab brown not worth twenty-five
cents a skin. Ask a trapper of the North Saskatchewan what he thinks of ermine; and he will tell you
it is a pretty little whitish creature good for fur if
trapped late enough in the winter and always useful as
a lining. But ask a trapper of the Arctic about the
ermine, and he describes it as the finest fur that is
taken except the silver fox, white and soft as swan's-
down, with a tail-tip like black onyx. This difference
in the fur of the animal explains the wide variety of   '
prices paid. Ermine not worth twenty-five cents in
Wisconsin might be worth ten times as much on the
So it is with the otter. All trapped between latitude thirty-five and sixty is good fur; and the best is
that taken toward the end of winter when scarcely a
russet hair should be found in the long over-fur of
nekik's coat.
•        '-t 1- 1- m
Wuchak the Fisher, or Pekan
Wherever the waste of fish or deer is thrown, there
will be found lines of double tracks not so large as the
wild-cat's, not so small as the otter's, and without the
same webbing as the mink's. This is wuchak the
fisher, or pekan, commonly called "the black cat"—
who, in spite of his fishy name, hates water as cats
hate it. And the tracks are double because pekan
travel in pairs. He is found along the banks of
streams because he preys on fish and fisher, on mink
and otter and musk-rat, on frogs and birds and
creatures that come to drink. He is, after all, a very
greedy fellow, not at all particular about his diet, and,
like all gluttons, easily snared. While mink and otter
are about, the trapper will waste no steel-traps on
pekan. A deadfall will act just as effectively; but
there is one point requiring care. Pekan has a sharp
nose. It is his nose that brings him to all carrion just
as surely as hawks come to pick dead bones. But that
same nose will tell him of man's presence. So when
the trapper has built his pen of logs so that the front
log or deadfall will crush down on the back of an intruder tugging at the bait inside, he overlays all with
if 252
leaves and brush to quiet the pekan's suspicions. Besides, the pekan has many tricks akin to the wolverine.
He is an inveterate thief. There is a weU-known instance of Hudson's Bay trappers having a line of one
hundred and fifty marten traps stretching for fifty
miles robbed of their bait by pekan. The men shortened the line to thirty miles and for six times in succession did pekan destroy the traps. Then the men set
themselves to trap the robber. He will rifle a deadfall
from the slanting back roof where there is no danger;
so the trapper overlays the back with heavy brush.
Pekan do not yield a rare fur; but they are always
at run where the trapper is hunting the rare furs, and
for that reason are usually snared at the same time as
mink and otter.
•    H" TV
Wapistan the Marten
When Koot went blind on his way home from the
rabbit-hunt, he had intended to set out for the pine
woods. Though blizzards stiU howl over the prairie,
by March the warm sun of midday has set the sap of
the forests stirring and aU the woodland life awakens
from its long winter sleep. Cougar and lynx and bear
rove through the forest ravenous with spring hunger.
Otter, too, may be found where the ice mounds of a
waterfall are beginning to thaw. But it is not any of
these that the trapper seeks. If they cross his path,
good—they, too, will swell his account at the fur post.
It is another of the little chaps that he seeks, a little,
long, low-set animal whose fur is now glistening bright
on the deep dark overhairs, soft as down in the thick
fawn underhairs, wapistan the marten. WAPISTAN THE MARTEN
When the forest begins to stir with the coming of
spring, wapistan stirs too, crawling out fom the hollow
of some rotten pine log, restless with the same blood-
thirst that set the little mink playing his tricks on the
hawk. And yet the marten is not such a little viper as
the mink. Wapistan will eat leaves and nuts and roots
if he can get vegetable food, but failing these, that
ravenous spring hunger of his must be appeased with
something else. And out he goes from his log hole
hunger-bold as the biggest of all other spring ravagers.
That boldness gives the trapper his chance at the very
time when wapistan's fur is best. All winter the trapper may have taken marten; but the end of winter is
the time when wapistan wanders freely from cover.
Thus the trapper's calendar would have months of
musk-rat first, then beaver and mink and pekan and
bear and fox and ermine and rabbit and lynx and
marten, with a long idle midsummer space when he
goes to the fort for the year's provisions and gathers
the lore of his craft.
Wapistan is not hard to track. Being much longer
and heavier than a cat with very short legs and small
feet, his body almost drags the ground and his tracks
sink deep, clear, and sharp. His feet are smaller than
otter's and mink's, but easily distinguishable from those
two fishers. The water animal leaves a spreading footprint, the mark of the webbed toes without any fur on
the padding of the toe-balls. The land animal of the
same size has clear cut, narrower, heavier marks. By
March, these dotting foot-tracks thread the snow
Coming on marten tracks at a pine log, the trapper sends in his dog or prods with a stick.   Finding 254
nothing, he baits a steel-trap with pomatum, covers it
deftly with snow, drags the decoy skin about to conceal
his own tracks, and goes away in the hope that the
marten will come back to this log to guzzle on his prey
and sleep.
If the track is much frequented, or the forest overrun with marten tracks, the trapper builds deadfalls,
many of them running from tree to tree for miles
through the forest in a circle whose circuit brings him
back to his cabin. Remnants of these log traps may be
seen through all parts of the Bocky Mountain forests.
Thirty to forty traps are, considered a day's work for
one man, six or ten marten all that he expects to take
in one round; but when marten are plentiful, the unused traps of to-day may bring a prize to-morrow.
The Indian trapper would use still another kind of
trap. Where the tracks are plainly frequently used
runways to watering-places or lair in hollow tree, the
Indian digs a pit across the marten's trail. On thfs he
spreads brush in such roof fashion that though the
marten is a good climber, if once he falls in, it is almost impossible for him to scramble out. If a poor
cackling grouse or " fool-hen " be thrust into the pit,
the Indian is almost sure to find a prisoner. This seems
to the white man a barbarous kind of trapping; but the
poor " fool-hen," hunted by all the creatures of the
forest, never seems to learn wisdom, but invites dismast er by popping out of the brush to stare at every
Hying thing that passes. If she did not fall a victim
in the pit, she certainly would to her own curiosity
above ground. To the steel-trap the hunter attaches
a piece of log to entangle the prisoner's flight as he
rushes through the underbush.    Once caught in the WAPISTAN THE MARTEN
steel jaws, little wapistan must wait—wait for what?
For the same thing that comes to the poor " fool-hen "
when wapistan goes crashing through the brush after
her; for the same thing that comes to the baby squirrels when wapistan climbs a tree to rob the squirrel's
nest, eat the young, and live in the rifled house; for the
same thing that comes to the hoary marmot whistling
his spring tune just outside his rocky den when wapistan, who.has climbed up, pounces down from above.
Little death-dealer he has been all his life; and now
death comes to him for a nobler cause than the stuffing
of a greedy,maw—for the clothing of a creature nobler
than himself—man.
The otter can protect himself by diving, even diving under snow. The mink has craft to hide himself
under leaves so that the sharpest eyes cannot detect
him. Both mink and otter furs have very little of that
animal smell which enables the foragers to follow their
trail. What gift has wapistan, the marten, to protect
himself against all the powers that prey? His strength
and his wisdom lie in the little stubby feet. These can
A trapper's dog had stumbled on a marten in a
stump hole. A snap of the mart en's, teeth sent the dog
back with a jump. Wapistan will hang on to the nose
of a dog to the death; and trappers' dogs grow cautious.
Before the dog gathered courage to make another rush,
the marten escaped by a rear knot-hole, getting the
start of his enenry by fifty yards. Off they raced, the
dog spending himself in fury, the marten keeping
under the thorny brush Where his enemy could not
follow, then across open snow where the dog gained,
then into the pine woods where the trail ended on the
V* 256
snow. Where had the fugitive gone? When the man
came up, he first searched for log holes. There were
none. Then he lifted some of the rocks. There was no
trace of wapistan. But the dog kept baying,a special
tree, a ^blasted trunk, bare as a mast pole and seemingly
impossible for any animal but a squirrel to climb.
Knowing the trick by which creatures like the bob-cat
can flatten their body into a resemblance of a tree
trunk, the trapper searched carefuUy all round the
bare trunk. It was not till many months afterward
when a wind storm had broken the tree that he discovered the upper part had been hoUow. Into this
eerie nook the pursued marten had scrambled and
waited in safety till dog and man retired.
In one of his traps the man finds a peculiarly short
specimen of the marten. In the vernacular of the craft
this marten's bushy taiLwiU not reach as far back as
his hind legs can stretch. Widely different from the
mink's scarcely visible ears, this fellow's ears are
sharply upright, keenly alert. He is like a fox, where
the mink resembles a furred serpent. Marten moves,
springs, jumps like an animal. Mink glides like a
snake. Marten has the strong neck of an animal
fighter. Mink has the long, thin, twisting neck which
reptiles need to give them striking power for their
fangs. Mink's under lip has a mere rim of white or
yellow. Marten's breast is patched sulphur. But this
short marten with a tail shorter than other marten
differs from his kind as to fur. Both mink and marten
fur are reddish brown; but this short marten's fur is
almost black, of great depth, of great thickness, and of
three qualities: (1) There are the long dark overhairs
the same as the ordinary marten, only darker, thicker, WAPISTAN THE MARTEN
deeper; (2) there is the soft under fur of the ordinary
marten, usuaUy fawn, in this feUow deep brown; (3)
there is the skin fur resembling chicken-down, of which
this little marten has such a wealth—to use a technical
expression—you cannot find his scalp. Without going
into the old quarrel about species, when a marten has
these peculiarities, he is known to the trapper as sable.
Whether he is the American counterpart to the
Russia sable is a disputed point. Whether his superior
qualities are owing to age, climate, species, it is enough
for the trapper to know that short, dark marten yields
the trade—sable.
Of Foxes, Many and Various—Red, Cross, Silver, Black,
Prairie, Kit or Swift, Arctic, Blue, and Gray
Wherever grouse and rabbit abound, there will
foxes run and there will the hunter set steel-traps.
But however beautiful a fox-skin may be as a specimen,
it has value as a fur only when it belongs to one of
three varieties—Arctic, black, and silver. Other foxes—
red, cross, prairie, swift, and gray—the trapper will take
when they cross his path and sell them in the gross at
the fur post, as he used to barter buffalo-hides. But
the hunter who traps the fox for its own sake, and not
as an uncalculated extra to the mink-hunt or the
beaver total, must go to the Far North, to the land of
winter night and midnight sun, to obtain the best fox-
It matters not to the trapper that the little kit fox
or swift at run among the hills between the Missouri
and Saskatchewan is the most shapely of all the fox
kind, with as finely pointed a nose as a spitz dog, ears
alert as a terrier's and a brush, more like a lady's gray
feather boa than fur, curled round his dainty toes.
Little kit's fur is a grizzled gray shading to mottled
fawn. The hairs are coarse, horsey, indistinctly
marked, and the fur is of small value to the trader;
so dainty little swift, who looks as if nature made him
for a pet dog instead of a fox, is slighted by the hunter,
unless kit persists in tempting a trap. Bufus the red
fellow, with his grizzled gray head and black ears and
whitish throat and flaunting purplish tinges down his
sides like a prince royal, may make a handsome mat;
but as a fur he is of little worth. His cousin with the
black fore feet, the prairie fox, who is the largest and
strongest and scientifically finest of all his kind, has
more value as a fur. The colour of the prairie fox
shades rather to pale ochre and yellow that the nondescript grizzled gray that is of so little value as a fur.
Of the silver-gray fox little need be said. He lives
too far south—California and Texas and Mexico—to
acquire either energy or gloss. He is the one indolent
member of the fox tribe, and his fur lacks the sheen
that only winter cold can give. The value of the
cross fox depends on the markings that give him his
name. If the bands, running diagonally over his
shoulders in the shape of a cross, shade to grayish
blue he is a prize, if to reddish russet, he is only a
The Arctic and black and silver foxes have the
pelts that at their worst equal the other rare furs, at
their best exceed the value of all other furs by so
much that the lucky trapper who takes a silver fox has
made his fortune. These, then, are the foxes that the
trapper seeks and these are to be found only on the
white wastes of the polar zone.
That brings up the question—what is a silver fox?
Strange as it may seem, neither scientist nor hunter
mil 260
Can answer that question. Nor wHl study of all the
park specimens in the world teU the secret, for the
simple reason that only an Arctic climate can produce a silver fox; and parks are not established in
the Arctics yet. It is quite plain that the prairie fox
is in a class by himself. The uniformity of his size, his
strength, his habits, his appearance, distinguish him
from other foxes. It is quite plain that the little kit
fox or swift is of a kind distinct from other foxes.
His smallness, the shape of his bones, the cast of his
face, the trick of sitting rather than lying, that wonderful big bushy soft tail of which a peacock might
be vain—all differentiate him from other foxes. The
same may be said of the Arctic fox with a pelt that is
more like white wool than hairs of fur. He is much
smaUer than the Ted. His tail is bushier and larger
than the swift, and like all Arctic creatures, he has
the soles of his feet heavily furred. All this is plain
and simple classification. But how about Mr. Blue
Fox of the same size and habit as the white Arctic? Is
he the Arctic fox in summer clothing? Yes, say some
trappers; and they show their pelts of an Arctic fox
taken in summer of a rusty white. But no, vow other
trappers—that is impossible, for here are blue fox-
skins captured in the depths of midwinter with not a
white hair among them. Look closely at the skins.
The ears of one blue fox are long, perfect, unbitten by
frost or foe—he was a young fellow; and he is blue.
Here is another with ears almost worn to stubs by
fights and many winters' frosts—he is an old feUow;
and he, too, is blue. Well, then, the blue fox may
sometimes be the white Arctic fox in summer dress;
but the blue fox who is blue aU the year round, varying
only in the shades of blue with the seasons, is certainly
not the white Arctic fox.
The same difficulty besets distinction of silver fox
from black. The old scientists classified these as one
and the same creature. Trappers know better. So do
the later scientists who almost agree with the unlearned trapper's verdict—there are as many species
as there are foxes. Black fox is at its best in midwinter, deep, brilliantly glossy, soft as floss, and yet
almost impenetrable—the very type of perfection of
its kind. But with the coming of the tardy Arctic
spring comes a change. The snows are barely melted
in May when the sheen leaves the fur. By June, the
black hairs are streaked with gray; and. the black fox
is a gray fox. Is it at some period of the transition
that the black fox becomes a silver fox, with the gray
hairs as sheeny as the black and each gray hair delicately tipped with black? That question, too, remains
unanswered; for certainly the black fox trapped when
in his gray summer coat is not the splendid silver fox
of priceless value. Black fox turning to a dull gray
of midsummer may not be silver fox; but what about
gray fox turning to the beautiful glossy black of midwinter? Is that what makes silver fox? Is silver fox
simply a fine specimen of black caught at the very
period when he is blooming into his greatest beauty?
The distinctive difference between gray fox and silver
is that gray fox has gray hairs among hairs of other
colour, while silver fox has silver hair tipped with
glossiest black on a foundation of downy gray black.
Even greater confusion surrounds the origin of
cross and red and gray. Trappers find all these different cubs in one burrow; but as the cubs grow, those
J 262
pronounced cross turn out to be red, or the red becomes cross; and what they become at maturity, that
they remain, varying only with the seasons.* It takes
many centuries to make one perfect rose. Is it the
same with the silver fox? Is he a freak or a climax or
the regular product of yearly climatic changes caught
in the nick of time by some lucky trapper? Ask the
scientist that question, and he theorizes. Ask the
trapper, and he tells you if he could only catch enough
silver foxes to study that question, he would quit trapping. In all the maze of ignorance and speculation,
there is one anchored fact. While animals turn a
grizzled gray with age, the fine gray coats are not
caused by age. Young animals of the rarest furs—fox
and ermine—are born in ashy colour that turns to
gray while they are still in their first nest.
To say that silver fox is costly solely because it is
rare is sheerest nonsense. It would be just as sensible
to say that labradorite, which is rare, should be as
costly as diamonds. It is the intrinsic beauty of the
fur, as of the diamonds, that constitutes its first value.
The facts that the taking of a silver fox is always pure
luck, that the luck comes seldom, that the trapper
must have travelled countless leagues by snow-shoe and
dog train over the white wastes of the North, that
trappers in polar regions are exposed to more dangers
and hardships than elsewhere and that the fur must
have been carried a long distance to market—add to
the first high value of silver fox till it is not surprising that little pelts barely two feet long have
sold for prices ranging from $500 to $5,000.   For the
* That is, as far as trappers yet know. OF FOXES, MANY AND VARIOUS
trapper the way to the fortune of a silver fox is the
same as the road to fortune for all other men—by the
homely trail of every-day work. Cheers from the fort
gates bid trappers setting out for far Northern fields
God-speed. Long ago there would have been a firing of
cannon when the Northern hunters left for their distant camping-grounds; but the cannon of Churchill lie
rusting to-day and the hunters who go to the sub-
Arctics and the Arctics no longer set out from Churchill on the bay, but from one of the little inland MacKenzie Biver posts. If the fine powdery snow-drifts
are glossed with the ice of unbroken sun-glare, the
runners strap iron crampets to their snow-shoes, and
with a great jingling of the dog-bells, barking of the
huskies, and yelling of the drivers, coast away for the
leagueless levels of the desolate North. Frozen riverbeds are the only path followed, for the high cliffs—
almost like ramparts on the lower MacKenzie—shut
off the drifting east winds that heap barricades of
snow in one place and at another sweep the ground so
clear that the sleighs pull heavy as stone. Does a
husky fag? A flourish of whips and off the laggard
scampers, keeping pace with the others in the traces, a
pace that is set for forty miles a day with only one
feeding time, nightfall when the sleighs are piled as a
wind-break and the frozen fish are doled out to the
ravenous dogs. Gun signals herald the hunter's approach to a chance camp; and no matter how small and
mean the tepee, the door is always open for whatever
visitor, the meat pot set simmering for hungry travellers. When the snow crust cuts the dogs' feet, buckskin shoes are tied on the huskies; and when an occasional dog fags entirely, he is turned adrift from the m
traces to die. Belentless as death is Northern cold;
and wherever these long midwinter journeys are made,
gruesome traditions are current of hunter and husky.
I remember hearing of one old husky that feU
hopelessly lame during the north trip. Often the
drivers are utter brutes to their dogs, speaking in
curses which they say is the only language a husky can
understand, emphasized with the blows of a club. Too
often, as weU, the huskies are vicious curs ready to
skulk or snap or bolt or fight, anything but work. But
in this case the dog was an old reliable that kept the
whole train in line, and the driver had such an affection for the veteran husky that when rheumatism
crippled the dog's legs the man had not the heart to
shoot such a faithful servant. The dog was turned
loose from the traces and hobbled lamely behind the
scampering teams. At last he fell behind altogether,
but at night limped into camp whining his joy and
asking dumbly for the usual fish. In the morning
when the other teams set out, the old husky was powerless to follow. But he could stiU whine and wag his
tail. He did both with all his might, so that when
the departing driver looked back over his shoulder, he
saw a pair of eyes pleading, a head with raised alert
ears, shoulders straining to lift legs that refused to
follow, and a bushy fail thwacking—thwacking—
thwacking the snow!
" You ought to shoot him," advised one driver.
" You do it—vou're a dead sure aim," returned the
man who had owned the dog.
But the other drivers were already coasting over
the white wastes. The owner looked at his sleighs as
if wondering whether they would stand an additional OF FOXES, MANY AND VARIOUS
burden. Then probably reflecting that old age is not
desirable for a suffering dog in a bitingly keen frost,
he turned towards the husky with his hand in his belt.
Thwack—thwack went the tail as much as to say: | Of
course he wouldn't desert me after I've hauled his
sleigh all my life! Thwack—thwack! I'd get up and
jump all around him if I could; there isn't a dog-gone
husky in all polar land with half as good a master as
I have!"
The man stopped. Instead of going to the dog
he ran back to his sleigh, loaded his arms full of frozen
fish and threw them down before the dog. Then he
put one caribou-skin under the old dog, spread another
over him and ran away with his train while the husky
was still guzzling. The fish had been poisoned to be
thrown out to the wolves that so often pursue Northern
dog trains.
Once a party of hunters crossing the Northern
Bockies came on a dog train stark and stiff. Where
was the master who had bidden them stand while he
felt his way blindly through the white whirl of a blizzard for the lost path? In the middle of the last
century, one of that famous family of fur traders, a
MacKenzie, left Georgetown to go north to Bed Biver
in Canada. He never went back to Georgetown
and he never reached Bed Biver; but his coat was
found fluttering from a tree, a death signal to attract the first passer-by, and the body of the lost
trader was discovered not far off in the snow. Unless it is the year of the rabbit pest and the rabbit
ravagers are bold with hunger, the pursuing wolves
seldom give full chase. They skulk far to the rear
of the dog trains, licking up the stains of the bleed- 266
ing feet, or hanging spectraUy on the dim frosty horizon all night long. Hunger drives them on; but they
seem to lack the courage to attack. I know of one case
where the wolves foUowed the dog trains bringing out
a trader's family from the North down the river-bed
for nearly R\e hundred miles. What man hunter would
follow so far?
The farther north the fox hunter goes, the shorter
grow the days, tiU at last the sun, which has roUed
across the south in a wheel of fire, dwindles to a disk,
the disk to a rim—then no rim at aU comes up, and it
is midwinter night, night but not darkness. The white of
endless unbroken snow, the glint of icy particles filling
the air, the starlight briUiant as diamond points, the
Aurora Borealis in curtains and shafts and billows of
tenuous impalpable rose-coloured fire—all brighten the
polar night so that the sun is unmissed. This is the
region chiefly hunted by the Eskimo, with a few white
men and Chippewyan half-breeds. The regular Northern hunters do not go as far as the Arctics, but choose
their hunting-ground somewhere in the region of
" little sticks," meaning the land where timber growth
is succeeded by dwarf scrubs.
The hunting-ground is chosen always from the signs
written across the white page of the snow. If there
are claw-marks, bird signs of Northern grouse or white
ptarmigan or snow-bunting, ermine wiU be plentiful;
for the Northern birds with their clogged stockings of
feet feathers have a habit of floundering under the
powdery snow; and up through that powdery snow
darts the snaky neck of stoat, the white weasel-hunter
of birds. If there are the deep plunges of the white
hare, lynx and fox and mink and marten and pekan OF FOXES, MANY AND VARIOUS
will be plentiful; for the poor white hare feeds all the
creatures of the Northern wastes, man and beast. If
there are little dainty tracks—oh, such dainty tracks
that none but a high-stepping, clear-cut, clean-limbed,
little thoroughbred could make them!—tracks of four
toes and a thumb claw much shorter than the rest,
with a padding of five basal foot-bones behind the toes,
tracks that show a fluff on the snow as of furred foot-
soles, tracks that go in clean, neat, clear long leaps
and bounds—the hunter knows that he has found the
signs of the Northern fox.
Here, then, he will camp for the winter. Camping
in the Far North means something different from the
hastily pitched tent of the prairie. The north wind
blows biting, keen, unbroken in its sweep. The hunter
must camp where that wind will not carry scent of his
tent to the animal world. For his own sake, he must
camp under shelter from that wind, behind a cairn of
stones, below a cliff, in a ravine. Poles have been
brought from the land of trees on the dog sleigh.
These are put up, criss-crossed at top, and over them
is laid, not the canvas tent, but a tent of skins, caribou,
wolf, moose, at a sharp enough angle to let the snow
slide off. Then snow is banked deep, completely round
the tent. For fire, the Eskimo depends on whale-oil
and animal grease. The white man or half-breed from
the South hoards up chips and sticks. But mainly he
depends on exercise and animal food for warmth. At
night he sleeps in a fur bag. In the morning that bag
is frozen stiff as boards by the moisture of his own
breath. Need one ask why the rarest furs, which can
only be produced by the coldest of climates, are so
costly? 268
Having found the tracks of the fox, the hunter sets
out his traps baited with fish or rabbit or a bird-head.
If the snow be powdery enough, and the trapper keen
in wild lore, he may even know what sort of a fox to
expect. In the depths of midwinter, the white Arctic
fox has a wool fur to his feet like a brahma chicken.
This leaves its mark in the fluffy snow. A ravenous
fellow he always is, this white fox of the hungry North,
bold from ignorance of man, but hard to distinguish
from the snow because of his spotless coat. The blue
fox being slightly smaller than the full-grown Arctic,
lopes along with shorter leaps by which the trapper
may know the quarry; but the blue fox is just as hard
to distinguish from the snow as his white brother.
The gray frost haze is almost the same shade as his
steel-blue coat; and when spring comes, blue fox is the
same colour as the tawny moss growth. Colour is blue
fox's defence. Consequently blue foxes show more
signs of age than white—stubby ears frozen low, battle-
worn teeth, dulled claws.
The chances are that the trapper will see the black
fox himself almost as soon as he sees his tracks; for the
sheeny coat that is black fox's beauty betrays him
above the snow. Bushy tail standing straight out,
every black hair bristling erect with life, the white tail-
tip flaunting a defiance, head up, ears alert, fore feet
cleaving the air with the swift ease of some airy bird—
on he comes, jump—jump—jump—more of a leap than
a lope, galloping like a wolf, altogether different from
the skulking run of little foxes, openly exulting in his
beauty and his strength and his speed! There is no
mistaking black fox. If the trapper does not see the
black fox scurrying over the snow, the tell-tale char- THE WHITE ERMINE
acteristics of the footprints are the length and strength
of the leaps. Across these leaps the hunter leaves his
traps. Does he hope for a silver fox? Does every
prospector expect to find gold nuggets? In the heyday
of fur company prosperity, not half a dozen true silver
foxes would be sent out in a year. To-day I doubt if
more than one good silver fox is sent out in half a
dozen years. But good white fox and black and blue
are prizes enough in themselves, netting as much to the
trapper as mink or beaver or sable.
The Wliite Ermine
All that was said of the mystery of fox life applies
equally to ermine. Why is the ermine of Wisconsin
and Minnesota and Dakota a dirty little weasel noted
for killing forty chickens in a night, wearing a mahogany-coloured coat with a sulphur strip down his throat,
while the ermine of the Arctics is as white as snow,
noted for his courage, wearing a spotless coat which
kings envy, yes, and take from him? For a long time
the learned men who study animal life from museums
held that the ermine's coat turned white from the same
cause as human hair, from senility and debility and the
depleting effect of an intensely trying climate. But
the trappers told a different story. They told of baby
ermine born in Arctic burrows, in March, April, May,
June, while the mother was still in white coat, babies
born in an ashy coat something like a mouse-skin that
turned to fleecy white within ten days. They told of
ermine shedding his brown coat in autumn to display
a fresh layer of iron-gray fur that turned sulphur 270
white within a few days. They told of the youngest
and smaUest and strongest ermine with the,softest and
whitest coats. That disposed of the senility theory.
All the trapper knows is that the whitest ermine is
taken when the cold is most intense and most continuous, that just as the cold slackens the ermine coat
assumes the sulphur tinges, deepening to russet and
brown, and that the whitest ermine instead of showing
senility, always displays the most active and courageous sort of deviltry.
Summer or winter, the Northern trapper is constantly surrounded by ermine and signs of ermine.
There are the tiny claw-tracks almost like frost
tracery across the snow. There is the rifled nest of a
poor grouse—eggs sucked, or chickens murdered, the
nest fouled so that it emits the stench of a skunk, or
the mother hen lying dead from a wound in her throat.
There is the frightened rabbit loping across the fields
in the wildest, wobbliest, most woe-begone leaps, trying to shake something off that is clinging to his
throat tiU over he tumbles—the prey of a hunter that
is barely the size of rabbit's paw. There is the water-
rat flitting across the rocks in blind terror, regardless
of the watching trapper, caring only to reach safety—
water—water! Behind comes the pursuer—this is no
still hunt but a straight open chase—a little creature
about the length of a man's hand, with a tail almost as
long, a body scarcely the thickness of two fingers, a
mouth the size of a bird's beak, and claws as small as
a sparrow's. It gaUops in lithe bounds with its long
neck straight up and its beady eyes fastened on the
flying water-rat. Splash—dive—into the water goes-
the   rat!     Splash—dive—into   the   water   goes   the THE WHITE ERMINE
ermine! There is a great stirring up of the muddy
bottom. The water-rat has tried to hide in the under-
tangle; and the ermine has not only dived in pursuit
but headed the water-rat back from the safe retreat of
his house. Up comes a black nose to the surface of the
water. The rat is foolishly going to try a land race.
Up comes a long neck like a snake's, the head erect,
the beady eyes on the fleeing water-rat—then with a
splash they race overland. The water-rat makes for a
hole among the rocks. Ermine sees and with a spurt
of speed is almost abreast when the rat at bay turns
with a snap at his pursuer. But quick as flash, the ermine has pirouetted into the air. The long writhing
neck strikes like a serpent's fangs and the sharp fore
teeth have pierced the brain of the rat. The victim
dies without a cry, without a struggle, without a pain.
That long neck was not given the ermine for nothing.
Neither were those muscles massed on either side of
his jaws like bulging cheeks.
In winter the ermine's murderous depredations are
more apparent. Now the ermine, too, sets itself to
reading the signs of the snow. Now the ermine becomes as keen a still hunter as the man. Sometimes
a whirling snow-fall catches a family of grouse out
from furze cover. The trapper, too, is abroad in the
snow-storm; for that is the time when he can set his
traps undetected. The white whirl confuses the birds.
They run here, there, everywhere, circling about, burying themselves in the snow till the storm passes over.
The next day when the hunter is going the rounds of
these traps, along comes an ermine. It does not see
him. It is following a scent, head down, body close to
ground, nose here, there, threading the maze which 272.
the crazy grouse had run. But stop, thinks the trapper, the snow-faU covered the trail. Exactly—that is
why the little ermine dives under snow just as it would
under water, running along with serpentine wavings
of the white powdery surface tiU up it comes again
where the wind has blown the snow-f aU clear. Along it
runs, stiU intent, quartering back where it loses the
scent—along again till suddenly the head lifts—that
motion of the snake before it strikes! The trapper
looks. Tail feathers, head feathers, stupid blinking
eyes poke through the fluffy snow-drift. And now the
ermine no longer runs openly. There are too many
victims this time—it may get all the foolish hidden
grouse; so it dives and if the man had not alarmed the
stupid grouse, ermine would have darted up through
the snow with a finishing stab for each bird.
By still hunt and open hunt, by nose and eye, re*
lentless as doom, it foUows its victims to the death.
Does the bird perch on a tree? Up goes the ermine,.
too, on the side away from the bird's head. Does the
mouse thread a hundred mazes and hide in a hole?
The ermine threads every maze, marches into the hidden nest and takes murderous possession. Does the
rat hide under rock? Under the roek goes the ermine.
Should the trapper foUow to see the outcome of the
contest, the ermine wiU probably sit at the mouth of
the rat-hole, blinking its beady eyes at him. If he attacks, down it bolts out of reach. If he retires, out it
comes looking at this strange big helpless creature with
bold contempt.
The keen scent, the keen eyes, the keen ears warn
it of an enemy's approach. Summer and winter, its
changing coat conceals it.   The furze where it runs THE WHITE ERMINE
protects it from fox and lynx and wolverine. Its size
admits it to the tiniest of hiding-places. All that the
ermine can do to hunt down a victim, it can do to hide
from an enemy. These qualities make it almost invincible to other beasts of the chase. Two joints in
the armour of its defence has the little ermine. Its
black tail-tip moving across snow betrays it to enemies in winter: the very intentness on prey, its excess of self-confidence, leads it into danger; for instance, little ermine is royally contemptuous of man's
tracks. If the man does not molest it, it will follow a
scent and quarter and circle under his feet; so the man
has no difficulty in taking the little beast whose fur is
second only to that of the silver fox. So bold are the
little creatures that the man may discover their burrows under brush, in rock, in sand holes, and take the
whole litter before the game mother will attempt to
escape. Indeed, the plucky little ermine will follow
the captor of her brood. Steel rat traps, tiny deadfalls, frosted bits of iron smeared with grease to tempt
the ermine's tongue which the frost will hold like a
vice till the trapper comes, and, moat common of all,
twine snares such as entrap the rabbit, are the means
by which the ermine comes to his appointed end at the
hands of men.
The quality of the pelt shows as wide variety as
the skin of the fox; and for as mysterious reasons.
Why an ermine a year old should have a coat like sulphur and another of the same age a coat like swan's-
down, neither trapper nor scientist has yet discovered.
The price of the perfect ermine-pelt is higher than any
other of the rare furs taken in North America except
silver fox; but it no longer commands the fabulous
19 274
prices that were certainly paid for specimen ermine-
skins in the days of the Georges in England and the
later Louis in France. How were those fabulously
costly skins prepared? Old trappers say no perfectly
downy pelt is ever taken from an ermine, that the
downy effect is produced by a trick of the trade—
scraping the flesh side so deftly that all the coarse
hairs will fall out, leaving only the soft under-fur. CHAPTEB XIX
Waging ceaseless war against beaver and moose,
types of nature's most harmless creatures, against wolf
and wolverine, types of nature's most destructive
agents, against traders who were rivals and Indians
who were hostiles, the trapper would almost seem to be
himself a type of nature's arch-destroyer.
Beautiful as a dream is the silent world of forest
and prairie and mountain where the trapper moves
with: noiseless stealth of the most skilful of all. the
creatures that prey.,j|In that world, the crack of the
trapper's rifle, the snap of the cruel steel jaws in his
trap, seem the only harsh discords in the harmony of
an existence that riots with a very fulness of life. But
such a world is only a drean. The reality is cruel as
death. Of all the creatures that prey, man is the most
Ordinarily, knowledge of animal life is drawn from
three sources.' There are park specimens, stuffed to
the utmost of their eating capacity and penned off
from the possibility of harming anything weaker than
themselves. There are the private pets fed equally
well, pampered and chained safely from harming or
being harmed.   There are the wild creatures roaming
275 276
natural haunts, some two or three days' travel from
civilization, whose natures have been gradually modified generation by generation from being constantly
hunted with long-range repeaters. Judging from these
sorts of wild animals, it certainly seems that the brute
creation has been sadly maligned. The bear cubs lick
each other's paws with an amatory singing that is
something between the purr of a cat and the grunt of
a pig. The old polars wrestle like boys out of school,
flounder in grotesque gambols that are laughably
clumsy, good-naturedly dance on their hind legs, and
even eat from their keeper's hand. And all the deer
family can be seen nosing one another with the affection of turtle-doves. Surely the worst that can be said
of these animals is that they shun the presence of man.
Perhaps some kindly sentimentalist wonders if things
hadn't gone so badly out of gear in a certain historic
garden long ago, whether mankind would not be on as
friendly relations with the animal world as little boys
and girls are with bears and baboons in the fairy books.
And the scientist goes a step further, and soberly asks
whether these wild things of the woods are not kindred
of man after all; for have not man and beast ascended
the same scale of life? Across the centuries, modern
evolution shakes hands with old-fashioned transmigration.
To be sure, members of the deer family sometimes
kill their mates in fits of blind rage, and the innocent
bear cubs fall to mauling their keeper, and the old
bears have been known to eat their young. These
things are set down as freaks in the animal world, and
in nowise allowed to upset the influences drawn from
animals living in unnatural surroundings, behind iron WHAT THE TRAPPER STANDS FOR
bars, or in haunts where long-range rifles have put the
fear of man in the animal heart.
Now the trapper studies animal life where there is
neither a pen to keep the animal from doing what it
wants to do, nor any rifle but his own to teach wild
creatures fear. Knowing nothing of science and sentiment, he never clips facts to suit his theory. On the
truthfulness of his eyes depends his own life, so that
he never blinks his eyes to disagreeable facts.
Looking out on the life of the wilds clear-visioned
as his mountain air, the trapper sees a world beautiful
as a dream but cruel as death. He sees a world where
to be weak, to be stupid, to be dull, to be slow, to be
simple, to be rash are the unpardonable crimes; where
the weak must grow strong, keen of eye and ear and
instinct, sharp, wary, swift, wise, and cautious; where
in a word the weak must grow fit to survive or—perish!
The slow worm fills the hungry maw of the gaping
bird. Into the soft fur of the rabbit that has strayed
too far from cover clutch the swooping talons of an
eagle. The beaver that exposes himself overland risks
bringing lynx or wolverine or wolf on his home colony.
Bird preys on worm, mink on bird, lynx on mink, wolf
on lynx, and bear on all creatures that live from men
and moose down to the ant and the embryo life in the
anf s egg. But the vision of ravening destruction does
not lead the trapper to morbid conclusions on life as it
leads so many housed thinkers in the walled cities; for
the same world that reveals to him such ravening
slaughter shows him that every creature, the weakest
and the strongest, has some faculty, some instinct,
some endowment of cunning, or dexterity or caution,
some gift of concealment, of flight, of semblance, of 278
death—that will defend it from all enemies. The
ermine is one of the smallest of all hunters, but it can
throw an enemy off the scent by diving under snow.
The rabbit is one of the most helpless of all hunted
things, but it can take cover from foes of the air under
thorny brush, and run fast enough to outwind the
breath of a pursuer, and double back quick enough to
send a harrying eagle flopping head over heels on the
ground, and simulate the stillness of inanimate objects
surrounding it so truly that the passer-by can scarcely
distinguish the baUs of fawn fur from the russet bark
of a log. And the rabbit's big eyes and ears are not
given it for nothing.
Poet and trapper alike see the same world, and for
the same reason. Both seek only to know the truth,
to see the world as it is; and the world that they see
is red in tooth and claw. But neither grows morbid
from his vision; for that same vision shows each that
the ravening destruction is only a weeding out of the
unfit. There is too much sunlight in the trapper's
world, too much fresh air in his lungs, too much red
blood in his veins for the morbid miasmas that bring
bilious fumes across the mental vision of the housed
city man.
And what place in the scale of destruction does the
trapper occupy? Modern sentiment has almost painted
him as a red-dyed monster, excusable, perhaps, because
necessity compels the hunter to slay, but after all only
the most highly developed of the creatures that prey.
Is this true ? Arch-destroyer he may be; but it should
be remembered that he is the destroyer of destroyers.
Animals kill young and old, male and female.
The true trapper does not kiU the young; for that WHAT THE TRAPPER STANDS FOR
would destroy his next year's hunt. He does not kill
the mother while she is with the young. He kills the
grown males which—it can be safely said—have killed
more of each other than man has killed in all the
history of trapping. Wherever regions have been
hunted by the pot-hunter, whether the sportsman for
amusement or the settler supplying his larder, game
has been exterminated. This is illustrated by all the
stretch of country between the Platte and the Saskatchewan. Wherever regions have been hunted only
by the trapper, game is as plentiful as it has ever been.
This is illustrated by the forests of the Bockies, by
the No-Man's Land south of Hudson Bay and by the
Arctics. Wherever the trapper has come destroying
grisly and coyote and wolverine,, the prong horn and
mountain-sheep and mountain-goat and wapiti and
moose have increased.
But the trapper stands for something more than a
game warden, something more than the most merciful
of destroyers. He destroys animal life—a life which is
red in tooth and claw with murder and rapine and
cruelty—in order that human life may be preserved,
may be rendered independent of the elemental powers
that wage war against it.
It is a war as old as the human race, this struggle
of man against the elements, a struggle alike reflected
in Viking song of warriors conquering the sea, and in
the Scandinavian myth of pursuing Fenris wolf, and
in the Finnish epic of the man-hero wresting secrets
of life-bread from the earth, and in Indian folk-lore
of a Hiawatha hunting beast and treacherous wind.
It is a war in which the trapper stands forth as a conqueror, a creature sprung of earth, trampling all the 280
obstacles that earth can offer to human will under his
feet, finding paths through the wilderness for the explorer who was to come after him, opening doors of
escape from stifled life in crowded centres of population, preparing a highway for the civilization that was
to foUow his own wandering trail through the wilds. APPENDIX
When in Labrador and Newfoundland a fews years ago, tbe
writer copied the entries of an old half-breed woman trapper's
daily journal of her life. It is fragmentary and incoherent, but
gives a glimpse of the Indian mind. It is written in English.
She was seventy-five years old when the diary opened in December, 1893. Her name was Lydia Campbell and she lived at
Hamilton Inlet. Having related how she shot a deer, skinning
it herself, made her snow-shoes and set her rabbit snares, she
closes her first entry with :
" Well, as I sed, I can't write much at a time now, for i am
getting blind and some mist rises up before me if i sew, read or
write a little while."
Lydia Campbell's mother was captured by Eskimo. She ran
away when she had grown up, to quote her own terse diary,
"crossed a river on drift sticks, wading in shallows, through
woods, meeting bears, sleeping under trees—seventy miles flight
—saw a French boat—took off skirt and waved it to them—
came—took my mother on board—worked for them—with the
sealers—camped on the ice.
"As there was no other kind of women to marrie hear, the
few English men each took a wife of that sort and they never
was sorry that they took them, for they was great workers and
so it came to pass that I was one of the youngest of them."
[Meaning, of course, that she was the daughter of one of these
"Our young man pretended to spark the two daughters of
Tomas.   He was a one-armed man, for he had shot away one
281 282
arm firing at a large bird. ... He double-loaded his gun in
his fright, so the por man lost one of his armes, ... he was
so smart with his gun that he could bring down a bird flying
past him, or a deer running past he would be the first to bring
it down."
■ They was holden me hand and telling me that I must be
his mother now as his own mother is dead and she was a great
friend of mine although we could not understand each other's
language sometimes, still we could make it out with sins and
"April 7, 1894.—Since I last wrote on this book, I have
been what people call cruising about here. I have been visiting
some of my friends, though scattered far apart, with my show-
shoes and axe on iny shoulders. The nearest house to this place
is about five miles up a beautiful river, and then through woods,
what the french calls a portage—it is what I call pretty. Many is
the time that I have been going with dogs and komatick 40 or
50 years ago with my husband and family to N. W, River, to
the Hon. Donald A. Smith and family to keep N. Year or
"My dear old sister Hannah Mishlin who is now going on
for 80 years old and she is smart yet, she hunts fresh meat and
chops holes in the 3 foot ice this very winter and catches trout
with her hook, enough for her household, her husband not able
to work, he has a bad complaint."     j
* • *     ^iifc-  *   M$r    * * *
" You must please excuse my writing and spelling for I have
never been to school, neither had I a spelling book in my young
day—me a native of this country, Labrador, Hamilton's Inlet,
Esquimaux Bay—if you wish to know who I am, I am old
Lydia Campbell, formerly Lydia Brooks, then Blake, after
Blake, now Campbell. So you see ups and downs has been my
life all through, and now I am what I am—prais the Lord."
"I have been hunting most every day since Easter, and to APPENDIX
some of my rabbit snares and still traps, cat traps and mink
traps. I caught 7 rabbits and 1 marten and I got a fix and 4
partridges, about 500 trout besides household duties—never
leave out morning and Evening prayers and cooking and baking
and washing for 5 people—3 motherless little children—with
so much to make for sale out of seal skin and deer skin shoes,
bags and pouches and what not. . . . You can say well done
old half-breed woman in Hamilton's Inlet. Good night, God
bless us all and send us prosperity. |
"Yours ever true,
"Lydia Campbell."
"We are going to have an evening worship, my poor old
man is tired, he has been a long way today and he shot.'2
beautyful whiidr partridges.    Our boy heer shot once spruce
"Caplin sO plentiful boats were stopped, whales, walrusses
and white bears."
"Muligan River, May 24, 1894.—They say that once upon
a time the world was drowned and that all the Esquimaux
were drownded but one family and he took his family and
dogs and chattels and his seal-skin boat and Kiak and Koma-
ticks and went on the highest hill that they could see, and
stayed there till the rain was over and when the water dried
up they descended down the river and got down to the plains
and when they could not see any more people, they took off
the bottoms of their boots and took some little white [seal]
pups and sent the poor little things off to sea and they drifted
to some islands far away and became white people. Then
they done the same as the others did and the people spread
all over the world. Such was my poor father's thought. . . .
There is up the main river a large fall, the same that the American and English gentlemen have been up to see. [Referring
to Mr. Bryant, of Philadelphia, who visited Grand Falls.] Well
there is a large whirlpool or hole at the bottom of the fall.
The Indians that frequent the place say that there is three 284
women—Indians—that lives under that place or near to it I am
told, and at times they can hear them speaking to each other
louder than the roar of the falls." [The Indians always think
the mist of a waterfall signifies the presence of ghosts.]
"I have been the cook of that great Sir D. D. Smith that is
in Canada at this time. [In the days when Lord Strathcona
was chief trader at Hamilton Inlet.] He was then at Rigolet
Post, a chief trader only, now what is he so great! He was
seen last winter by one of the women that belong to this bay.
She went up to Canada. . . . and he is gray headed and bended,
that is SirD. D. Smith."
"August 1, 1894.—My dear friends, you will please excuse
my writing and spelling—the paper sweems by me, my eyesight
is dim now—


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