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Knights errant of the wilderness : tales of the explorers of the great North-west Long, Morden H. [Heaton] 1920

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   W-aJU/t      **h-v.      (_»-**^K-Lcc4^C^cX|
Ai\«rXJU^ H <J
Gift of
The Friends of the library
Thomas Murray Collection
mmm   Buffalo Hunting on the Great Plains.
MCMXXV Copyright, Canada, 1919, by
This book requires a word of explanation with regard to
its character and aim. It makes no pretence whatever to
research, but is simply an attempt to re-tell for the children
of the upper public school grades some of those stories of the
makers of the Canadian West which have already been told
for adults in the books of Lawrence Burpee, Agnes Laut,
and others. Of the works of these writers very free use
has been made in the pages which follow, though where
original documents were readily available, as in the cases
of the Journals of Hearne and Mackenzie, recourse was had
to them. If, then, the book presents in an attractive way
for Canadian boys and girls some of the heroic deeds which
underlie the growing greatness of their own North-West
its object will have been attained. If it should happen
that in spite of its simplicity the book makes an appeal,
also, to some " grown-ups," that will be a result undesigned
by the writer, though no less welcome to him.
The writer wishes to acknowledge the very valuable
assistance which he has received at every stage of the work
from Miss L. F. Munro, Principal of the Bennett School,
Edmonton, and also the kindly encouragement which was
afforded him in the undertaking by Mr. John T. Ross,
Deputy Minister of Education for the Province of Alberta, VI
and by Mr. W. G. Carpenter, Superintendent of the Edmonton Public Schools. Grateful acknowledgment is due, too,
to Mr. John Wise, for the skill and faithfulness with which
he has drafted the maps illustrating the stories.
J§ M. H. L.
January, 1920. 1
Henry Hudson       -
-      -       3
Radisson and Groseilliers
-      -     23
Henry Kelsey          -
■      -     79
~      CHAPTER IV.
La Verendrye and His Sons
-      -     95
Anthony Hendry    -
-   119
Samuel Hearne       -       -       -       -       -
-   141
Sir Alexander Mackenzie
-   175
Buffalo hunting in the Great Plains    Frontispiece.
The last hours of Henry Hudson 18
Radisson  23
An Iroquois Chief    ------ 28
Martello Tower        -       -       -       -       -       - 32
Quebec     -       -       -       -       -       -       -       - 40
They embarked in their canoes    -       -     opp. 48
Cree Indians    -------50
Prince Rupert          ------ 54
Coat of Arms, Hudson's Bay Company 74
Hudson's Bay Company Coins 75
Assiniboine Indian          ----- 87
A monarch of the plains        -       -       -       - 88
Sieur de la Verendrye   -       -       -       -   opp. 96
Their friends wish them Godspeed   -       - opp. 98
Running the Rapids      ----- 100
Making a Portage    ------ 102
A Cree Brave         ------ 103
Mandan Girls -
An Indian Encampment
The mighty mountain barrier
Tablet deposited by de la Verendrye
Sarcee Chiefs -
Fighting a Grizzly     -
An Indian Camp      -
An Indian of the Plains
A Blackfoot Brave -
Samuel Hearne        -       -       -
Fort Prince of Wales      -v
A Chief of the Chippewayans
An Eskimo Family
Ruins of Fort Prince of Wales
Sir Alexander Mackenzie
The Midnight Sun    -
Carrying Supplies over a Portage    -
Coast Indians of British Columbia   -
Mackenzie reaches the Pacific
220 ±r*a*
Hudson's Last Voyage    ----- 2
Routes of Radisson and Groseilliers 22
Iroquois Country in the days of Radisson      - 31
Radisson's exploits on the Nelson and Hayes
Rivers     -----        0ppt 64
Journeys of Kelsey and Hendry      -       -       - 78
The explorations of la Verendrye and his sons 94
Journeys of Hendry and Kelsey      - 118
Journeys of Samuel Hearne     - 140
Explorations of Sir Alexander Mackenzie        - 174
In the heart of old London, wedged in among tall houses
whose quaint chimney pots look calmly down upon it, there
stands the little old Church of St. Ethelburga in Bishops-
gate Street. Square and squat and gray, for many a century it has sturdily braved the buffeting storms and has
afforded a quiet haven in the city's busy streets, where
men may turn aside to think for a little while on the
deep tilings of life.
Thither many a Sabbath morning, to the clear summons
of its tolling bell, peaceful citizens of London had gone to
worship. On April 19th, 1607, however, there was added
to the usual quiet congregation a new, strange element.
Just as the service was about to begin twelve men came
trooping in. Their bronzed faces, their roughened hands,
their free, rolling gait, their sailor clothes, all spoke of a
life on the sea far from the cramping bounds of London's
shops and counting houses. A little awkward they seemed,
as though unused to church and its quiet ways.   Yet they
3 4 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
were not irreverent. Their deep voices joined in musically
with those of the congregation in the responses of the stately
service of the Church of England. Respectfully they
listened to the message of the clergyman, and, as they
took the holy sacrament, their faces bore the solemn
seriousness of men who were about to face hardships and
perils and death itself, in some high enterprise.
Little, indeed, did the congregation know that this was
the most glorious moment in the long history of the gray
old church. Yet so it was, for the little group of twelve
strange mariners numbered among it some of the bravest
hearts in all England, and their leader, he with the air of
command and the steady, fearless eyes, was no other than
Henry Hudson, one of the world's greatest navigators.
So, simply and with quiet earnestness, did the party prepare itself to carry on the famous search for a northern
route to the Indies in which already many skillful and
resolute seamen had failed. Thus, too, did the little
church witness the memorable beginning of a series of
explorations which were to lay for England claims to vast
new dominions overseas and bring to Henry Hudson an
imperishable fame.
Four days later, at Gravesend on the Thames, Hudson
embarked on his first voyage to the icy Arctic seas. His
little ship, the Hopewell, had been fitted out by the great
Muscovy Company, which carried on an extensive trade
with Russia by way of Archangel on the White Sea. Along
the caravan routes of Central Asia there had come to Russia
some of the silks and spices and jewels of the East.   Thus
^ "^
Early Explorers 5
English merchants had been set dreaming of the wonderful
wealth that would be theirs, if only a short sea route could
be found to India, Japan, and Cathay.
•Vasco da Gama, sent out by the king of Portugal, had
reached those far distant lands by rounding the Cape of
Good Hope and crossing the Indian Ocean. Magellan,
dispatched by Spain, had found a way to them by sailing
around the southern extremity of South America and
boldly striking out across the vast uncharted expanse of
the Pacific. But both these routes were very long and
beset by many perils. Moreover, Portugal and Spain
claimed them as their own by right of discovery and attacked the ships of all other nations which attempted to
sail those seas. If English seamen, however, could only
discover another and a shorter path to the Far East, that
new route would be England's very own, and the merchants
of London and Bristol would reap riches untold. So Hudson was now sent forth in his tiny vessel to make his way
to those " lands of spicery" by sailing north across the
Polar Sea.
With him, in addition to the crew of ten seamen, Hudson
took his little son John. Many a time had the lad sat
wide-eyed in wonder at his father's stirring tales of distant
lands and wild adventures on the seas. Often had he
longed for the time when he might throw lessons and school
books to the winds and take his part in the brave doings
of those days. And now, at last, that time had come, and
the little lad was all agog with excitement and eager to
be off with his father on his adventurous voyage. 6 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
North they sailed past John o' Groat's, the Orkneys, the
Shetlands, the Faroes, and Iceland until they were well
wiliiin the Arctic Circle, where in the short summer reigns
almost perpetual day. Then suddenly a dense fog which
had beset them lifted. Though it was two o'clock in the
morning it was broad daylight, and the watchman's cry
of "Land to larboard!': brought the Captain and men
tumbling quickly on deck. There, towering above the
western horizon and gilded by the rays of the rising sun,
were the snowy peaks of the mountains of Greenland,
while all about the little ship, to north, east, and south,
lay an endless, floating world of ice.
Still north they sailed with the bleak shores of Greenland to the west, until the ever thickening ice fields drove
home the fact that no passag&Tay this way across the Pole.
Then, in July, they turned their prow north-east towards
Spitsbergen, but here too they found that to north and
south the endless ice-packs barred the way to their goal in
the East.
So September 15th found Hudson and his crew once
more on the Thames at Tilbury Dock. In the main object
of their search they had failed, yet the voyage had not been
a complete failure. They had proved that no route lay
past Greenland or Spitzbergen to the Orient. They
brought back definite knowledge of the wealth of the
northern seas in whales, seals, and walrus. Hudson had
reached the latitude of 82, just eight degrees from the
Pole. He had been the first to record the dip of the compass in high latitudes from the true north towards the
SB| Early Explorers 7
magnetic pole. He had also been the first to discover
the great Arctic Current setting towards the Pole, which,
later, Nansen was to try to use in drifting towards that goal.
But to Hudson failure was only a challenge to the great
faith and purpose that inspired him. In the very next
year, 1608, he and his son were once more in the north,
this time trying to find a passage east through the strait
between Nova Zembla and the mainland. But again the
great ice barrier and a crew terrified-by the hardships and
dangers of the quest compelled him to turn back. " Being
void of hope," Hudson writes in his log; "the wind stormy
and against us, much ice drawing, we weighed anchor and
set sail westward." On August 20th they anchored in the
Cast off now by the Muscovy Company, Hudson was
next employed by its great rival, the Dutch East India
Company, and the summer of 1609 found him once more
off for Nova Zembla. This time he sailed from Amsterdam
in a little, flat-bottomed cockleshell of a boat called the
Half Moon. Unfortunately, more than half of Hudson's
crew were cowardly lascars, native sailors from the Dutch
East Indies. These men, lightly clad, used only to the
sunny southern waters and shivering with cold and terror,
took to the warm blankets in their berths when the North
Cape had been left behind. Thereupon, the English
sailors promptly rebelled against the double work, and all
hope of carrying on'Arctic exploration for that year at
once came to an end. Sadly the captain turned his ship
back towards the west. I
8 ELnights Errant of the Wilderness
But if Hudson returned, having once more failed in his
search, he knew that his career as a navigator would be
ended in disgrace. What was he to do? Whither might
he turn? Long he pondered this question, and at last he
struck south-west with a fair wind across the Atlantic.
Between the French on the St. Lawrence and Virginia,
where his friend, Captain Smith, had but lately founded
the first permanent English colony in America, old maps
showed an unexplored arm of the ocean. Perhaps this
was a passage through America to the Pacific or Western
Sea, the discovery of which would bring fame and wealth
instead of the impending disgrace.
So Hudson and his half mutinous crew coasted south
along the Atlantic shore to the Chesapeake, and then
turning north again on September 2nd, 1609, their ship
entered a spacious harbor at the mouth of a. great river.
This river we now call the Hudson, after its discoverer.
On the lonely wooded shores from which a solitary Indian
signal fire then sent its slender smoke column aloft into
the air, there towers now the mighty sky-line of New
York, the metropolis of America and one of the largest
cities in the world.
Little dreaming of the great future of the land which
they saw, Hudson and his mariners ascended the river
to the neighborhood where Albany now stands. There
the Captain was entertained by an old chief of the country.
"He was chief of a tribe of forty men and seventeen women,"
Hudson says. "These I saw there in a house well built of
oak bark, circular in shape with an arched roof.   It con- Early Explorers 9
tained a great quantity of Indian corn and beans of the
last year's growth, and there lay near the house for the
purpose of drying enough to load three ships, besides what
was growing in the fields. On our coming into the house
two mats were spread to sit upon and food was served in
well-made red wooden bowls. Two men were also dispatched at once with bows and arrows in search of game,
who soon after brought in a pair of pigeons which they had
shot. They likewise killed a fat dog and skinned it in
great haste with shells which they had got out of the water.
The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever set foot
upon in my life. The natives are very good people, for
when they saw that I would not remain they supposed
that I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows
they broke them in pieces and threw them in the fire."
On September 23rd the shallows of the upper Hudson
caused them to retrace their course to the mouth of the
river, and thence, putting forth to sea, they reached Dartmouth in England on November 7 th. Hudson had failed
again to find the North-West Passage which he sought, but
he had discovered a great river destined to be the main
gateway to the trade of the New World. So jealous now
of their Dutch rivals were the gentlemen of the Muscovy
Company that they secured an order from the government forbidding Hudson to return to Holland. Henceforth, they were resolved, his services must be given only
to his native land.
On April 17th, 1610, Hudson embarked on his last and
greatest voyage.  Three members of the Muscovy Compan)^, I
io Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Sir Thomas Smith, Sir Dudley Digges, and Master John
Wolstenholme. men who had faith in Hudson and his dream
of a North-West Passage, joined in equipping the expedition.
A little ship of 150 tons, happily named the Discovery, was
fitted out and manned with a crew of twenty men. Among
these were several of Hudson's old seamen and his son John,
the constant companion of his father in his voyages.
Dropping down the peaceful Thames with the tide, the
little company looked their last on the pleasant land of
England, clad in the soft green of April and decked with
the flowers of spring. Far other indeed were the scenes
for which they were bound.
By mid-May they had reached the rocky coast of Iceland, where, according to Thomas Prickett, one of the
members of the crew, who kept a diary of the voyage, "We
saw that famous hill, Mount Hecla, which cast out much
fire, and on the shore we found an hot spring and here all
our Englishmen bathed themselves."
For a fortnight they sheltered in Icelandic coves against
adverse winds and drifting ice. Then, sailing boldly to
the west, they rounded the southern point of Greenland,
crossed the entrance to Davis Strait, and about June 20th
reached Resolution Island. This lay at the mouth, of the
great strait, which both Frobisher and Davis had noticed
in their expeditions and through which Hudson was now
convinced lay the way to the Western Sea. Here he stood
on the threshold of his work. They were upon the edge
of the known world and were about to plunge into the
vast unknown beyond. Early Explorers ii
Their task was no child's play. The giant icebergs in the
straits of North America were as mountains to little hills
compared with the ice floes of the open sea that Hudson
had encountered on his previous Arctic voyages. In our
own day huge islands of ice, nine miles in length by actual
measurement, have been encountered in Ungava Bay.
To make matters worse, into the narrow straits and dead
against the packed and jumbled ice drifting with the Polar
Current south and east, there flings itself the westward sweeping inrush of the Atlantic tide. Thus is created what early
navigators called the "furious overfall," a great seething
whirlpool of ice and water extremely dangerous to ships.
All through July, Hudson with dauntless courage stubbornly battled his way through the midst of the perils of
the strait that now bears his name. Sometimes they
slipped down the long lanes or "tickles" of open water
between the floes. Sometimes they sought shelter in the
calmer water in the lee of some great iceberg. Again, the
men had to work desperately in the boats to tow the ship
out of some dangerous position, or else, armed with stout,
steel-tipped poles, they worked for dear life thrusting
away masses of ice that threatened to crush in the sides
of the ship. Sometimes, they could make progress only
by "worming a way through," that is, anchoring the ship
to the floes ahead and then hauling it up to them by pulling on the connecting rope. Often, too, they were compelled to sail north or south, but always they edged ever
further and further to the west, where they thought the
great goal of the open sea must lie. 12
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
In the midst of their toil came some diversions. Often
they beheld whales spouting in the distance, and on the
floes they sometimes saw great polar bears. Thus one
day, Prickett writes: "We raised land to the north and
corning nigh it there hung on the easternmost point many
islands of floating ice, and a bear on one of them, which
from one to another came towards us till she was ready
to come aboard. But when she saw us look at her, she
cast her head between her hind legs and then dived under
the ice, and so from one piece to another, till she was out
of our reach."
At last they reached the western end of the strait where
two great headlands were seen. The southern one Hudson
named Cape Wolstenholme, the northern, Digges Island,
and to the latter he sent a landing party. Gaining a footing with difficulty on the rugged coast, the seamen went
inland. Deer were seen in abundance, and immense flocks
of wild fowl rose in alarm at their approach and circled in
the air with loud-flapping wings. They came across little
mounds of stone which, Prickett says, upon examination
proved to be "hollow within and full of fowls hanged by
their necks." These were Eskimo caches containing food
for the winter. But best of all — a thing which made
every heart beat high with hope — from the hilltop they
saw a great sea free of ice spreading out before them to
the south-west, far as the eye could reach.
When Hudson heard the good news, without delay he
steered the Discovery straight for this spacious open water.
"At last," he thought, "I have reached the Western Sea.
mm fc .em
Early Explorers 13
Now I shall sail across it to Cathay and when my ship
returns to England laden with the riches of the East I
shall receive a welcome like that of Drake when he came
back from his great voyage around the world." Buoyed
up by this triumphant hope, Hudson paced the deck,
proud and erect, and eagerly scanned the great unknown
water that was opening up before him.
But as day after day they pressed onward to the south,
misgivings, which the great heart of Hudson would not
heed, began to possess the minds of his less heroic crew.
The ship was provisioned for only a year. It was now
September, and six months had passed. Hudson Strait
would soon freeze up behind them. It would not be open
again before June of the next year. If this should not
prove to be the Western Sea, then they would be winter-
bound in an unknown land. Twin horrors, starvation
and the rigors of an Arctic winter, loomed up before them,
and the dread fires of mutiny started to smolder among
the crew.
For a time, Hudson checked this danger by deposing
the mate, Robert Juet, an old seaman who from the very
beginning of the voyage had been a grumbler and a mischief-maker and appointing Robert Billet in his place.
But when at last they reached James Bay and all further
progress south and west was barred by land, the full
danger of their situation dawned upon them. From that
moment Hudson went in ever-growing peril from his crew.
Until the first of November they sailed hither and
thither, seeking a way out of James Bay, that "labyrinth 14
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
without end," as they called it. Then they hauled their
ship aground, probably in what is now Rupert Bay, and
prepared for the winter. By November ioth the new-
forming ice had gripped the ship fast, and the hardships of
winter had begun.
The cold was intense, and the decks and port windows
were soon coated with frost. But fortunately there was
plenty of firewood ashore for the cutting. Stone fireplaces
were built aboard, and pans of shot, heated red hot, were
taken to warm the berths at night. The ship's surgeon,
a Dutchman, made medicine from the leaves of some
strange evergreen shrubs which proved an excellent remedy
for the scurvy and other ills which assailed the crew.
Luckily, too, the woods were alive with game, especially
partridge and white ptarmigan, and so Hudson was able
to put his men on short allowance of ship's provisions, thus
saving more of their stores for the spring.
But all the time trouble was brewing. Juet, the deposed
mate, was cunningly plotting to get his revenge. The men
began even openly to oppose the Captain, and Henry King,
the carpenter, when commanded to build a house on shore,
bluntly refused, i Worst of all the mutineers was a young
man, Henry Greene. He was a worthless fellow whom
Hudson in bigness of heart had picked from the London
streets. Treating him like a son, the Captain had taken
him into his own home. Now, when Hudson gave to
another the coat of a dead sailor, Greene, to whom it had
been promised, turned against his master and foully
plotted his overthrow. Early Explorers 15
With the early spring there came to the ship the first
Indian whom they had seen. Hudson treated him in a
friendly fashion, presenting him, to his great delight, with
a knife, a looking glass, and some buttons. The next day
the Indian returned, dragging after him a toboggan on which
were two deer and two beaver skins. "He had a scrip
under his arm," says Prickett, "out of which he drew
those things which the master had given him. He took the •
knife and laid it upon one of the beaver skins, and his
glass and buttons upon the other, and so gave them to
the master who received them. And the savage took
those things which the master had given him and put them
up into his scrip again. Then the master showed him an
hatchet for which he would have given the master one of
his deer skins, but our master would have them both.
And so he had, although not willingly. After many signs
of people to the north and south, and that after so many
sleeps he would come again, he went away but never
came more." Thus, in the bargaining of Henry Hudson
with this lone Indian, began the long history of the fur
trade on Hudson Bay.
And now in May, when the ice was breaking up, it was
time to prepare for the return voyage. Hudson commanded that birds and fish be taken and cured to refill
the depleted stores. Unfortunately, there were some of
the crew who neglected to do their share in this work, and
these were the very ones who were the first to cause trouble
when later the stock of provisions ran low.
Early in June  they were ready to set sail.   But first i6
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Hudson, calling the men on deck, made an equal division
of food among them. For each man there was just one
pound of bread. "He wept," we are told, "as he gave it
to them." There were also some fish and nine cheeses
to be divided among them. This must last till they
reached Digges Island, at the mouth of the Strait, where
they had found such an abundance of wild fowl and the
• well-filled Eskimo caches.
As they sailed slowly north, always impeded by the
floating ice, their situation steadily grew worse. Greene
and some of the others devoured all their food in a few
hours and soon became hungry and desperate. The Captain had once threatened to leave behind on the Bay
any one found guilty of plotting against him. Now this
turned into an evil thought in the mind of the traitor
Greene. With Juet and Billet, whose place as mate had
been given to King, he went cunningly around to those
of the crew who they thought could be won over to
"It is better," Greene said, "to run the risk of hanging
at home than to starve slowly to death here in the ice.
Let us put the nine sick men, the Captain, and all those
who stand by him in the boat and set them adrift to shift
for themselves. Then there will be food enough for us
who are left and we shall get safely home."
Thus spake the base traitor, and, in the ears of the
starving crew, his counsel found favor. So all through
the short midsummer night of June 21st, 1611, the mutineers kept stealthy watch lest some one should warn the
^£ Early Explorers 17
Captain of his peril. Then with the dawn, when the
faithful mate King, who had slept on deck, went below,
the hatch was closed quickly upon him, and three others,
Thomas, Bennett, and Wilson, took station by the door
of the Captain's cabin to await his coming on deck.
Soon the door opened, and Hudson, all unsuspecting,
stepped forth. As Thomas and Bennett advanced towards him with insolent boldness, Wilson crept up behind
and suddenly seized his arms.
"What does this mean?" cried Hudson, as he struggled
to shake off his assailants.
"You will know fast enough when you are in the shallop,"
was the threatening answer.
Quickly the Captain was bound and stood helpless before
them. Then King, the mate, who had secured a sword in
the hold and was bravely defending himself against the^
attacks of Juet, was saved from immediate death by some
of the mutineers, who were not willing to do open murder,
and was allowed to join his Captain. Under the direction of the treacherous Greene, who now took command, the sick and those lamed by frost bite during the
winter, were cruelly ordered on deck, and with Hudson,
his son, and the mate, were tumbled into the ship's boat.
Then arose oaths and a scuffle, and there burst forth
from among the mutineers a sailor named Philip Staffe.
"Ye villains!" he cried, "you will all hang for this when
you get back to England. Unless you force me, I will not
stay on the ship. Give me my chest of tools and I will go
in the boat with the Master." i8
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
So they let him. go, a true-hearted Englishman, resolved
to follow his duty even to death. Into the boat, along
with the carpenter's box, was thrown a gun, some powder
and shot, an iron pot, and a little meal.
Throughout this shameful scene Hudson had borne
himself with courage and dignity. Seeing that the crew
had the upper hand and were resolved on their murderous
course, he uttered neither angry protest nor
weak plea for his life.
His arms being unbound
by those in the boat, he
now took his place at
the tiller, calmly facing
his fate and upborne by
the duty of caring for
the helpless men whose
sole hope lay in him.
Then, when they had
towed them free of the
ice, the black and cowardly deed was finished by one of the mutineers cutting
the rope and setting the little boat adrift. More quickly
now the wind bore the ship onward until the lonely shallop
was but a speck in the distance. But even long after it
had been completely lost to view, the scowling, shamefaced
mutineers gazed fearfully behind them, even their hardened
consciences stricken with the guilt of the deed which they
had done.
The  Last  Hours of Henry Hudson
(From the Painting by Collier.) b~~3i
Early Explorers 19
From such a foul crime good could not come. Quarreling continually among themselves and lacking the
Master's navigating skill, the crew sailed blindly on as
best they could. When they reached Digges Island,
Greene and three others met the fate which they deserved
at the hands of the Eskimos, who treacherously murdered
them when they landed. Without having obtained the provisions which they sought, the rest battled their way slowly
eastward through the Strait and out into the Atlantic.
In the long voyage to Ireland they suffered untold
agonies of hunger. The cook had to make meals from
tallow candles, frying the bones of the wild fowl in them
and seasoning the dish with vinegar. So weak did they
become that they could no longer stand at the helm, but
sat and steered the ship. As she tossed upon the waves,
the sails flapped wildly loose with no man minding them.
Juet, the guilty old mate, died of sheer starvation. The
ship seemed doomed, pursued and haunted by the dreadful
crime committed by the crew: But at last one day there
came the glad cry of "Land! A sail!" They had reached
Ireland. Thence they sailed to England, where they were
placed on trial for their mutiny.
But what of Hudson and his castaways? All England
was filled with sorrow at his sad fate. The very next year
Captain Thomas Button, with two ships, the Discovery
and the Resolution, was sent to search for the lost mariner,
and if he still lived to rescue him. They spent the winter
of 1612-13 on Hudson Bay, but of the great discoverer
they found no trace. .-js*8^
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Twenty years after Captain James found on Danby
Island a number of stakes, hewn with a steel hatchet, and
driven into the ground. Fifty years later Radisson discovered an "old house all marked and battered with
bullets" as though it had been attacked by Indians, armed
perhaps with firelocks supplied by French traders at
Quebec. Were these the relics of a brave struggle of
Hudson and his men against death at the hands of hostile
natives? Or did they die of starvation in their little open
boat, which then drifted aimless on until it stranded and
rotted on the shore? Or did some great storm suddenly
engulf them and thus mercifully end their sufferings ? No
man knows. But we do know, whatever his end, Henry
Hudson would meet it with the same high courage with
which he h|d sailed through perilous, unknown seas and
faced a mutinous crew. We know that, if need arose, he
would confront death bravely, trying to save the sick men
committed to his keeping. But as to the actual way in
which he perished — that is a secret which lies tight locked
forever in the bosom of the broad bay that bears his name.
I.  Radisson among the Mohawks
It is a far call from the bleak shores of Hudson Bay to
the fertile, sunny valley of the St. Lawrence.   Yet thither
g we must go if we are to follow
the fortunes of that daring
Frenchman who was to complete the work of Hudson
by founding "The Company
of Adventurers of England
Trading into Hudson's Bay."
It was in the spring of
1652. The first golden rays
of the rising sun were striking
aslant the palisades and roof
tops of the little fort of Three
Rivers. Already from the chimneys the smoke of breakfast
preparations rose up into the clear morning air, and life was
beginning once more to bestir itself for the day's work.
Suddenly with harsh creak and jar the great gate of the
fort swung slowly back and three youths stepped forth.
With a blithe "Good morning" and a gay wave of the
Radisson — After an old print. 24
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
hand to the yawning sentry they shouldered their muskets
and trudged off towards the woods.
It was clear that they were bound hunting, and their
quarry was the wild fowl which found one of their favorite
feeding-grounds in the reedy marshes of that expansion
of the St. Lawrence called Lake St. Peter. As they went
along, the placid river on their left shone between the tree
trunks like a great sheet of burnished silver. The first
spring flowers were beneath their feet. The robins chirped
cheerfully as they hopped about the grass, and the squirrels
scampered among the branches which already were beginning to bear a haze of tender green foliage.
So peaceful was the scene that it was difficult to realize
that all its quiet beauty only masked a deadly peril. For
the terr§)le Iroquois were on the warpath. Farmers on
the outskirts of the settlement, beginning their spring work,
had been found slain and scalped by this ruthless foe.
And now the whole population of the district was huddled
together in the fort for protection, and farmers could work
only under military, guard or in large parties with their
rifles ever ready at hand.
About a mile from the fort the boys met a herdsman.
"Keep out from the foot of the hills," he said. "Things
like a forest of heads were seen to rise up suddenly from
the ground back there.    Better return to the fort."
Two of the hunters, alarmed by this warning, soon
decided to turn back, but the third, with a toss of his head
and a scornful laugh, resolved to go on. And so Pierre
Radisson, as yet but a youth of sixteen, fared forth alone IS
Early Explorers 25
to the hunt regardless of danger. It was that dauntless
courage of the youth that was to make of the man one of
the world's greatest explorers and pioneers.
The boy's bravery had its reward in excellent luck.
He wandered on about nine miles from the fort, shooting
geese and ducks to his heart's content and hiding the game
which he could not carry in hollow tree trunks. As the
sun declined towards the west, he retraced his steps and
already was within view of the fort, when suddenly a
terrible sight rooted him to the ground. There, half
concealed by the long grass, lay the bodies — naked and
scalped — of his two companions of the morning.
Chilled with horror Radisson stood for a moment stock
still. Then his keen mind began to work quickly. The
Iroquois must be there, near at hand. His best chance
lay in gaining the rush-lined river bank, where he might
hide in the reeds till night arrived and then make a safe
return to the fort.
Immediately stooping low he began to run towards the
river, but, as he did so, a hundred plumed heads craned
up from grass and reeds and underbrush to see which way
he went. From all sibles muskets began to crash out.
As he ran, the fearless Radisson without hesitation fired
back at his numerous foes. But it was in vain. He was
surrounded. A score of hands gripped him. His rifle was
snatched away. His arms were securely bound. And
then, flaunting the scalps of his companions before his sickened sight, they dragged him off through the woods to the
spot on the shore where their canoes had been concealed. 26 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
It was only Radisson's bravery that had spared him the
immediate fate of his comrades. The Iroquois had seen
them turn back while he had gone on with a laugh into
the mouth of danger. When attacked by overwhelming
odds, he at once had fired back. ^Insensible to pity, the
Indians, of all things, loved bravery, and their admiration
for the fearless French youth led them to make him a
They now dressed his hair like an Indian brave's and
daubed his face with their war paint. That night he lay
down between two warriors under a common blanket.
"I slept a sound sleep," he says in his own story of .his
adventures, "for they wakened me upon the breaking of
the day." Then, embarking in their canoes, the Iroquois
fired their muskets and shouted their shrill war cries in
defiance of the French at the fort.
They were Mohawk Indians, and their way home after
their raids on the settlements lay up the Richelieu River
to Lake Champlain and Lake George and thence west to
the land of the Iroquois south of Lake Ontario. There
in their villages they would be welcomed by the old men,
the squaws, and the children, and their home coming would
be celebrated by feasting and the torture of captives.
On the journey Radisson found ever greater favor with
his captors. They taught him how to give the light,
silent, skillful Indian stroke to the paddle, and how to hurl
deftly the Indian spear. In the morning he was the first
afoot to begin preparations for the day's journey and at
night was the first to unsling his pack and cut firewood
*?« ^
Early Explorers 27
for the encampment. When a young brave struck him,
he thrashed him soundly with his fists. When an old
man staggered beneath his burden, Pierre took it upon
his own shoulders. And so the Mohawks, thinking that
he had become one of themselves, gave him a hunting
knife and shaved his head in front, leaving on top the warlock of the Indian brave. "I, viewing myself all in a
pickle," says Radisson, to whom they brought a little
mirror, "smeared with red and black, covered with such a
top, could not but fall in love with myself, if I had not had
better instruction to shun the sin of pride."
As they approached the Mohawk village a host of men,
women, and children swarmed forth with shouts of joy
at the return of the warriors and cries of exultation over
the poor captives. In their hands they brandished clubs
and whips, and they quickly formed themselves into two
long lines between which the prisoners were compelled
to run the gantlet of their blows. The rule was for the
victim to be led slowly, with arms bound, down the lane of
tormentors, but when it came Radisson's turn he was left
free and told by his friends Bounding quickly
forward, the nimble lad ran so swiftly along the lines that
the blows aimed at him as he passed fell on the empty
air, and amid shouts and laughter he reached the other
end unhurt.
There he was caught in the arms of a captive Huron
woman, who was the wife of a great Iroquois chief. They
had lost their son, and her heart had gone out to the handsome French boy.    They now asked the Council of Chiefs 28
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
that Radisson might be adopted into the tribe as their
son. So he was led into the Council Lodge and placed
by the fire around which the chiefs solemnly sat smoking
the great Council pipe and listening gravely to the passionate plea of the Indian woman for his life.   At last with
many deep "Ho Ho's," which
meant "Yes, we are pleased,"
they gave their consent.
Radisson's Indian father and
mother were very kind to him.
Their dead son's name was
Orimha, meaning "a stone," and
when they learned that " Pierre"
meant the same thing in French,
they became still more fond of
him. His father gave a great
banquet in his honor to three
hundred of the young braves
of the Mohawks. To it, decked out in more finery of
feathers, colored blankets, and wampum belts than all the
rest, Radisson was led, and as they partook of such forest
dainties as moose nose, beavers' tails, and bears' paws, the
air resounded with shouts of "Chagon Orimha!" — "Be
merry, Pierre!"
Pierre was now a Mohawk of the Mohawks. He quickly
picked up the Indian language. He soon learned the lore
of the woods from his companions and became skillful as
the Indians themselves in setting traps, tracking wild
animals, shaping the bark of the birch into graceful canoes,
An Iroquois Chief.
mw" Early Explorers 29
and finding his way through the pathless forests. But
though the life was wild and free and the Indians were
kind, yet in his heart Pierre longed to return to his home at
Three Rivers where his father and mother were mourning
for him as dead. And so in the autumn he planned to
escape with a friendly Algonquin captive.
They were out on a hunting expedition, and in the night
Pierre and the Algonquin killed their three Iroquois companions. Concealing the bodies, they fled by stealthy
night journeys along the streams and through the forests
till they were within a day's journey of "Three Rivers.
But just as they thought they were safe and were paddling
boldly out across Lake St. Peter, they were spied by an
Iroquois band on their way back from raids on the settlements. Raising their terrible war cry, the Indians gave
chase, while Radisson and the Algonquin raced back again
for the shore. But the Iroquois with their many paddles
quickly overhauled them and fired a crashing volley,
which killed the Algonquin and sank the canoe. Pierre
himself was dragged dripping but unharmed from the water
by the mocking Indians, to be reserved for a punishment
of torture that was like to be far worse than death itself.
Then followed once again the long journey back to the
Mohawk villages. As they approached them, two long,
slender saplings were felled and stripped of their branches
and made into a yoke which, fastened to the necks of the
prisoners, held them helpless in a long single file. As they
thus advanced, the men, women, and children rushed to
belabor them with staves and leather bags filled with stones. 3°
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
From this plight Pierre was rescued for a while by his
Indian mother who, rushing through the crowd of torturers with the anguished cry of "Orimha! Orimha!'1
cut him free from the yoke and took him to her lodge.
But soon there came a great angry throng which, with
hideous cries and cruel mockery, dragged him forth again
to the torture.
The prisoners were placed on scaffoldings, and for three
days the devilish work of torture was carried on. Had
it not been for the protection of the friendly family Radisson
undoubtedly would have perished. As it was his fingers
were cut and gnawed, the soles of his feet were burned in
the fire embers, and his thumb was thrust into a great
pipe filled with live coals.
On^he third day, more dead than alive, he was led
before the Great Council of Sachems to hear his fate. As
before, his Indian father appeared in all his regalia as a
great war chief and pled with passionate eloquence for
Pierre's life, while his mother danced and sang of old time
deeds of Indian valor. Costly gifts were offered as compensation to the relatives of the three murdered Mohawks.
Then they withdrew. Long and solemn was the deliberation, and at last Pierre's father entered again to speak and
sing. As he finished, he cut the captive's bonds amid
thunderous "Ho Ho's': that marked the approval of the
Pierre was now once again free. For more than a month
he could not use his burned feet. But he was looked
after very tenderly by his Indian mother, and gradually
^mrnr- *t
Early Explorers
his strength returned. All winter he lived in the Mohawk
lodges, and in the spring of 1653 he went on the warpath
with the younger braves against the Eries, who lived to
the west around Niagara. Radisson gained great praise
for his skill in the chase and his bravery in battle.
But though the white man may easily don the red
man's paint and feathers he cannot so easily assume the
Indian nature, and, in spite of appearances, Pierre was not a savage Indian
brave but a civilized white boy. SSo
with the autumn of 1653 there came
upon him once more an uncontrollable
longing to be with
his own folk again.
This time he
planned more carefully. Taking only
a hatchet, one
morning when the
tingle of fall frost
was in the air, he
sallied forth as though to spend a day in cutting firewood.
But no sooner was he out of sight of the village than
he broke into a steady loping run such as he could maintain for hours. All day through the tangled forest he
kept resolutely on, following with keen eyes the faint
trail which he knew led to the Dutch settlement of Fort
Orange, now Albany on the Hudson. Nor did he pause
when the night shadows fell upon  the forest.   Dawn
Iroquois Country in the Days of Radisson.—
From the Jesuit Relations, the dotted lines indicating
Radisson's travels while he was with the Mohawks. 32
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
found him haggard and faint but still reeling on with
dogged steps, and by nightfall he was safe in Fort Orange
with the Dutch.
But he had barely escaped capture. The Mohawks
were hard on his heels. For three days he had to lie in
concealment while his Indian friends roamed through the
fort  calling out  to  their "Orimha" to come  back with
Martello Tower of Refuge in Time of Indian Wars—: Three Rivers.
them to the forest.    But at last they gave up in despair
and returned to their villages.
Washing the war paint from his face and the grease
from his hair, Radisson now assumed once again the dress
and manners of the white man. A kind Jesuit priest,
Father Poncet, supplied him with money. Descending
the Hudson to New Amsterdam, now New York, Pierre
took ship for Amsterdam in Holland, where he arrived in fc liBl
Early Explorers 33
January, 1654. Thence he went to La Rochelle in France,
where in the spring he embarked in a fishing vessel bound
for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. At Isle Percee
at the mouth of the St. Lawrence he met some Algonquins
on their way up the river to wage war on the Iroquois.
He joined them, and in May, 1654, after an absence of
two years, he reached his home at Three Rivers. There
he was welcomed by father and mother as though he returned from the dead, while his friends listened in amazement to the thrilling story of his two years of adventures
among the savage Iroquois.
II.  Radisson at Fort Onondaga
But Radisson was one of those stirring spirits who could
not long rust in idleness, and in the Canada of those days
there were always perilous enterprises ready to hand for
those brave enough to undertake them. A new situation had arisen with the Iroquois. These savages had
embarked on a war with the Eries, and, in order to be free
to wage it and to secure greater supplies of powder and
muskets, they had sought a peace with the French. So a
truce was arranged. But the cunning Onondagas went
further. They professed a great love for the French and
asked to have a settlement made in their country. Their
real object was that the settlers and priests might be
hostages in their hands. Then they could prevent the
Governor of New France from taking measures to punish
them for their outrages by threatening to murder the
French who had settled among them. 34
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
The Governor fell into the trap. In the very year that
Pierre had escaped from the Iroquois, missionaries had gone
among them. In 1656, Major Dupuis and sixty Frenchmen had founded a colony called Onondaga, and in the
following year a party of two Jesuits, twenty young Frenchmen, and one hundred Christian Hurons prepared to set
out from Montreal to reenforce the little settlement. They
had eighty Iroquois as an escort. But the expedition was
incomplete without an interpreter who could speak the
Iroquois language fluently. Here was the chance for
Pierre. The venture gave every promise of all the excitement which he loved. |g He volunteered for the post.
After long preparations, on July 26th, 1657, the party
set out. Early in the journey it became clear that beneath
the friendly behavior of the Iroquois lurked a savage
treachery. The Huron warriors were suddenly set upon
and murdered, and their women and children, in spite of
the efforts of the Jesuits, were later put to the torture.
But the Frenchmen were not molested, probably because
they thought it would be safer to attack them later. Radisson, whom they soon recognized as the "Orimha'' of the
Mohawks, was treated kindly, and he on his part sent
gifts to his Indian father and mother.
After a series of stiff portages past the rapids above
Montreal, their way lay along the most beautiful part of
the St. Lawrence. Great forests on either hand swept
majestically down to the shores of the noble river, while
its clear, sparkling waters were dotted with the fairyland
of the Thousand Isles.| Few white men had yet gazed Early Explorers 35
upon this lovely scene, and the eyes of the Frenchmen
shone with pride in this glorious heritage of New France.
When they emerged on the blue expanse of Lake Ontario,
they turned south and followed the shore to the mouth
of the Oswego River. Ascending this stream, they finally
reached Lake Onondaga, where they were warmly welcomed
by the garrison of the fort which they had come to aid.
Fort Onondaga was in a small clearing on the crest of a
low hill overlooking the lake. In the centre was a substantial house with two high towers loopholed for musketry. For further protection a stout palisade and a
deep ditch ran round about it, inclosing a space large
enough to enable the French to keep their cattle within it.
It was not long before alarming signs of the dangerous
position of the little French force began to appear. The
attitude of the Indians became menacing. They no longer
pretended a desire to become Christians, but, ceasing to
listen to the Jesuits' Bible stories, Senecas, Cayugas, and
Onondagas strutted about in their war paint, while from
the neighboring forest came the sounds of feasting and the
singing of wild war songs. - Four hundred Mohawks soon
came to join the swarm of foes, and these impudently
built their wigwams for the winter before the very gates
of the fort itself.
So vastly outnumbered were the French that they
wondered greatly why the redskins delayed their attack.
Then one day, through a Huron slave, came the news
that the Governor had seized twelve of the Iroquois and
was holding them at Quebec as hostages for the safety of
j 36
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Fort Onondaga. Taking fresh heart at this news, the
Frenchmen settled down for the long siege that they now
knew awaited them.
Winter set in. The snow fell like a deep soft blanket
over the earth, and the song of the streams was hushed
by the thickening ice crust. It was an anxious and dreary
Christmas the Frenchmen spent that year, far from their
friends and in the midst of treacherous foes. Their sentries were attacked at night, and by day they could
venture abroad only at the risk of their lives. Fortunately
they had plenty of food, and the Indians, confident that
there could be no escape before spring, bided their time.
But in February a terrible plot was revealed. A dying
Mohawk confessed to one of the priests that the Indians
were bent on massacring half of the French and holding
the rest till the Iroquois hostages were freed from Quebec.
Radisson, who alone of the company could move as with
a charmed life among the Mohawks, learned from his
father that this news was only too true. "What could
we do?' he writes. "We were in their hands. It was as
hard for us to get away from them as for a ship in full
sea without a pilot."
Though they knew not how they could escape, yet the
French began to make preparations for a flight should
a chance present itself. Their frail birch canoes could
not possibly five in the ice-jammed rivers of early spring,
and so they secretly built two large flat-bottomed boats.
When these by mischance were seen by a Huron slave
a great danger  threatened.   He had heard  the Jesuits Early Explorers 37
tell the story of Noah's ark and now he spread abroad a
wonderful rumor of how the white men were building- great
arks of refuge against a coming flood that would overwhelm the land. The suspicious Iroquois sent spies to
investigate, but before they arrived the French had built
a false floor over their boats and on it they piled high their
canoes. Thus the Iroquois were tricked and went away
thinking that the Huron had lied.
And now the spring had arrived. The ice was breaking
and the heavy boats could force a way through. But
how to escape from the fort, and launch them, and get
safely away — that was the question. To this it was the
resourceful Radisson who gave answer. He had not lived
among the Mohawks for nothing. He knew that the
Indians were both superstitious and gluttonous. So he
persuaded a young man in the fort to feign illness and
invited the Indians to help in his cure by taking part
in one of the feasts which they loved, "where everything
must be eaten." The banquet would be spread generously
by the French.
Far and wide through the forest spread the news of the
great feast of the white men, and the Indians flocked to
the gates of the fort to partake of it. But for two days
Radisson kept them waiting outside, smelling the savory
odors of preparation and entertained by the soldiers with
music and songs and dancing. Then on the evening of
the second day, with a great blare of bugles, the gates
were swung back and out stepped the Frenchmen bearing
the feast.   Round the great circle of squatting Indians
J 38 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
they went with huge iron pots filled with vension, bear
steaks, fowl, fish, and corn. The French had even slaughtered their hogs — all save one — for the banquet. As
soon as an Indian dish became empty it was heaped up
again from the pots, and when these began to run low
they were replenished from the abundance within the fort.
Never had the Iroquois faced such a feast before, but
whenever an Indian flagged or drew back, the pretended
sick man cried out with a doleful voice, "Would you have
me die?': and then the Indians would return to the attack.
Some of the French who had fiddles played away with
might and main to keep up the excitement, while everywhere went Radisson urging the Indians on. At last,
one by one, overcome by their gluttony, they fell into a
sodden sleep.
Now the moment was come for escape. Others of the.
garrison had been busy making preparations for flight.
The two flat-bottomed boats and some stout dugout
skiffs were quickly run down to the Lake shore. The
baggage was hurried aboard, and they were ready to start.
But first Radisson completed his plot. Some old uniforms had been stuffed with straw, and these effigies, with
hats and boots all complete, were stood up like sentries
at different points in the fort. The poultry also was
left behind, and the one lone pig. Through a loophole
beside the gate ran a rope attached to a bell which the
Indians pulled when they wished to summon the guard.
To this rope the ingenious Radisson now tied the pig,
so that when the Indians pulled they would hear a move- Early Explorers
ment within as though people were moving about in the
fort. Then, locking and barring the gate, Radisson and
his men climbed cautiously over the palisade and made
for the boats. Silently, at the word of command, they
pushed from the shore and melted into the blackness of the
The Indians lay long in their gluttonous stupor, and when
they awoke their wits were benumbed. A storm of sleet
in the night had washed away the traces of the French
departure. When the Indians pulled the rope, the bell did
not ring, but movements were heard within, and when no
one came to the gates, they concluded that the "black
robes," as they called the priests, were praying. They
heard the fowls clucking and crowing, and, when they
peered through the palisade, they saw sentries on duty.
When at last, grown suspicious, they broke in and saw they
were tricked, their amazement and rage knew no bounds.
But pursuit was in vain. The French by now were on
Lake Ontario, battling their way through the ice jam at
the foot of the lake. Sometimes they could get through
the ice only by chopping a passage with their hatchets,
but slowly they forged ahead and at last got into the river.
There the swollen current carried them quickly along and
floated them safely over the rocks of the rapids, except
for the loss of one boat.
It was March 20th when they had stolen away from Fort
Onondaga. On April 3rd they reached Montreal, and
on April 23rd the little flotilla came safely to anchor beneath the frowning heights of Quebec.   Onondaga was 40
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
saved.. Its settlers had escaped, as one of the Jesuits
said, "like the children of Israel by night from the land of
Egypt."   And the chief credit of the exploit belonged to
Quebec. — From one of the oldest prints in existence.
Pierre Radisson. He had won his spurs as a knight of
the wilderness. He had become one of the heroes of
New France.
III. Radisson and Groseilliers Discover the Great
And now Radisson was to step from the role of a doughty
Indian fighter to the still greater part of a far ranging
explorer. He had been home hardly a month before new
plans of adventure began to possess him. Each summer
there came from the distant, mysterious West and North
rich cargoes of beaver pelts. The Indians who brought
them down the Ottawa in their canoes told tales of vast
mm*- Early Explorers
regions that dwarfed New France to littleness, of mighty
rivers which rivalled the St. Lawrence, and of distant,
unknown seas. Frenchmen had gone as far as Sault Ste.
Marie and Green Bay on Lake Michigan, but beyond that
all was unexplored.
To Radisson this region was like the enchanted castle
to the prince in the fairy tale. He must be the first to
break the spell and tread the soil of that new land, for
just as at the prince's kiss the beautiful sleeping princess
would wake to life, so would the coming of the first white
man rouse the West from its sleep of centuries and give it
to the world.
In his projects of exploration Radisson found a kindred
spirit in his brother-in-law, Medard Chouart des Groseilliers. Indeed, it is quite probable that it was Groseilliers who first fired the imagination of the younger
Radisson to penetrate into the Great West, for he was a
veteran fur trader who had been as far afield as Lake
Nipissing and Green Bay, and he was full of the Indian
stories about the country that lay beyond.
So, silently, one night in June, 1658, having fully resolved on the great adventure, Radisson and Groseilliers
launched their canoe at Three Rivers. Travelling only
by darkness to avoid the prowling Iroquois, they reached
Montreal in three days. There they joined a party of
one hundred and fifty Algonquins who were about to start
back for their homes on the Upper Lakes.
Their way up the Ottawa was beset by Iroquois war
parties, and had it not been for the cool leadership of the 42
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
two Frenchmen, it would have fared badly with the Al-
gonquins. As it was, they managed to beat off their
assailants, and then, reaching Georgian Bay by way of
Lake Nipissing and the French River, they crossed the
upper stretches of Lakes Huron and Michigan and arrived at Green Bay.
But even there the terror of the Iroquois pursued them.
Scouts reported that a band of Mohawks were on their
trail, and panic seized the Algonquins. Radisson, however, headed a party of the more courageous, and, tracking
the intruders down with a cunning greater than their own,
he pounced suddenly upon them and killed them to a
man. Great was the gratitude of the Algonquins for this
aid, and in their friendly wigwams the Frenchmen passed
most of the winter at Green Bay.
"But our mind was not. to stay here," Radisson tells
us, "but to know the remotest peoples; and because we
had been willing to die in their defence these Indians consented to conduct us." So in the spring of 1659, they
pushed onward to the west till they stood on the banks of
"a mighty river, great, rushing, profound, and comparable
to the St. Lawrence." This could be only the Mississippi.
Thus, ten years before Marquette and Joliet, and twenty
years before La Salle, Radisson and Groseilliers watched
the turbid spring flood of "the father of Waters" sweeping
southward towards the Gulf of Mexico. As they raised
their eyes from the swirling current to the distant shore,
they were the first of all white men to gaze upon the broad
and bountiful land of the Great North-West. i—m
Early Explorers
All summer they ranged through this fairyland of
nature. We cannot be sure just where they went, but
apparently they first travelled south-west, for Radisson
says: "We desired not to go to the North until we had
made a discovery in the South. The Indians," he continues, "were all amazed to see us and very civil. The
further we sojourned the delightfuller the land became.
I can say that in all my life time I have never seen a finer
country. The people have long hair. They reap twice
a year. They war against the Sioux and the Crees. They
told us of men that built great cabins and have beards
and knives like the French." These must have been the
Spaniards far to the south in Mexico. Pumpkins and corn,
according to Radisson, grew luxuriantly in the Indian
gardens. "Their arrows," he tells us, "were not of stone
but of fish bones. Their dishes were made of wood.
They had great calumets of red and green stone and great
store of tobacco. They had also a kind of drink that made
them mad for a whole day." These* Indians must have
been the Mandans of the Missouri, which Radisson calls
the Forked River. They were, perhaps, the very tribes
which La Verendrye was to visit nearly a century later.
Turning north from this pleasant land, the two explorers visited among the Sioux, and then, veering to the
east, in the fall they reached the Jesuit Mission at Sault
Ste. Marie, having passed through the territories of the
Crees and the Sautaux, whom they found at bitter war.
Radisson's own story speaks of mountains lying far inland to the west, while the Jesuits tell of the travellers 44
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
having been among Indians who used coal. Judging
from these things, Radisson and Groseilliers were not
only the discoverers of the West, but they must also have
explored far into the very heart of it — perhaps as far as
the edge of the Bad Lands of Montana.
Had the two Frenchmen any idea of that great movement to the West of which they were the first forerunners ?
It would seem that Radisson had some vision of what the
future held in store. "The country," he says, "was so
pleasant, so beautiful, and so fruitful, that it grieved me
to see that the world could not discover such enticing
countries to live in. What a conquest would this be at
little or no cost! What pleasure should people have
instead of misery and poverty! Why should not men
reap of the love of God here?" Great, free, open, sunny
spaces, fresh from the hand of God, where millions could
make new homes and live in peace — this was the treasure
house that Radisson and Groseilliers in the summer of
1059 unlocked and opened wide for all thejyorld.
The following winter was one of the coldest ever known
in Canada. But the colder the weather the thicker the
coat of the beaver, and so, in the spring of 1660, the adventurers were able to set out on the long journey to
Montreal with a rich cargo of furs. They were attended
by an escort of five hundred Algonquin, Huron, and Sioux
It was reported 'that a thousand Iroquois were on the
warpath against New France, so the utmost precautions
were taken.   All went well until they reached the head Early Explorers 45
of the Long Sault, the most perilous part of the Ottawa.
Here they sighted sixteen Iroquois canoes whose occupants
fled before them. Radisson at once guessed that they had
a stronghold at the foot of the rapids. Taking half of his
men, he advanced quickly across the portage, only to find
the Iroquois intrenched in a rough barricade near the river.
But very unwisely the Indians had left their canoes at the
water's edge. The quick-witted Radisson at once directed
some of his men to creep forward towards these, sheltering themselves behind great bundles of beaver pelts which
they pushed before them along the ground. The Iroquois, seeing that they must either abandon the fort or
be trapped in it by losing their boats, with a wild yell
rushed to the bank and made their escape down the river
amid a pursuing spatter of bullets. The portage had been
But within the fort and the glade which surrounded
it a gruesome sight awaited them. The palisade pockmarked with bullets and breached in many places, the
oozing, muddy water of the well scraped in the clay soil
within, the scalps left dangling from the picket tops, and
the charred remains scattered around the place of torture
on the river bank — all spoke of a terrible tragedy but
recently enacted there.
"The worst of it was," says Radisson, "the French
had no water, as we plainly saw, for they had made a hole
in the ground out of which they could get but little because the fort was on a hill. It was pitiable. There was
not a tree but what was shot with bullets.   The Iroquois 46 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
had rushed to make a breach — the French set fixe to a
barrel of powder to drive the Iroquois back — but it fell
inside the fort. Upon this the Iroquois entered, so that
not one of the French escaped. It was terrible for we came
there eight days after the defeat."
It was not until Radisson reached Montreal that he
learned the full story of the famous stand of Daulac and
his sixteen comrades at the foot of the Long Sault. Had
Radisson arrived but a few days earlier on the scene, the
heroes who had saved New France might have been saved
At Three Rivers the two explorers were greeted by their
friends and relatives for whom their two years' absence
had been a long and anxious time. At Quebec, the capital,
they were received like generals returning from a victory. Flags fluttered up to mastheads in salute, church
bells pealed out, and cannon thundered forth a welcome.
The Governor gave them gifts and they were f&ted
IV. Radisson and Groseilliers in the North
For the rest of the year Radisson lived quietly with his
parents at Three Rivers. Most men would have been
content with achievements such as his. He had done
valorous deeds and had built up a lasting fame as an explorer. But Radisson was not yet twenty-six years of age.
The hot blood of youth still ran in his veins. He thirsted
for still more adventure. He was filled with the passion
of penetrating yet further into the great unknown regions ^
Early Explorers
of the continent. He had been to the west — he must
now go to the north. And Groseilliers was equally ready
and eager for the quest.
From the Indians who came down the St. Maurice and
the Saguenay year after year with their precious burden
of furs for trade, the French heard continually of a certain "great Bay of the North." They guessed, of course,
that this was no other than the bay discovered by Henry
Hudson half a century before. But as yet the English
had-taken no advantage of their discovery. Clearly the
region about this northern sea was rich beyond all dreams
in furs. The Frenchman first to find the route overland
to it would reap the reward of both fame and wealth.
Now from the Crees about the shores of Lake Superior
Radisson and Groseilliers had heard the same tale, and
the Indians had claimed that every summer they went
to hunt on this "Bay of the North." The two adventurers,
therefore, determined to try to reach it overland by travelling with the Crees.
But when they asked the Governor, D'Avaugour, for
permission to go on this voyage of discovery, they at once
encountered difficulty. He would give the explorers a
license to engage in the fur trade only on condition of their
sharing half of their profits with him, and to trade without
a license might mean fine, imprisonment, or even death.
Radisson and Groseilliers, however, were men who would
not hesitate to take a risk. They were resolved neither to
submit to be thus plundered by the selfish Governor nor
to give up their expedition.    So, late one night in August, 48 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
1661, they embarked in their canoes at Three Rivers and,
in defiance of the Governor, set out again to try their
fortunes in the wilderness.
It was October before they reached Lake Superior and
began coasting westward along the south shore. They were
now in a region untraversed before by white men. Radisson
heard from the Indians of the rich Superior copper mines
and gazed upon the famous pictured rocks. Of the stone
arch he says : "I gave it the name of St. Peter because that
was my name and I was the first Christian to see it."
At the western extremity of the Lake they struck inland, and, somewhere near where the boundary between
Minnesota and Ontario now lies, they constructed the
first fort and trading post in all the West. It was a rather
crude structure, hurriedly built in two days with logs
hewn from the surrounding forest. It was triangular in
shape with the base resting on the river, and it was roofed
over with a thatch of interlaced branches.
The situation of the two traders thus isolated in the wilderness was not without its perils. They had stores of powder, shot, and goods for trade that might easily tempt the
Indians to attack and murder them. To prevent a surprise, Radisson had recourse to that ingenuity which had
so often saved him in difficult situations. He strung
cunningly concealed cords through the grass and branches
about the fort, so that neither man nor beast could approach without blundering into them. To the strings
he then attached little bells which would ring out at the
slightest disturbance    More than once in the long winter   Early Explorers
nights that followed, the little garrison stood to arms when
the tinkling bells warned them of the presence of prowling
wild beast or of marauding Indian.
As the news of the presence of the white men spread
through the northern woods more and more Indians came
to visit- them. So Radisson thought it wise to take a
further precaution. Constructing little tubes of dry
birch bark he filled them with gunpowder and arranged
them in a circle around the fort. Then one night, in the
presence of the Indians, he suddenly seized a brand from
the fire and applied it to the fuse. To the amazement and
terror of the onlookers, the fire ran sputtering and leaping
along the ground till the whole fort was inclosed with a
protecting ring of flame. That was enough. The white
men were the masters of magic arts. Thenceforth they
and their goods were inviolate.
As the winter wore on, four hundred Crees arrived with
an invitation to visit their encampment which lay still
farther north-west towards the land of the Assiniboines,
now Manitoba. The explorers accepted. "We went
away," says Radisson, "free from any burden, while
those poor miserables thought themselves happy to carry
our equipage in the hope of getting a brass ring, an awl,
or a needle. They made a great noise calling us gods and
devils. We marched four days through the woods. The
country was beautiful with clear parks." They were
welcomed by the Crees with feasts and dancing, and they
soon won their way to the hearts -of their Indian hosts
by generous gifts of trinkets.
j 5o
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
And now one of the most trying ordeals of forest life
descended on the travellers. Heavy rains were followed
by an enduring frost that formed a hard ice crust over the
snow. This confined and killed the rabbits, grouse, and
other small animals on which the larger game fed. The
Indians are always improvident, and they had laid up no
reserve store of food.    Game had been scarce before and
A Group of Cree Indians.
now it quite disappeared. Soon famine, the dread of
winter in the North, began to stalk through the camp of
the Crees and take its toll of life. The women and children suffered first, the selfish warriors snatching the food
out of their hands to appease their own hunger. Then,
as the scarcity increased, they had to dig down through
the snow to get roots from the frozen ground. They
boiled the bark of trees and the bones from the waste heap
to get a sort of soup.   At last the only food left was the
mm m*
Early Explorers 51
buckskin that had been tanned for clothing. "We ate
it so eagerly," writes Radisson, "that our gums did bleed.
We became the image of death. Good God, have mercy
on these innocent people: have mercy on us who acknowledge Thee!' Five hundred Crees died of want in a
few weeks, and it was not till early spring came that game
reappeared, and the frail, emaciated survivors, who could
scarcely drag themselves from their tepees, began to recover their strength.
For six weeks in the spring Groseilliers and Radisson
hunted buffalo and deer in the land of the Sioux. Then
they returned to accompany the Crees in their journey to
the "great Bay of the North." For many days they travelled on rivers flowing northward. "We were in danger
a thousand times from the ice jam," Radisson records.
"At last we came fullsail on a deep bay. We came to
the seaside where we found an old house all demolished
and battered with bullets. We went from isle to isle
all that summer. We went further to see the place that
the Indians were to pass the summer. The river came
from the lake that empties itself in the Saguenay, a hundred leagues from the great river of Canada, to where
we were in the Bay of the North. We passed the summer
quietly coasting the seaside. The people here burn not
their prisoners, but knock them on the head. We went
up another river to the Upper Lake."
Such is Radisson's account of his summer's journeyings
in 1662. It is vague, and, consequently, many quarrels
have arisen as to where he actually went.    Some claim 52 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
that he got only as far as Lake Winnipeg and that the
Upper Lake to which he returned was the Lake of the
Woods. Others contend that he actually reached Hudson
Bay overland and that the Upper Lake was Lake Superior.
But this we know, that in the spring of 1663 Radisson and
Grosseilliers descended the Ottawa at the head of seven
hundred warriors and with three hundred and sixty canoes
loaded with one of the richest cargoes of furs ever brought
to Quebec. We know, too, that the explorers were convinced that they had reached Hudson Bay, because it
was their proclaimed design to return to this El Dorado
of the fur trade, not overland this time, but by Hudson
Strait in large sea-going ships with which it would be
possible to carry on a much greater trade than could be
done with mere flotillas of canoes.
But in this project they were destined to meet many
checks. They had left the colony against the Governor's
orders. They had traded without a license. Groseilliers was thrown for a time into prison. They were fined
$50,000, and $70,000 worth of their furs was seized as a
government tax. Out of a cargo worth probably $300,000,
the explorers were left for themselves only a paltry $20,000.
Groseilliers at once sailed for France to secure justice,
but the influence of the Governor with the court was too
strong for him, and he failed. Then the two explorers
- secretly took passage to Anticosti and thence to Isle Per-
cee in the Guff of St. Lawrence, where a French merchant
1 had promised to send a vessel in which they could make the
voyage to Hudson Bay.   But the ship failed to appear.
mm Early Explorers
Afraid to return to Canada lest they should 'be punished
for their attempt to sail to the Bay without a license, they
turned south to Acadia. There at Port Royal they met
Zachariah Gillam, a New England sea captain from Boston,
whom they persuaded to attempt the voyage to Hudson
Bay. But the season was late, and off the coast of Labrador the captain turned back, despairing of being able
to make the passage of the Strait.
In Boston, however, they were persuaded to try to in-
duce the English king to sanction their project and English merchants to back it with their money. So on August
ist, 1665, Radisson and Grosseilliers sailed from Nantucket for London with Sir George Carterett, who had
promised to befriend them with the king. Unfortunately,
at that time England was at war with Holland, and the
Dutch warship, Caper, after a desperate two hours' battle,
captured the English vessel and her French passengers.
The prisoners were landed in Spain, and it was not until
early in 1666 that the two French adventurers set foot at
last on English soil.
V.  The Founding of the Great Company
It was the year of the Great Plague. Grass grew in
the deserted streets of London. Where once the roar of
traffic had resounded and traders hawked their wares,
there was now heard only the dread rumbling of the death
carts and the mournful, echoing cry, "Bring out your
dead!" From the afflicted city the king and his court
had fled for safety to Oxford, and thither the Frenchmen 54
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
followed them, where they were formally presented to
His Majesty, King Charles II.
Great was the interest with which the king and his
friends heard Radisson tell the story of his boyhood
adventures among the Iroquois and of the wanderings
of Groseilliers and himself in the wonderland of the
North-West. But when the
explorers told of the immense
cargo of furs which they had
brought down to Quebec on
their last voyage and unfolded their plan of an expedition by sea into Hudson
Bay, the interest of their
listeners grew even more intense. Here, if the adventurers' tale were true, was
the very seat and centre of
the fur trade. Here, lying
unclaimed in the bleak, unpeopled North, was wealth
that rivalled the gold and silver of Mexico and Peru.
To the king and his friends the prospect of acquiring
these fabulous riches was enchanting. Radisson and
Groseilliers at once found themselves in high favor.
When the court moved back to Windsor, the king assigned them each £2 a week for maintenance, and a little
later he ordered the Admiralty to place the ship Eaglet
at their   disposal  for a voyage   to   Hudson Bay.    His
Prince Rupert, First Governor of
the Hudson's Bay Company. Early Explorers 55
Majesty also presented each of them with a gold chain
and a medal and commended them graciously to the
"gentleman adventurers of Hudson's Bay." Foremost
among these, and one of their most enthusiastic friends,
was that gallant old soldier and sailor Prince Rupert,
the king's cousin, whose love of adventure and desire of
repairing his fortunes led him to lend his great influence
to the undertaking. Other courtiers and some wealthy
merchants of London, who had now become interested
in the venture, added to the Eaglet a second ship, the
Nonsuch, under Captain Gillam. During the winter of
1667-68 the little knot of "merchant adventurers"
held many a close conference at the Goldsmiths' Hall or
at Whitehall and put their heads together over many a
merry banquet at the Three Tunns Tavern and the Sun
Coffee House. At last, after the consumption of "divers
pipes of canary" and "dinners with pullets," and after
much making merry "like right worthy gentlemen" the
expedition stood ready at the Gravesend docks to set
forth upon that enterprise which was to build for Britain
in the New World an empire almost as large as Europe
Their instructions are quaint and interesting. "You
are to saile," they run, "with the first wind that presents
itself, keeping company with each other to your place of
rendezvous. You are to saile to such place as Mr Gooseberry (the English name for Groseilliers) and Mr Radisson
shall direct to trade with the Indians there. You are to
have in your thought the discovery of the passage into I
56 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
the South Sea and to attempt it with the advice and direction of Mr Gooseberry and Mr Radisson. Lastly, we
advise and require you to use the said Mr Gooseberry
and Mr Radisson with all manner of civility and courtesy and to take care that all your company doe bear a
particular respect unto them, they being the persons upon
whose credit wee have undertaken this expedition.
" Which we beseech Almighty God to prosper
Signed — Rupert Albemarle
Craven G. Carterett
J. Hayes P. Colleton |
And now Groseilliers and Radisson had left behind
kings and courts, cities and greedy, plotting merchants.
The fresh, salt air of the sea was in their nostrils, and their
faces were set towards that life of the wild, free woods
which they loved. But disappointment was in store for
one of them. Fierce storms arose. The little Nonsuch,
with hatches battened down and head held firmly to the
wind, rode fight as a cork over the great billows. Not so
the heavier and more unwieldy Eaglet. Wave after wave
caught her broadside on, and>, when the storm subsided,
she was left with her decks sprung, her masts by the board,
and her consort lost. There was nothing for it but to
turn back, and late in September, 1668, the Eaglet, with
the chafing Radisson aboard, limped lamely into dock in
the Thames.
In the meanwhile Groseilliers and Gillam on the Nonsuch made a quick and easy passage into the Bay, reaching
EK* Early Explorers 57
Digges Island on August 19th. For seven weeks they
coasted due south and then came to anchor in a bay off a
river mouth. They called the river Rupert River in honor
of their princely patron, and the rude, stockaded log fort
which they hurriedly built on shore they named Fort
Charles, after the king. They were the first to penetrate
to this remote corner of the Great Bay since Hudson's
famous voyage of 1610—11, and Fort Charles on the
east shore of James Bay was the first permanent post to
be erected on Canada's great North Sea. Such was the
humble beginning of that Trading Company which was
to right out bloody feuds with French and Canadian
rivals, whose imperial power was destined to expand until
it embraced half the continent, and which to-day, after
the passage of two hundred and fifty years, is still active
and prosperous.
That rigorous, biting winter that had been so terrible
to Hudson and other early voyagers did not daunt in the
least Groseilliers, the forest ranger, and Gillam, the New
Englander. The ship was beached on a sand bar and
protected from ice jams by barriers of logs. They had an
abundance of stores, firewood was at hand for the cutting,
and through the long northern winter they lived snugly
enough in their fort.
From previous explorers the Indians had hung suspiciously aloof, but Groseilliers on his snowshoes visited
their distant encampments. He found that they were
Crees, like those Indians with whom he and Radisson had
traded on the shores of Lake Superior.   Thus, knowing
j f
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
their ways and readily speaking their tongue, he soon won
their friendship. A brisk trade in furs sprang up, and
when, in the spring of 1669, the ice broke up and the little
Nonsuch spread her sails for England, she carried that
within her hold which was calculated to make glad the
hearts of her "merchant adventurer" masters.
Just how rich the cargo of the Nonsuch was we do not
know, for there is no record left. But we do know that
it was such as to cause the owners to apply to the king
with the utmost dispatch and secrecy for a royal charter
granting them the sole right to all trade and rule in the
regions about Hudson Bay. The venture had been successful. The "adventurers'1 must now be formally organized, and their position must be made secure. On
May 2nd, 1670, King Charles granted a charter incorporating "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of
England Trading into Hudson's Bay."
At the head of the charter stand the names of the applicants, among them Prince Rupert, the Duke of Albemarle, the Earl of Craven, Lord Arlington, Lord Ashley,
Sir Philip Carterett, Sir Robert Viner, Lord Mayor of
London, and other noblemen and merchants. "Whereas,"
runs the famous document, "these have at their own great
cost and charges undertaken an expedition for Hudson's
Bay for the discovery of a passage to the South Sea and
for trade, and have humbly besought us to incorporate
them and to grant unto them and their successors the
whole trade and commerce of all those seas, straits, bays,
rivers, creeks and sounds in whatsoever latitude that lie • uniM
Early Explorers 59
within the entrance of the straits called Hudson's Straits
together with all the lands, countries and territories upon
the coasts and confines of the seas, straits, bays, lakes,
rivers, creeks and sounds not actually possessed by the
subjects of any other Christian State, know ye that we
have given, granted, ratified, and confirmed'1 the said
grant. "And furthermore,' it continues, "of our own
ample and abundant grace we have granted not only the
whole, entire and only liberty of trade to and from the
territories aforesaid, but also the whole and entire trade
to and from all havens, bays, creeks, rivers, lakes, and
seas unto which they shall find entrance either by water
or by land out of the territories aforesaid."
The shareholders of the mighty Company thus formed
were bound by a strict oath of faithfulness and secrecy.
"I doe sweare," so it ran, "to be true and faithful to ye
Comp'y of Adventurers; ye secrets of ye said Comp'y
I will not disclose, nor trade to ye limits [limitation] of
ye said Comp'y's charter. So help me God." Like
oaths of fidelity were exacted from the employees of the
Company. The shareholders elected to conduct the
Company's affairs a Governing Committee and a Governor. The first Governor was Prince Rupert; the second,
James, Duke of York, later James II; the third, Lord
Churchill, afterwards the famous Duke of Marlborough.
Thus the Merry Monarch, with royal munificence,
granted to his friends a vaster domain than any one then
dreamed of. Under the warrant of this royal charter the
dominion of the Company was to spread north and west 6o
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
and south from the shores of Hudson Bay, till it met the
power of Russia in distant Alaska and at last reached the
Southern Sea in far off California. Over this vaguely
defined region which the Company might penetrate, it
was given wide powers of government. It could build
forts, employ seamen, make laws and punish for the
breach of them. It could also expel and punish poachers
on its trading rights. It could even make war upon any
"Prince or People whatsoever that are not Christians
for the benefit of the said Company and its trade." Over
all their territory the Governor and Company were to
be "true and absolute lords," with the obligation of paying in sign of allegiance to the king of England whenever
he should visit their domains "two elks and two black
At the head of this royal charter of trade and government which for two hundred years was to mold the destiny
of half of North America there stood the names of noble
lords and London merchant princes. But though they
have the pride of place, it is not rightly theirs. It is true
the courtier lent his influence and the merchant risked his
gold — and these were necessary things. But the greatness of the Great Company has other and deeper foundations than these. At the head of its charter should really
stand the names of the men in whose minds the project
had its birth and by whose dauntless courage it was carried
out in the wilds of the New World. Though history has
long slighted and neglected them, none the less the real
founders of the Hudson's Bay Company were the two M
Early Explorers 61
penniless but resolute French adventurers, Chouart des
Groseilliers and Pierre Radisson.
VI.  Radisson and Groseilliers Fight the Company
Though dissatisfied with the slight recognition that had
been given them, yet Groseilliers and Radisson continued
in the Company's service and in June, 1670, they were
off once more for the Bay, with three ships, the Waveno,
the Shaftesbury Pink, and the Prince Rupert. Radisson
seems to have been the general superintendent of trade,
of which Fort Charles was the chief centre. But in 1670,
coasting westward in the little Waveno, Radisson came to
that point where the two great rivers, the Nelson and the
Hayes, pour their waters side by side into the Bay. His
quick eye at once saw that this was a stategic point. Down
these rivers came the Crees and the Assiniboines each
spring from the region of Superior and the Lake of the
Woods. Here too was a commodious double harbor,
where whole fleets.of ships might ride at easy anchorage.
This was the best place on the entire Bay for the headquarters of the fur trade, and Radisson at once landed
on the tongue of land between the river mouths and there
erected the arms of the English king. A little later a
rude fort was constructed, and a prosperous trade began, j
But in 1672 and 1673 it was observed with alarm by
the English at Fort Charles that fewer and fewer Indians
were coming down the rivers to trade. What could be
the reason? It was soon discovered that the French were
pushing north from Canada, intercepting the Indians on t
62 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
their way to the Bay, and offering them better prices for
their furs. Growing angry and suspicious, some of the
English traders began to charge Groseilliers and Radisson, who had received some letters from Canada^, with
being in secret league with their rivals. The two Frenchmen, on their part, resolved to return to England and lay
the whole matter before the Company.
It is quite possible that the letters from Canada to
Radisson and Groseilliers did hold out tempting offers for
their services, for they pressed the Company of Adventurers firmly for better terms. At last, after long debate,
the Governing Committee voted that "there be allowed to
Mr Radisson £100 per annum in consideration of services,
out of which shall be deducted what hath already been
paid him; and if it pleases God to bless the Company with
good success hereafter that they come to be in a prosperous condition, then they will reassume consideration."
Thus at the very time when the Company was making
profits of from fifty to one hundred per cent, it refused to
the men who had laid the foundation of its fortunes the
position of shareholders. It would treat them only as
servants and pay them a mere pittance for a wage. Ingratitude could not go further. In the fall of 1674 Groseilliers and Radisson left England and returned to France.
Till 1679 Radisson served as an officer in the French
Navy, but his promotion to high command was barred
by the fact that his loyalty was suspected because he had
married an English lady, the daughter of Sir John Kirke,
a prominent shareholder in the Company of Adventurers.
•* l|i win e Early Explorers 63
Then, too, the spell of the woods was ever strong upon
him, so when, in 1679, he met La Chesnaye, an old friend
and fur trader, who proposed to equip a French expedition to compete with the English on Hudson Bay, Radisson at once fell in with the scheme.
Soon we find him in Canada completing arrangements
with Groseilliers, who had been living quietly for some
time at Three Rivers. Jean Chouart, Groseilliers' son,
joined his father and uncle in the adventure. The two
explorers spent the winter of 1681-82 in Acadia, and
then in the spring went with the fishing fleet to Isle Percee,
whither La Chesnaye had promised to send the ships for
the expedition. In July they arrived — but what ships!
The St. Pierre, named after Radisson, a sloop of fifty
tons, and the Ste. Anne, an even smaller vessel, were both
poorly built to buffet the northern ice, and were manned
by only twenty-five seamen who were both mutinous and
inexperienced. Men of less heroic temper would have
turned back, but not so the two French voyageurs. At
once heading for the north, they passed through Belle
Isle, coasted the treacherous Labrador, and entered the
icy maelstrom of Hudson Strait. "Wee had," writes
Radisson, "much adoe to recover out of the ice, and had
like divers times to have perished, but God was pleased
to preserve us." Twice the crews mutinied, but each
time the courage and tact of Radisson met the crisis, and
they continued their course. By August 26th they had
cleared the Strait, crossed the Bay, and had come to anchor
at the mouth of a great river which the Indians called 64 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Ka-Kiwa-Kiouay, "Who comes, who goes," referring to
the ebb and flow of the tide. This was no other than the
Hayes River. A few miles to the north lay the Nelson.
It was this ideal situation, which Radisson had before
visited and claimed for the English king, that he now
claimed for France and resolved to make the seat of the
French fur trade on the Bay.
They sailed up the Hayes River about fifteen miles,
and then in a creek on the north shore made their ships
snug for the winter. While Groseilliers took charge of
the erection of a fort, which in honor of the French king
they called Fort Bourbon, Radisson and Jean canoed
up the river for about fifty miles to get into touch with
the Indians. After eight days they met a party under
an old chief. His greeting was friendly. Armed with
spear, club, and bow, he stood up in his canoe, drew an
arrow from his quiver, and, having aimed it to the east,
west, north, and south, he broke it in two in token of
peace and cast it into the river. Then he burst out into
a chant of greeting —
"Ho, young man, be not afraid!
The sun is favorable to us!
Our enemies shall fear us!
This is the man we have wished
Since the days of our fathers."
Radisson with great readiness at once replied in Cree —
"I know all the earth!
Your friends shall be my friends!
*IP  if
I 1 Agnes Laut has thus arranged these speeches in rhythmic form in
imitation of the Indian manner of chanting a speech. For this story in
greater detail see her books, the " Pathfinders of the West " and the | Conquest of the Great North West."
Early Explorers 65
I come to bring you arms to destroy your enemies!
Nor wife nor chijd shall die of hunger!
For I have brought you merchandise ■
Be of good cheer!
I will be thy son 1
I have brought thee a father!
He is yonder below building a fort
Where I have two great ships!" 1
Gifts were exchanged, vows of eternal friendship were
pledged, and the Indians promised to bring all their furs
down to the fort. With this happy beginning made for
their trade, Radisson and Jean rejoined their companions.
One day, however, when they were all busily at work,
what was their surprise to hear the boom of cannon suddenly echoing through the wilderness. Who could it be?
They must find out quickly, for in the fur trade every
stranger was a rival and probably a foe. Radisson took
canoe and glided cautiously down the Hayes to the Bay.
Nothing there. The ship, then, must have ascended the
other river, the Nelson. Further firing of cannon, intended no doubt to attract the Indians for trade, confirmed this guess.
Returning at once to the fort, Radisson selected three
of his trustiest men. The creek, on which the St. Pierre
and Ste. Anne lay, ran across the marshy neck of land 66
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
between the Hayes and the Nelson and joined the two
rivers. Paddling and portaging along this stream the
little party reached the Nelson and then stole silently
down towards its mouth. Halfway to the' Bay they came
upon the stranger anchored at Seal Island, on which a
rough fort was already under construction. She was a
stout ship called the Bachelor's Delight, well manned, and
armed to the teeth with cannon which bristled through
her portholes.
Radisson saw in a flash that he could not openly fight
the newcomer. He. must have recourse to stratagem.
A parley soon revealed the fact that the Bachelor's Delight
was not a ship of the English Company, but a New Eng-
lander illegally poadiing in the Company's territories.
She was commanded by Ben Gillam, son of that Zachariah
Gillam who was one of the Company's most trusted Captains. Was it possible that they were conspiring together
to cheat the Adventurers?
By instinct Radisson saw that the boldest course was
the safest. He introduced himself and fearlessly went
aboard. The two commanders drank each other's health.
Radisson posed as the leader of a large expedition from
Canada. He had a big party and a large fort inland and
had won the allegiance of the Indians. Gillam might
remain safely under his protection, and neither soldiers
nor Indians would molest him or his men so long as they
did not stray far from the ship. Thus condescendingly
Radisson spoke. "We parted after that," he says, "well
satisfied with each other, he fully convinced that I had the Early Explorers
force of which I had boasted, and I resolved to keep him
in this good opinion, having the design to oblige him to
retire, or if he persisted in annoying me in my trade, to
await a favorable opportunity of seizing his ship."
But troubles thickened. So that Gillam might not
know in what direction his camp lay, Radisson continued
his way down the Nelson, when, to his amazement, at its
mouth he beheld a full-rigged ship flying the Company's
colors and commencing to ascend the river. At all costs
the two English parties must be kept apart, for if they
joined together the French would be completely outnumbered and at their mercy. Landing unperceived on
the south shore, Radisson and his men built a great bonfire as though they were Indians signalling the ship to
stop and trade. This trick succeeded. The vessel reefed
sails and came to anchor.
Next morning a boat was sent ashore. In it were Captain Zachariah Gillam and John Bridgar, the new Governor, sent out in the ship Prince Rupert to found a permanent
Hudson's Bay post on the Nelson River. When, instead
of Indians, they found Radisson and his men on the beach
with loaded muskets levelled at their heads they were dumbfounded. Radisson played the same game as before. |f He
introduced his three men as the captains of large ambushed parties. He went aboard the English ship and
dined as though the forces at his back were so strong that
he had nothing to fear. He parted from them in friendly
fashion, advising them not to ascend the river farther for
fear of conflict with the French and Indians.    For his 68 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
part he would do his best to hold his men in check and
restrain the natives. Again his boldness was rewarded.
The English prepared to construct a fort and winter where
they were. Thus for the time being the wily old Indian-
fighter kept the two English forces apart. Only singly
could he hope to crush them.
To make doubly sure, however, Radisson told young
Gillam of the arrival of the Company's ship, and when he
made his next visit to the Prince Rupert, with the coolest
daring he took Ben along with him in disguise to see his
father. The son could now be trusted to prevent his
men from straying down the Nelson towards the Company's ship, while the father to prevent the detection and
punishment of his son would see to it that the Company's men did not penetrate up the river to the poachers'
For a time this worked well. Then a disaster occurred.
The Prince Rupert, caught in the drive of tidal ice at the
river mouth, was crushed like an eggshell and sunk. With
her went down Captain Zachariah Gillam, fourteen men,
and nearly all the provisions.
Young Gillam now no longer needed to fear the Company's force, while he was becoming extremely suspicious
of the strength of the French. To spy out their numbers
he expressed a desire to pay them a friendly visit. Radisson craftily consented, and in person went to escort him.
For a month young Gillam enjoyed the hospitality of
the French. They treated him courteously, but he became more and more insolent as he discovered their weak-
■UJU Early Explorers
ness. Then he tried to depart — only to find himself a
prisoner. The young spy himself had been trapped by an
older and slyer hand at the game of war.
The next step was to capture the poacher's ship and
fort by surprise. As Gillam watched Radisson preparing
to set out through the winter woods with his handful of
men, he sneered at their foolhardiness.
"Had you a hundred men instead of twenty," he said,
"you might have some chance."
"How many are in the fort?" demanded the angered
"Nine," he replied, "and they could kill forty of you
before you could reach the palisade."
"Choose you an equal number of my men, myself included," cried Radisson, "and I promise to give a good
account both of you and your ship in two days."
Gillam at once complied, and Radisson with eight men
at his back set out on his perilous undertaking. Half
a league from the fort two of the men were sent ahead.
They were to tell the sentries that Radisson and Gillam
were coining a little distance behind. Thus they would
gain entrance to the fort, and with the French hostage,
who had been left there to guarantee Gillam's safety,
they were to watch the guardhouse and keep the gate
open for the entry of Radisson's party, which would be at
hand to rush in by surprise. The plan was completely
successful. The fort was in French possession before the
garrison could even resist, and the ship was won by a
like bloodless victory. 7o
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
In the meanwhile Bridgar had learned of the ship and
the fort above him on the Nelson River. At first he
thought that they belonged to the French, but now he
learned that they were really those of an English poacher.
But they were at least English, and here was his chance
to overpower the French. Gathering his ragged, half-
starved forces together, he made the march up the*river
to join hands with his countrymen. At his summons the
fort gates swung back and he and his men marched in
— only to hear the doors clash to behind them and to
find themselves surrounded and overpowered by the
Radisson was now complete master of the situation.
But he was as humane and honorable in his hour of triumph as he had been cunning and bold in the hour of
danger. He fed Bridgar's famishing men from his own
stores. When the Crees and Assiniboines came down to
the Bay in the spring and found sixty Englishmen in the
hands of a score of Frenchmen, they offered Radisson two
hundred beaver skins to be allowed to massacre the
prisoners. But he stood the savages off. Some of
the prisoners were sent in the Ste. Anne to the Company's posts in the south on James Bay. The St. Pierre
had been wrecked in the spring ice, so the remaining
prisoners were placed in Gillam's ship, the Bachelor's
Delight, in which the voyage back to Quebec was to be
All winter Groseilliers and his son had been driving a
profitable trade, and in the spring the Indians from the Early Explorers 71
south came in with a great wealth of furs. These were
safely stowed in the hold, and then, leaving Jean with a
small party to hold the fort and continue the trade, Groseilliers and Radisson set sail for New France. Once
again they had performed prodigies of valor and endurance
in the wilderness. Once more they came to anchor beneath the citadel of Quebec with a vast fortune in furs
as their reward.
VII. Radisson Returns to England
Always success and prosperity seemed to wait upon the
explorers in the wilds, only to forsake them when they
returned to civilization and began to deal with merchants,
governments, and kings. Though the king himself had
given verbal sanction to their expedition, yet it had been
undertaken without formal license from the government
of New France. Therefore the grasping Governor, De
la Barre, urged on by jealous fur-trading rivals, confiscated their furs and restored the Bachelor's Delight to
Gillam. Moreover, while France and England were at
peace they had attacked the English on the Bay. Therefore, they were summoned to give an account of themselves
in Paris.
When they landed in France, the great statesman Colbert had died, and affairs had passed into the hands of
lesser men. The influence of the Governor and of the
rival merchants prevailed in the court, and all their petitions for justice were in vain. At last, wearied by the
struggle, the older   Groseilliers   gave it up   and retired 72
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
to spend the rest of his days at his home in Three Rivers.
But Radisson kept on. The French king had a secret
treaty with England which he feared would be broken
off if he backed up what the explorers had done. On the
other hand, if he openly confessed that they had been wrong
and punished them, it would mean the abandonment of
all claims by France to trade in the Bay. So Radisson
was ordered to return, as though by his own free will,
and informally deliver up to the English the posts on the
Hayes and the Nelson from which he had driven them.
Thus Louis hoped at the same time to be able to preserve
his secret treaty with England and maintain France's
claim to share in the trade of the Bay.
But for Radisson, robbed time and again of his hardly
won profits, to be asked in addition to undo that which
he had done for the honor and glory of France was too bitter
a task. The ingratitude of his king and his country made
him heartsick. Then, too, in England were his wife and
four children whom he loved dearly, while the Hudson's
Bay Company, through the English ambassador, was
making constant efforts to recover him for its service.
Lord Preston sent one of his officers, Captain Godey,
to call upon Radisson. He found the adventurer on the
third floor of a house in the Faubourg St. Antoine. His
lodgings were decked with numerous trophies and relics
of his American voyages, while a group of boon companions were busy drinking his health and listening to
the story of his adventures. "Radisson himself," Godey
says, "was apparelled more like a savage than a Chris- tian.
Early Explorers                           73
His black hair, just touched with gray, hung in a
wild profusion about his bare neck and shoulders. | He
showed a swart complexion, scarred and pitted by frost
and exposure in a rigorous climate. A huge scar, wrought
by the tomahawk of a drunken Indian, disfigured his left
cheek. His whole costume was surmounted by a wide
collar of marten's skin; his feet were buckskin moccasins. In his leather belt was sheathed a long
knife." Such was the picture of Radisson the ranger in
1684 — a strange, rugged, Western figure upon whom the
people of that day must have gazed with surprise and
curiosity, as he stalked through the streets of London
and Paris and waited upon the courts of Windsor and
Stung by the trickery and ingratitude of the French
and won back by the liberal promises of the English Company, Radisson now resolved to leave France. On May
10th, 1684, he landed in London. His first act was to take
the oath of allegiance to the English king — an oath which
to the day of his death he kept unbroken.
Well might the Merchant Adventurers rejoice that
Radisson had returned to their service. He had shown
that the two Frenchmen who had founded their Company
could as easily undermine its position. Now with Radisson once more on their side, they felt the future assured.
The Governing Committee met and voted him £100 per
annum and the dividends on £200 of stock which often
ran as high as fifty per cent. He was presented with a
purse for "his extraordinary services to their great liking n
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
and satisfaction." A dealer was commanded to "keep
Mr Radisson in stock of fresh provisions." A gift of a
"hogshead of claret" was sent him, while in token of the
high esteem of the Adventurers he was begged to accept
a silver tankard of the value of more than £10. He was
received in audience by the king himself, and was taken
by the Duke of York into the royal box at the theatre.
For a while Radisson was one of the
most noted men in all London.
Radisson's response to fair and
generous treatment was immediate.
In a short time he was ready to start
for the Bay with a fleet of three
ships. There he induced young Jean
Groseilliers to abandon his fort, and
everywhere on the Bay the power of
the English Company was reestablished. On Radisson's return in November he was publicly
thanked and given a purse of one hundred guineas.
For ten years Radisson stood high in favor and continued
to make trips for the Adventurers to Hudson Bay. Then
came a change. War broke out with France after the fall
of the Stuarts, and Radisson the Frenchman was held in
distrust. The daring Canadian, D'Iberville, raided the
Bay, and the Company's dividends ceased. New shareholders now controlled the Company's stock, few of whom
knew the name and the deeds of Radisson. His pension
was cut in half. He was an old man now, but he remained
to the end a fighter.   He sued the Company in the courts
Skin for Son," Coat of
Arms and Motto, Hudson's Bay Company. Early Explorers
and won. His salary and all the arrears were paid in full,
but that was reward meagre enough for all his services.
Till 1710 the books of the Company show that Radisson's
pension was regularly paid. Then in the minute book of
the Governing Committee we find the entry, " Att a Comitte
the 12 th July, 1710 — The Secretary is ordered to pay
Mr Radisson's widow as charity the sum of £6." The
tireless old rover of the woods and sea had gone forth on
his last long journey.
No soaring monument marks the last resting place of
Radisson or of Groseilliers — though lesser men have
such. But that is just as well, for a wise old Greek states-1
man, Pericles, has truly said that "the whole earth is
the sepulcher of famous men," and that the memorials of v
them are "graven not on stone but in the hearts of mankind." The mighty regions which they pioneered, the\
imperial Company which they really founded — these
form their most fitting monument.
# \
Hudson's Bay Company Coins, Made of Lead Melted from Tea Chests
at York Factory, Each Coin Representing so Many Beaver Skins.
W ■•-'
On May 17th, 1684, Radisson, as we have seen, sailed in
the Happy Return to reestablish the English Company in
their fort on the Nelson River which he and Groseilliers
had seized. In the selfsame ship was a little lad, Henry
Kelsey, who was destined to be the pioneer explorer Jn^
land from Hudson Bay. Henry was a poor boy who had
grown up in the streets of London. TheF Company, in
search offilprentice lads for service at their posts in the Bay,
had picked him oil the streets and taken him into their
employ atasalafy of £8 a year and his keep. -~3f
Many an idle day m London Henry had haunted the
wharves and dockyards of the Thames, watching with
wistful eyes the ships as they set out on their long voyages
to strange, foreign lands. From the old salts who gathered
on the water-side, he had heard many a tale of pirates on
the Spanish Main, of adventures in the far-off Indies, of
slave-raiding on the coast of Africa, and of whale and seal
fishing in the Polar Seas. What would he not have given
to bear^arpart in such stirring deeds? And now he was
actually off on a voyage of thousands of miles and in the
same ship with the famous Frenchman, who had been received by the king and whose exploits had been the talk
■ 8o
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
of all London. Radisson had roamed and fought to his
heart's content over half a continent. And now he, too,
Henry Kelsey, London street arab, was bound for the
great Bay which was the gateway to the land of the savage,
painted redskin, the land of forest and stream, of hairbreadth adventure and of wonderful wealth from the fur
To a rousing cheer the Company's flag, with its white-
lettered "H. B. C," flutters up to the masthead, f An
extra ration of grog is served around to put all in a good
humor at the starting. The sailors chant their sea song
as they run briskly round the capstan. The anchor thus
hoisted aboard is made snug for the voyage. The sails are
spread. The water begins to ripple gently backwards
from the prow. Slowly the Gravesend docks begin to
recede. Godspeeds are called out and farewells are waved,
and the little .denizen of the London streets is off into
a new and wonderful world.
Little Henry had not lived by his wits in London for
nothing. He was yet but a half-grown lad, and his face had
not acquired the healthy bronze of the fife of the sea and
the woods, but he was irrepressibly active in body and
mind. Soon he had searched out every nook and cranny
in the entire vessel. He seemed to be everywhere about
the ship, and nothing escaped his sharp eyes. Now he
was aloft in the rigging, peering around the horizon for
the sails of strange ships. Now he was down in the galley,
coaxing the cook for dainties. He listened with eager ears
to the tales of the seamen in the forecastle, and, sometimes, \amWUJUP   &uuUU. ^. fijJA
Early Explorers 81
as Radisson paced the deck, he caught fragments of his adventures as they fell from his lips in his queer-spoken
Everything in the voyage delighted him. After his first
spell of seasickness was over, he loved to watch the little
ship make her way over the shouldering billows — now
engulfed in the trough between foam-capped summits,
and, next moment, with the spray dashing over the bow
and the scuppers awash, borne aloft like a cork towards
the crest of an on-coming wave. The lengthening days,
as the ship bore ever more to the north, filled him with
wonder. He was the first to observe the marvellous sight
of whales spouting in the distance, and the gambols of a
school of porpoises that followed the ship caused him infinite merriment. When they entered the Strait, he was
struck with amazement at the mountains of ice they encountered, drifting slowly out towards the ocean and
flashing back the sun's rays from a thousand dazzling
crystal points and surfaces. Past great ice floes on which
an occasional polar bear was espied, past Digges Island
with its myriad nesting wild fowl they went, and then
south-west across the Bay, until they cast anchor in the
mouth of the Nelson River. - t^v\^p —a_sW,
It was a scene strangely different from that which the
little lad had left behind him. Instead of the quiet estuary
of the Thames, the swirling, muddy current of the rapid
Nelson; instead of the peaceful, thatch-roofed villages, the
green hedges and the cultivated fields of Kent and Essex,
nothing but dreary swamp and sombre forest from the 82
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
water's edge far as the eye could see. Instead of London
with its church spires, palaces, and theatres, its marts and
warehouses, its maze of streets and busy thronging citizens
— instead of these, a ruined fort in a little clearing on the
shore, and all around a howling wilderness, the home of
wild beasts and scattered, wandering savages.
But the prospect did not appall the little apprentice lad
in the least. He was one of those happy spirits that make
themselves at home everywhere. He was all excited to
land and begin work, and he took his full boy's share in
the erection of the new fort and the preparations for trade
with the natives.
Then came the Indians — the Assiniboines from the
great Saskatchewan Valley — sweeping down the swift
current of the Nelson with their canoes loaded deep with
furs. Trade, in those days, was no simple matter. First
the Governor would adorn himself in all the finery of scarlet
coat and gold lace, and gird on his sword at his side. Then
all the musicians that the fort could muster were marshalled in front of the Governor, whose approach was thus
heralded by the blaring of bugles, the screaming of fifes,
and the thunderous roll of kettledrums. Behind, drawn
up fully armed in martial array, came all the Company's
men. Proceeding thus with full pomp to the Indian encampment, the Governor gave greeting to the chief and
his tribesmen, and the conference began. The chief, with
great professions of friendship, would present all his furs,
beaver and marten and fox, to the Governor as a gift,
while the latter responded with an equivalent gift of guns, Early Explorers 8^
powder, shot, blankets, hatchets, beads,. and other such
trinkets drawn from the Company's stores. Both then
puffed clouds of smoke from the peace pipe, and the two
parties went their ways satisfied.
But the rules of the Company's trade and the discipline
of its forts were exceedingly strict; none but the Governor
or chief trader could thus conduct trade. All others of
the Company's men were absolutely forbidden to hold any
converse with the Indians or to leave the fort to hunt with
them except by special permission. Only thus, the Adventurers thought, could they control all the trade and
keep their employees from getting fiirs for themselves,
thus cutting into their business.
But Kelsey was used to having his own way in the life of
the London streets, and all these rules irked him sorely —
not that he wished to cheat the Company and trade for
himself, but because, boy-like, he was full of curiosity
about this new land and its people, £fF*hw]o?>t no oppor-^
tunity to slip away from the fort and mix with the Indians,
whose friendship he soon won. They/were delighted with
the audacious white boy, who did not stand aloof from
them like the others, but visited them in their_ tepees,
went for hunts with tEem in the forest, and was quickly
learning to speak their tongue.
For some time this went on, either because Kelsey was
clever enough to conceal his pranks or because Governor
Geyer overlooked them on account of his youth. At last,
however, the Governor grew angry and sternly forbade
Kelsey to have anything more to do with the Indians.   But
^^^i^.y^»^'o^^»^^^ 84 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Henry again broke the rules, and, when the gates were
locked, he even climbed over the fort palisades to visit
his friends. For this the Governor, now in a rage, gave
him a thorough thrashing.
But this proved too much. Henry liked his Assiniboine
friends and_their wild, free life better than Governor Geyefp
his rules and his beatings. So, when the next day dawned,
no Kelsey appeared for his duties. High and low they
looked for him through the fort, and they sought in the
neighboring forest, but nowhere was he to be found. He
had vanished! The untracked wilderness had swallowed
him into its depths, and his friends at the fort gave him
up for lost.
Months passed and there came not a word of the acL
venturous lad. The French king and his Governor at
Quebec had now fully realized that if the English retained
their hold on the Bay, New France would be hemmed in
both north and south by their power. So, though England and France were as yet at peace, in the summer of
1686 a party of daring coureurs de bois, under the Chevalier
de Troyes and the dashing young French-Canadian, Pierre
Le Moyne D'Iberville, made the long journey across the
Height of Land and swooped suddenly down on the Bay.
The English were completely surprised. Fort Moose,
Fort Rupert, and Fort Albany all fell into the hands of the
French, and Nelson alone was left to the English Company.
Long ago Radisson and Groseilliers had urged the
Adventurers not to remain content with posts on the shores
of the Bay, but to penetrate far afield to the very heart Early Explorers
of the surrounding regions. Forts planted there would
both increase the Company's trade and make firm its grip
on the vast empire which King Charles had granted them.
But their plea had fallen on deaf ears. Now, however,
with three of their four forts in the hands of the French,
the Company, in order still to get furs, must either build
new posts inland or send far into the interior and persuade
more and more Indian tribes to come down with their pelts
to Fort Nelson. But who, of all the Company's servants,
had the knowledge and daring to accomplish successfully
this task?
Sueh was the situation wheft an Indian runner arrived
from inland at the fort. He bore a piece of birch bark on
which were "some weatherworn characters roughly written
with charcoal. The words were English. It was a message
from Henry Kelsey. He was alive and well and had
wandered far with the Indians. If the Governor would
only pardon him and let him come back, he would conduct
an exploring party for the Company and would bring down
to its fort many new tribes.
The Governor was overjoyed. Kelsey's pardon was
instantly dispatched. A little later he himself arrived at
the fort. Tall as a man he now was, and keen-eyed, hardy,
and bronzed from his life in the woods. Decked out in all
the trappings of an Indian brave, he stepped from his canoe
amid the warm greetings of his old friends at the fort.
But he was not alone. Close behind came a dusky Assiniboine maiden, whom he had married by Indian rites. At
first trie Governor would not let her enter the gates, but 86 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Kelsey stood by his wife and refused to enter alone. He
was too valuable a man for the Company to lose. Governor Geyer relented, and so Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey, as
they were laughingly styled, were received together into
the fort.
Henry Kelsey was now the hero of the hour at Fort
Nelson. Word of his exploits was sent back to England,
and in 1688 we find the Adventurers sending out orders to
Governor Geyer to dispatch "the boy, Henry Kelsey'1 to
Churchill River, "because we are informed he is a very
active lad, delighting much in Indians' company, being
never better pleased than when he is travelling amongst
them." There is no further record of what Kelsey did at
Churchill, b®fcprobably~he was sent to that river, where as
yet there was no fort, to bring the northern Chipewyan
Indians down to Fort Nelson for trade.
In 1691, however, Governor Geyer writes, "This summer I sent up Henry Kelsey, who cheerfully undertook the
journey, into the country of the Assinae Poets (the Assiniboines) with the Captain of that nation (that is, its Chief),
to call, encourage, and invite the remoter Indians to a
trade with us." Of this journey, the most important
achievement of his career, Kelsey has left us his own
record, which still may be seen at Hudson's Bay House
in London.
On July 15 th, 1691, a fleet of canoes shot out from behind Deering's Point and began to stem the rapid current
of the Nelson River. They were Stone or Assiniboine
Indians, starting back on the long trip from Fort Nelson Cr AHryy^J^ (AM***$fi*^it
Early Explorers
to their home in the Saskatchewan Valley. They bore
with them muskets and kettles and trinkets which they
had obtained by trade at the white man's fort on the Bay.
And with them, taking his turn with the rest at paddle
and portage, was a solitary white man. It was Henry
Kelsey, adventuring himself for a sec-
ond time into the wilds to the west of
Hudson Bay.
For three days they persevered against
the strong current and then, impatient
at their slow progress, Kelsey cached
his canoe and went on alone overland
ahead of his Indians.    The weather was
very dry, and game was exceedingly
scarce. As he had to rely for food on
what he could shoot, Kelsey was soon
in a serious position. After thirty hot
miles of tramping through the thick
brush he stumbled at last on three
Indian wigwams, but no one, man,
woman, or child, was at home. The
famishing hunter ransacked the encamp- ** AssiNIBOINE lN»IAN-
ment, but not a scrap of food could he find. A few berries
gathered in the bush stayed his hunger a little, but it was
with very great joy and relief that presently he heard
noises in the distance. It was the owners of the tepees
returning from hunting. They had shot ten swans and a
moose and were ready to share with the tired traveller.
They also were Assiniboine Indians, and in their company
J 88
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Kelsey journeyed on for eleven more days, until he rejoined
his own party. With them now were some Crees, and these
told him that the Naywatamee Poet Indians, whom Kelsey
especially wished to meet and bring down to Fort Nelson
for trade, had killed three Cree squaws in the spring, and
the two nations were now at war with each other.
For more than three hundred miles Kelsey's path had
lain through a forest country of spruce and pine.    Now the
trees changed to poplar and
birch, gradually growing thinner, until the party reached
the edge of the open plain.
It was August 19th when they*\
thus got clear of the woods   j
and found, stretching south- /
ward   and  westward   before V
them, the endless, rolling ex- \
panse of the prairie.   Buffalo
had been sighted on the preceding   day,   and now   they
were found roaming in such
great herds that all fear of.
famine was over.    During the day the men hunted, and at
evening the women went out to bring in and prepare the
meat for the feast.
Once, while out hunting, Kelsey fell asleep, exhausted
by the chase afoot through the long grass of the plain.
For hours he slumbered on, and when he awoke he was lost.
Not a companion was in sight.   The dust cloud, even,
A Monarch of the Plains. Early Explorers 89
raised by the hunters and buffalo, had settled again to the
plain. Around him, waist high and as far as he could see,
was nothing but the prairie grass, stirred into restless
billows by the summer wind. He wandered hopelessly
till dusk. Then the glare of the Indian camp fires in the
sky gave him his direction, and, late at night, he struggled
wearily into camp.
On another occasion, when the camp fire had been made
of dry moss, Kelsey suddenly awoke to find the grass all
around him alight and blazing furiously. Calling for help,
he managed by desperate efforts to smother and beat out
the flames, but the stock of his musket was badly burned.
Kelsey, however, was not at a loss. With his knife he soon
fashioned another, which did good service for the rest of
the trip.
After travelling for seven days across the prairie they
again came to a wooded land. It was here that Kelsey
had his dangerous encounter with the grizzlies, the most
formidable of all the beasts of the Great West. Se was
out hunting with an Indian when, ajl of a sudden, they
were conrronted"i3y two immensef bears. The bears were
as much surprised as the men by the meeting. ^They_- ad-^
vanced boldly, however, the fear of the rifle being unknown
to them, ^he terrified Indian at once bolted for a tree,
while Kelsey himself dashed into a clump of willows. The
bears pursued the Indian to his tree, and it would have
gone hard with him, had noTKelsey, by a lucky shot, killed
one of them. The other now made in the direction of the
white hunter, but unable to find him in the thick brush, go
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
turned back again to attack the Indian, when, with a
second shot, Kelsey stretched him beside his mate. Two
grizzly bears were no small bag for a few minutes' hunting.
Kelsey's credit now stood higher than ever with the Indians,
who, filled with admiration for his prowess with, the rifle,
named him Miss-top-ashish, which means, "the Little
Giant. J'
On August 24th they were joined by Wassha, a great
chief of the Assiniboines, and_the party now numbered
upwards of eighty tepees. On September nth they
reached the camp of the long-sought Naywatamee Poets.
Kelsey pitched his tent, filled his great peace pipe with
his best tobacco, and, with great ceremony, invited the
Naywatamee chieftain to pay him a visit. The chief came
in full state with his mightiest warriors at his back. On
behalf of the Great White .Chief of the Bay Kelsey pre-
senteaJiim 'Vith gifts — a laced coat, a cap, a gay sash, a
musket with powder and shot, knives, awls, and tobacco.
With these the chief was hugely delighted and readily
rjjgnnfcpd to meet his White Brother at Deering's Point
in the spring, and go down to Fort Nelson for trade.
Kelsey had now travelled from five to six hundred miles
inland from the Bay, and, as far as we can tell, was somewhere in what is now the Province of Saskatchewan, somewhat to the north of the great river. There, apparently,
he passed the winter among the Indians, inviting all whom
he met to trade with the Company and striving to make
peace among the warring tribes. For the Adventurers
wished the Indians to spend their powder and shot, not Early Explorers 91
dn each other, but in the hunt for the furs from which the
traders drew their wealth. Thus, in the spring of 1692,
Governor Geyer wrote home to the Governing Committee
in London: "Henry Kelsey came down with a good fleet
of Indians and hath travelled and endeavored to keep the
peace among them, according to my orders."
This success-M exploit of the one-time,street ragamuffin
of London now won him rapid promotion. Of all the
Company's men on the Bay he had the best knowledge of
the land and the.strongest control over the Indians. By
1697 ne nad risen to be Deputy Governor of Fort York at
thejnouth of the Hayes River, and in 1713 he was made
Governor of York Factory and thus became second in
command on the whole Bay. But his greatest claim to
fame is that, except for Radisson and Grosseilliers, he was
trie first white man to explore any part of the great North-
West, the first to visit the western Indian tribes, anoMhe
first to behold and hunt the buffalo, the mighty monarch
of the plains. Though the Adventurers for many a long
year yet were to rest content with forts on the shores of
Hudson Bay, none the less the journeys of Henry Kelsey,
'The Little Giant'; of the Assiniboines, foreshadow the
day when the Great Company was to wake from its slumber, shake off its sloth, and send its explorers and its trading bands to the uttermost confines of the vast territories
which by royal grant and charter were theirs.
>>tl/, SMt J%
More than two hundred years ago, in the little town of
Three Rivers on the banks of the great St. Lawrence,
Pierre de la Verendrye was born. He was a little French-
Canadian lad, and his father was Governor of the French
king's fort at Three Rivers. Pierre himself was but one
of ten children, and among so many brothers and sisters
he early learned to look out for himself and grew up a
sturdy, self-reliant little fellow.
Those were the days when Canada was still only a thinly
settled colony of France, and the dreaded Iroquois Indians
might swoop down at any time on the settlements, burning
and slaying as they went. To protect the people from
these savage foes, Three Rivers had a strong wall, defended
by cannon and a garrison of regular soldiers. It was no
wonder, then, that little Pierre, as he played about the fort,
should long to be a soldier too, when he grew up, and serve
the king of France.
His wish soon came true. In 1697, when he was only
twelve years old, he entered the French army as a cadet.
At the age of nineteen he took part in a wild raid of French
and Indians against the English colonies. Two years later
he went to France, where he fought against the English
95 96
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
and Dutch in Flanders. In one terrible battle he received
no less than nine wounds and was left for dead on the field.
But happily he escaped with his life, and, for his bravery,
he was raised to the rank of lieutenant.
After the war La Verendrye returned to Canada. A
long peace followed, and, as there was little chance of advance in the army, he took up the life of a fur trader. He
married Mademoiselle Dandonneau, the daughter of a
French gentleman, and they made their home on an island
in the St. Lawrence, near Three Rivers. There four sons
were born, who were to be the companions and helpers of
their father in his great work of exploring the mysterious
country of the Far West.
Even as a boy La Verendrye had been filled with wonder
at the tales of the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi
country, which were told by the explorers and hunters
who came to his father's house. As he sat and listened
by the great hearth fire of blazing logs, he had often dreamed
that some day he would go himself to these lands. Perhaps he might even visit the country beyond Lake Superior,
where white men had never yet been.
Now, in later life, with sons growing up around him, this
old desire once more took possession of him. With it came
the ambition, also, to travel right across the unknown land
and thus to win a way to that Western Sea which Carrier,
Champlain, La Salle, and many another brave Frenchman
had sought — and sought in vain. Could he succeed
where they had failed ? If he could, rich would be his own
reward, but above all great would be the honor for France. Sieur de la Verendrye.
From the statue in the Parliament Buildings,  Winnipeg 98 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
that he might discover. From the profits of the fur trade,
he must meet the expenses of his search for the Western
Sea as best he could.
This was a sorry arrangement for one whose sole thought
was to bring advantage and glory to his king and country.
But with great courage and patriotism, La Verendrye at
once spent all his own little fortune in fitting out his expedition. What more money he needed he obtained from
the selfish merchants of Montreal. Though they were
willing to spend notliing on finding the Western Sea, yet
they were very eager to share in the rich profits expected
from the fur trade. So at last, with their help, La Verendrye was ready to start.
Picture the scene on the river front of Montreal that
hot June day in 1731 when the little band of adventurers
said farewell. Their friends had flocked out through the
city gates to wish them Godspeed. There stood La Verendrye in the midst of the throng, his face flushed with
pride in the little expedition which he commanded. Now
at last he was to have the chance of doing the great things
of which he had dreamed in his boyhood. Beside him were
three of his sons, Jean, Pierre, and Francois. To their
boundless delight, their father had decided that they were
now old enough to go with him. There too was La Jeme-
raye, his nephew, a brave young officer who knew the
Indians and their ways, and already had been as far west
as the Mississippi.
Fifty experienced voyageurs formed the body of the
expedition.   Hardy men they were, clad in moccasins and Their Friends Wish Them Godspeed  Early Explorers 99
fringed buckskins, their long hair bound back by gaily
colored handkerchiefs. Strong of arm and quick of eye,
they were accustomed with light hearts to face the ever
present hardships and perils of stream, forest, and lurking
Indian. Now they stood ready beside the little fleet of
graceful birch canoes, which were deep laden with guns,
powder and balls, bright colored blankets and cotton cloth,
flints and steel, axes, tobacco, red war-paint, and beads of
every kind and hue. Such things as these the Indians
coveted, and for them would give the rich furs which were
to reward the merchants who had given money to La
Verendrye for his voyage.
And now the sharp word of command is given. The
men quickly take their places and seize their paddles.
Last to enter the canoes are La Verendrye and his lieutenants. Bon Voyage! call the people. Handkerchiefs
flutter farewell. Cheer answers cheer. Chanting one of
their quaint boat-songs the voyageurs bend to their work
with a will. At last they are off on their search for the
fabled Western Sea. Will they discover it and return
crowned with honor and laden with the riches of China
and Japan ? Or will they, too, like brave men before them,
find that the tale of a Sea of the West is but a will-of-the-
wisp, luring them on and on and deluding them with hopes
ever awakened but never satisfied ?
Their way lay up the broad and beautiful Ottawa, which
Champlain had traversed more than a century before.
They passed the Long Sault, where Daulac and his heroes
had made their brave fight against the Iroquois.   They IOO
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
looked upon the lofty river cliffs, in future days to be
crowned with the stately Parliament Buildings of Canada.
At the Chaudiere Falls, like the Indians, they cast in an
offering of tobacco to win for the voyage good luck from
Windigo, the dread spirit who dwelt in the boiling waters.
At night they pitched their tents on the forest-edged river
shore, enjoyed an evening meal of venison or wild fowl,
smoked, laughed, sang, and rested for the morrow. At
daybreak they would be up and away once more, paddling
slowly upstream or toiling over rough and slippery portages
with heavy packs upon their shoulders.
When they had crossed the height of land between the
upper Ottawa and Lake Nipissing, it became easier work.
Sometimes they would rest from paddling and let the canoes
Running the Rapids.
drift idly with the current. Again, when the distant roar
told them that they were nearing rapids, instead of landing to portage they would shoot madly through the foaming waters, warded off from certain destruction on the rocks Early Explorers 101
by the keen-eyed bowmen with  their  steel-shod poles.
Then came the pleasant trip among the islands of northern
Lake Huron to the old fort of Michillimackinac.    There,
they were rejoiced to see once more the golden fleur-de-lis ma
of France, floating bravely above its walls.
After a short rest they launched out on the next stage of
their journey. This was along the north shore of Lake
Superior. Though it was August, the waters were icy
cold. Bitter winds whipped across the deep, sullen waters
and lashed them into foam-capped waves, that ever threatened to wreck the frail canoes. At night when they landed,
the shore was barren and desolate. Sturdy though they
were, the men began to murmur at the length and hardships of the journey. But the dauntless spirit of La Verendrye would brook no flinching, and, after a month of
constant peril from buffeting storms, they at last reached
the Grand Portage. This was about forty miles southwest of Fort Kaministikwia, where the city of Fort William
now stands. It had taken them seventy-eight days of toil
to make the journey from Montreal, which we now accomplish with ease in less than two.
The party were now faced by the very difficult series of
portages between Lake Superior and Rainy Lake, where
La Verendrye planned to build his first fort. But when
the command to advance was given, the murmuring of the
men broke out into open mutiny. Some thought with
longing of their far-off homes on the banks of the St. Lawrence and demanded to be led back again along the way
by which they had come.    Others feared that the unknown 102
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
regions to the west were infested with evil spirits and,
stricken with terror, refused to advance. But there were
some who had been with La Jemeraye west to the Mississippi, and these, undismayed, laughed at the fears of their
Making a Portage.
fellows. So at last it was arranged that La Jemeraye with
half the force was to push on to Rainy Lake, while La
Verendrye with the remainder should winter at Kaminis-
So La Jemeraye pressed forward to the west, and before
winter set in he had built a fort at the point where Rainy
Lake flows into Rainy River. In honor of La Verendrye
this fort was called Fort St. Pierre. It was prettily situated in a meadow among groves of oak trees. In the
lake there was an abundance of fish, and the forests were
alive with game of all kinds.    So a profitable trade with Early Explorers
the Indian at once sprang up, and this enabled La Jemeraye next summer to send rich boatloads of furs to
Montreal. Thus the merchants were satisfied, and their
further support for the expedition was won.
On June 8th, 1732, exactly
one year after their departure from Montreal, La
Verendrye resumed his journey towards the west. ' It
took a month of toilsome
travel to reach Fort St.
Pierre. There he won the
loyalty of the Crees by
gifts of powder and shot.
So when, after a little rest,
in mid-July he set out for
the Lake of the Woods, the
delighted Indians honored
him by an escort of fifty of
their gayest canoes.
Early in August this little
fleet glided out upon the
smooth waters of the Lake
of the Woods. Threading his way among hundreds of
beautiful islands, La Verendrye chose a peninsula running
far out into the lake as a place suitable both for trade and
defence. On it he built a fort, which he named Fort St.
Charles in honor of the Governor, Charles, Marquis de
A Cree Brave. 104
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Beauharnois. By this time the flight of the wild fowl overhead, and the shell of ice forming on the lake, gave warning
of approadiing winter. The Indians began to scatter for
the season's trapping. La Verendrye himself remained at
the fort to look after the fur trade.
In the meanwhile, Jean, full of the love of adventure,
went on still farther to the north and west. His way lay
through a land entirely new to the white man. It was in
the very heart of winter, and snow lay waist deep in the
woods. But the brave lad and his little band of twenty
picked men tramped for one hundred and sixty miles
through the forest and along the frozen Winnipeg River.
At last, where the river enters Lake Winnipeg, they found
a fine site for a fort. Immediately they set to work felling
trees, and by spring they had added another to La Veren-
drye's string of forts, leading as they hoped towards the
Western Sea. In honor of the French king's minister,
they called it Fort Maurepas.
Thus by the spring of 1733 La Verendrye and his sons
had carried out a great work. They had won their way
through a most difficult country. They had established a
chain of forts linking Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg
and the vast western plains. They had added a great,
rich land to the realm of France. For this, however, they
received little honor or thanks Instead, there began
disappointments and misfortunes which were to try them
most keenly.
The merchants of Montreal refused to send further
supplies.   The king would give no money.    The explorer's Early Explorers
men, unpaid, short of food, and wearied by their long
journeys, were eager to turn back. La Verendrye alone
remained firmly resolved never to abandon the search for
the Western Sea. Sick at heart, but determined while
health and strength lasted to persevere in his quest, he
made the long, weary journey to Montreal. There he met
the merchants and by his eloquent tales of the wealth of
the West persuaded them at length to furnish the supplies
which he so much needed.
Then, hurrying back with all speed to Fort St. Charles,
he was met by the news that La Jemeraye, the ablest of
his lieutenants, was dead. His patience, his courage, his
knowledge of the Indians, and above all his love for the
great work, had made him invaluable to his leader. Without complaint he had borne every toil and hardship until
worn out at last he had died at Fort Maurepas. And now
the expedition must go on without him.
Even heavier, if possible, was the next blow that La
Verendrye was called upon to bear. The Chippewas, who
had bought guns from the French, had fired on a party of
Sioux Indians, killing some of their number. "Who fire
on us?" the startled Sioux had called out, arid the Chippewas replied, "The French !' The savage Sioux, who were
called "the tigers of the plains," now vowed to have vengeance on the French. Soon, by an evil chance, they came
upon a small party under Jean, travelling east across the
lake from Fort St. Charles.
It was a misty morning, and though the quick-sighted
Indians had discovered the French, the latter were una- 106 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
ware of the presence of their dangerous foes. While the
little party landed to prepare their breakfast on the shore
of an island, the Sioux stole quietly around to the other side.
There they beached their canoes and crept noiselessly
through the woods. The French had laid aside their arms
and were lying about, chatting and smoking, while the
kettles boiled. Suddenly, with a terrible war cry, the
Sioux broke from the woods and rushed on their prey.
Completely surprised, the French were killed to a man.
Even Father Aulneau, the gentle Jesuit priest who was
with them, was put to death with the rest.
Grief-stricken at this great calamity, La Verendrye
wrote to Maurepas, the king's minister in Paris: "I have
lost my son, the reverend Father, and my Frenchmen,
misfortunes which I shall lament all my life." But disasters served only to strengthen the explorer's resolve to
go on with his work. In the summer Louis, his youngest
son, joined him. With three brave sons still left to help
him, he continued his search for the Western Sea.
La Verendrye now knew that the great lake of which
Ochagach, the old Indian, had told him was only the Lake
of the Woods. The river flowing from it was the Winnipeg,
and what he had called the Western Sea was notliing but
Lake Winnipeg. Though disappointed, the explorer was
encouraged to continue his search by the oft repeated tales
told by the'Indians of a wonderful tribe called the Mandans.
Some said they were white and dressed like himself. All
agreed that they had horses and cattle, and tilled the land,
and lived in fortified towns.   But the thing that caught Early Explorers
La Verendrye's ear was that they lived far in the western
land of the setting sun on the banks of a river that flowed
into the ocean. Here must lie the way to the Western Sea,
and he determined to visit them.
So in 1738, leaving Pierre in charge of Fort St. Charles,
and accompanied by Francois and Louis, he set out from
Fort Maurepas. Crossing Lake Winnipeg, they stemmed
the muddy current of the Red River till they came to the
mouth of the Assiniboine. There, a little later, the French
erected Fort Rouge, little thinking that the rude building on
which they labored stood on ground where was to grow up
the city of Winnipeg, the gateway to the great North-West.
From this point they ascended the Assiniboine to the
spot where now stands Portage la Prairie. There La
Verendrye constructed the strong Fort La Reine, named
in honor of the queen of France. Here the Assiniboines
soon came to trade. Hitherto they had had only rough
implements of stone and bone, so their friendship was
quickly won by gifts of awls, chisels, and knives of steel.
With this little prairie fortress completed, La Verendrye
was ready to push forward once more. On the morning
of October 16th, 1738, the garrison of fifty-two soldiers
and voyageurs was summoned to arms by the beat of the
drum. From them twenty were chosen to go with the
explorer on his journey to the land of the Mandans. To
each was given powder and shot, an axe, a kettle, and a
supply of tobacco. Then, greeting the command to start
with a rousing cheer, the party stepped out on the long and
perilous march.across the unknown waste of western plains.
j 108 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
The nip of autumn frost in the air grew keener as they
ascended the Souris River. J|\In the hollows the stunted
trees were already bare of leaves. The ice film on the
sloughs glittered like silver in the sun. Gophers, coyotes,
badgers, and countless herds of buffalo were the chief signs
of life, with now and then a roving band of Indians.
Presently, they were joined on their march by an entire
village of six hundred Assiniboines. The Indians declared
their intention of escorting their white friends to the forts
of the Mandans. Though in later years horses were
abundant on the plains, yet at this time neither the French
nor the northern Indians possessed them. So the journey
had to be made on foot. La Verendrye was quite surprised to find that the Indians travelled in as good order
as a band of trained soldiers. "They march," he wrote,
"in three columns with skirmishers in front and a good
rearguard, the old and the lame marching in the centre
and forming the central column. If the skirmishers discover herds of buffalo they raise a cry. This is answered
by the rearguard, and all the most active men join the vanguard to hem in the buffalo. Of these they secure a number and each takes what flesh he wants. The women and
dogs carried all the baggage, the men being burdened only
with their arms."
On November 28th, after six weeks of travel, La Verendrye met the first party of Mandans. Their chief presented him with corn in the ear and a roll of Indian tobacco
in token of friendship. Later, native dishes were brought
for him and his men.    One resembled a pumpkin pie with hip^
< left
M$P^ Early Explorers
no crust, and another was corn pounded to a paste and
cooked in the camp-fire embers. After the banquet they
smoked the peace pipe and continued their journey.
At last the Mandan village came in sight. The French
at once formed themselves in military array. Francois
led them, bearing aloft the flag of France. As they drew
near they fired a crashing volley. This salute much impressed both the warriors, who flocked around the white
men, and the women and children, who clustered thick
on the walls to gain a sight of the strangers.
In many ways La Verendrye found the Mandans a
wonderful tribe. They lived in six scattered villages.
Each village was surrounded by a strong wooden wall
which only cannon could batter down. At each corner
was a stout bastion, and, surrounding the entire fort, was
a great ditch fifteen feet deep and eighteen feet wide.
Within the walls the cabins were arranged in neat streets
and squares, which were kept very clean. The houses were
large and comfortable and were divided into several rooms,
with bunks around the walls for beds. Below were big
cellars, useful for storing furs for trade and keeping dried
meat and grain for the winter. They had many sports,
La Verendrye tells us, among them one played with a ball
which was probably the game of lacrosse.
But though the Mandans were an interesting folk, La
Verendrye was keenly disappointed. They were not white,
as the Indian tales had said. The river on which they lived
flowed, not west, but south and east towards the Mississippi.    In fact, it was the great Missouri, and they were no Knights Errant of the Wilderness
the first white men to reach its upper waters. But for
this honor they cared little. They sought the Western
Sea, and of this the Mandans knew no more than other
Indian tribes.
So in mid-December La Verendrye determined to return
to Fort La Reine. Long before this, the friendly Assiniboines had gone back to their homes. The bitter winter
cold of the western plains had now set in. The explorer
himself was ill, but he bravely set out at the head of his
little force. As there was no fuel for a fire they had to
spend the nights half frozen on the open prairie. Day by
day, however, they struggled on to the north over the endless wilderness of snow. At last smoke, curling upwards
on the horizon, told them that they were nearing the
Assiniboine country. Very welcome, indeed, was the
shelter of the Indian tepees, and the warm greeting later
of comrades at Fort La Reine. "Never in my life," writes
La Verendrye, "did I endure so much misery, pain, and
fatigue as on that journey."
Two men had been left behind among the Mandans to
learn the language, and La Verendrye still had some hope
that they would bring back tidings of the Western Sea.
Eagerly, therefore, he listened, on their return to the story
of how there had come to the Mandans from the even more
distant West a band of strange Indians on horseback. The
chief of these Horse Indians had boasted that in his land
there were white men who wore beards. They prayed in
great buildings to the Master of Life, holding in their hands
books with leaves like the "husks of Indian corn."   They
I'm; 0)
fe ft^
H Early Explorers
dwelt, he said, on the shores of a great lake whose waters
rose and fell and were unfit to drink. Could it be that
through the country of these Indians lay the way to the
Pacific, and thence to Cliina and Japan? La Verendrye
could not rest until he had tried every possible way to reach
this goal. So in 1742, Pierre and Francois were sent to
spy out the land of which the Indians had spoken.
From the Mandan villages they first secured guides.
Then for many days they travelled south and west until
they encountered a tribe called the Good Looking Indians.
These gave them guides till they met the Little Foxes, who
in turn led them to the country of the Horse Indians, whom
they were seeking.
The Horse Indians they found in. great confusion and
terror, for they had just been attacked by the warlike Snake
Indians. The Snakes had killed many of their bravest
warriors and had carried off their women as captives.
"We cannot lead the white men to the sea," they said,
"because the way lies through the country of the Snakes.
But farther to the West are the Bow Indians, who trade
with the white men on the coast. They are the only tribe
who dare to fight the fierce Snakes. Perhaps they will
lead our white brothers westward to the sea."
So Pierre and Francois, with their two French followers,
pressed on to the country of the Bows. They were very
heartily welcomed by the great chief of this tribe, whom
they found at the head of a large war party of more than
two thousand fighting men. "In a few days," he said,
"we shall march against the Snakes.    If you will come with mass
ii2 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
us, we will take you to the high mountains that are near the
sea. From their summits you will be able to look down
upon it."
Joining the great throng of Indian warriors, most of whom
rode on horses or mules, the brothers travelled on ever
towards the west. At last, on New Year's Day, 1743, there
appeared on the horizon in front of them a jagged, white
outline. This they soon perceived to be a great range of
mountains. Day by day, as they approached nearer and
nearer, the giant peaks rose higher above the plain.
Presently, just as they reached the foot of the pine-clad
mountain slopes, they came upon a deserted camp of the
Snakes. At once a great panic seized the Bow Indians,
lest the Snakes might trick them and attack the women
and children whom for safety they had left in camp, far
to the rear. At once the Bows began a rapid and disorderly
It flight.
It is hard to imagine what must have been the feelings of
the explorers at this moment. As far as eye could see to
north and south stretched the mighty mountain barrier,
while in front of them it towered aloft into great, glittering,
snow-capped peaks. Their party numbered only four.
H They were not equipped for a mountain journey. Their
friends, the Bows, had fled, and before them was the
country of the hostile Snake Indians. Brave men though
they were, they could do no tiling but turn back. Theirs
had been the honor, however, first of all white men to behold the glorious sight of the Central Rockies. Pride in
the noble land they had won for France must have softened Early Explorers
their disappointment at having failed to reach the Western
Sea. Mingled, too, with their pride and their regret, was
the resolve that even this obstacle would not stop them.
"The Mighty Mountain Barrier Towered Aloft."
They would return again and, finding a passage, would yet
reach their goal.
On their way back to Fort La Reine, on the summit of a
hill overlooking the Missouri they raised a mound of stones.
Beneath it they buried a leaden plate bearing the arms of sa hi BOH
114 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
France. Then, in the name of King Louis, they took formal
possession of all the great land they had explored. For
one hundred and seventy years this tablet lay undisturbed
in its resting place. In March, 1913, it was found by a
little girl opposite the city of Pierre in South Dakota.
Thus was recovered a precious relic that speaks to us of
the deeds of two gallant men.
But another way seemed to be opening up to the Western
Sea. In 1739, La Verendrye had sent Francois from Fort
Maurepas west to Lake Manitoba. There the young adventurer had built Fort Dauphin. Farther north, near the
mouth of the Saskatchewan, he erected Fort Bourbon.
Then, ascending that river as far as the Forks, he had met
a band of Cree Indians. These told him that away to
the west were lofty mountains, whence the river flowed.
Beyond these again was a great lake, the waters of which
were not good to drink. On the Saskatchewan, therefore,
Francois had built Fort Paskoyac, now called the Pas.
This fort La Verendrye purposed to use as the starting
point for an advance due westward to the sea.
But now, just when final success seemed within his
grasp, came new difficulties. Jealous, lying folk at Montreal had told the Governor and the king that La Verendrye
was making dishonest profits from the fur trade, and he
and his sons were recalled from the West. Hurt by the
ingratitude of their country and sad at heart to leave the
new land which they loved so well, La Verendrye and his
sons journeyed back to Montreal. There, to their joy,
they found a friend in the acting Governor, the Marquis
-^P Tablet Deposited by Pierre and Francois de la Verendrye, 1743.
—Obverse and reverse sides. From photographs lent by Charles
N. Bell, F.R.G.S., President of the Manitoba Historical and
Scientific Society.  Early Explorers
de Galissoniere. This nobleman secured for La Verendrye
the honorable decoration of the Cross of St. Louis. He
also restored to him his command in the West and gave
him the rank of Captain.
Though he was now in his sixty-fourth year, the great
explorer plunged into preparations for a final dash up the
Saskatchewan and through the Rockies to the Pacific.
It seemed that the work of a lifetime was at last about to
be nobly completedf But, alas! in the midst of his labor,
Death closed forever to La V6rendrye the path to the
Western Sea.
Gladly would his sons have finished his task. But the
new Governor gave the command to others, and the sons
of La Verendrye were forbidden to enter the very land
which their toil had won for France. Ruined in fortune
by the debts they had incurred and neglected' by the
country they had served so well, they were soon forgotten.
But that honor which France denied them we do well to
give, for of all the men whose labors and sacrifice have built
up our great Dominion none have been more faithful and
heroic than La Verendrye and his sons.
,***Ef9*Se*    CHAPTER V
Off the south coast of England lies a little island, the
Isle of Wight. About twenty miles in length and clothed
with verdure to the steep cliff edge, it lies like a great green
shield athwart the entrance to Southampton Water and
guards the approach to the busy harbor of Southampton
and to Portsmouth, Britain's greatest naval base. Here
and there streams from inland have worn their channels
through the cliffs, forming little ravines, or chines as they
are called, that slope downward to the sea. These are one
of the great beauties of the Island, for often vegetation has
followed the path of the streams down to the very sand of
the shore, and the little brooks now gurgle and brawl and
splash their way seaward beneath a cool shade of trees and
vines, while under foot and in the crannies of the rocks grow
deep mosses and a multitude of flowers.
Nowadays these beauty spots are the chief delight of the
tourist and the nature lover, but in the eighteenth century
they often served quite another purpose. The clefts thus
made in the steep cliffs formed a ready way of getting up
from the shore to the interior, and along the ravines, both
on the Isle of Wight and the opposite Hampshire coast,
bands of smugglers many a time stealthily and by night
119 35BBSS
Ejiights Errant of the Wilderness
transported inland from their boats on the beach forbidden
cargoes of French brandies and wines, laces and silks —
much to the loss of his Majesty's customs revenue and
greatly to the profit of the smugglers themselves.
But it was a perilous game, as one young lad, Anthony
Hendry, found out to his cost. Many of the people of the
Island were hand in glove with the smugglers and assisted
them, but the government maintained a force of revenue
officers to prevent this breaking of the law. These men
were ever on the alert. It was a matching of wits between
them and the smugglers, in which first one and then the
other came off best, j Often hard blows and even bullets
were exchanged. The smuggler made big profits, but he
did so under the imminent risk of prison and the gallows.
It was no doubt the adventurous nature of this calling
that appealed to young Hendry. He was a strong and
active youth, with good red blood in his veins.* To stay
quietly at his home on the Isle of Wight was too tame a life
for him. He loved the sea beside which he had been brought
up. He loved ships and the voyages which he could make
so easily across the Channel to the ports of France. Above
all, he loved the excitement of evading the king's revenue
officers and running the cargoes of smuggled goods safe up
the cliffs and inland to secret places, where presently they
could be disposed of.
For a time all went well with Hendry in his career of
smuggling, and then, one dark night in 1748, the luck
changed. A band of revenue officers on the prowl observed the momentary flash of a lantetn, apparently a Early Explorers 121
signal from a vessel close in shore. For a second the gleam
of another lantern at the cliff's base answered it. Smugglers were at work. The officers waited until the band
would be in the middle of their work, with the goods spread
out on the beach.    Then they crept cautiously forward.
Suddenly the leader called out, "Hold, in the king's
name!" Then bedlam was let loose. Though surprised,
the smugglers put up a stout resistance. Blows fell;
muskets and pistols flashed. But the revenue men were
out in force. Some of the smugglers were knocked down
and captured. Others succeeded in pushing out to sea in
the ship's boat. A few made off hotfoot along the beach
with the revenue officers in full chase. Among those to
escape was Hendry, but he had been recognized, and the
courts passed sentence of outlawry upon him.
Often one is safest from discovery in a multitude,
so Hendry turned his steps towards London. For two
years he eluded capture. Then, thinking perhaps to make
a fresh start in life in a new and distant world, he applied
for a position with the Hudson's Bay Company. The
Company of Adventurers, not knowing that he was a
fugitive from justice, accepted his services, and thus
Anthony Hendry, ex-smuggler and outlaw, in 1750 took
ship for York Factory, on the shores of Hudson Bay.
The company made a good bargain when it took on its
new employee. For four years Hendry did good and
faithful service, and he rose to the responsible position of
bookkeeper at Fort York. He was different, however,
from the other servants of the Company.   They were quite ifi
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
content to remain in the comparatively comfortable posts
on the shores of the Bay, and they were timid and fearful
about venturing into the vast, unexplored interior. Hendry,
on the other hand, was of a bold and enterprising temper.
He chafed continually under the confinement and monotony
of life in the fort. He would rather take canoe with the
Indians and travel with them by forest and stream and
plain to their home on the "great river" of which they so
often spoke. At last he volunteered to go inland with the
natives, explore their country, and invite them down to
Fort York for trade.
The Company gladly accepted Hendry's offer, and well
they might do so, for the long struggle with the French for
the fur trade had revived in a new and dangerous
form. De Troyes, as we have seen, sixty years before
had raided the Bay and captured all the Company's
forts but Nelson. Then, in 1697, D'Iberville took that
fort, too, and the treaty of Ryswick left the English with
only Fort Albany in their possession. But the War of the
Spanish Succession, owing to the genius of the great Duke
of Marlborough, went in favor of Britain, and the treaty
of Utrecht, 1713, had placed the Company once more in
complete possession of the Bay. For thirty years and
more thereafter the Adventurers had no rivals, either on
the Bay or in the whole North-West.
Then came a change. La Verendrye and his sons pierced
through from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg, and from
Lake Winnipeg up the Red, the Assiniboine, and the Saskatchewan.   Everywhere they claimed the land for France. Early Explorers
Other French traders followed in their footsteps. French
forts began to spring up farther and farther west. The
Indians no longer needed to come down to the Bay for
trade, for the French were there right in the midst of
them. So, fewer and fewer fleets of canoes "shot down the
Nelson and the Hayes each spring to the Company's fort,
and the Company's dividends began to dwindle. Some-
tliing must be done, and the officers on the Bay clutched
eagerly at Hendry's offer to explore inland.
It was midsummer, 1754. Four hundred Assiniboines
had come down from the upper country to pitch their
tepees for trade at Fort York. Row upon row their birch-
bark canoes lay upon the banks of the Hayes. Half-naked
children played merrily everywhere. Everywhere skulked,
snarled, and fought the hordes of ill-favored curs that haunt
an Indian encampment. The squaws, gay with new red
flannels, gaudy prints, colored beads, and little tin mirrors,
busied themselves with fishing, cutting the firewood, preparing the meals, and other such tasks — for all the drudgery of fife was theirs. Their lazy lords smoked contentedly the tobacco gained in trade at the fort. A few
of the chiefs strutted about in all the finery of red coats,
pantaloons, and bright-colored stockings, the gifts by which
the Governor had shown his esteem and friendship. Others
were busy gumming with melted resin the splits in the birch-
bark canoes, for the party, having traded its furs and being
supplied with muskets and powder and shot for another
season, was soon to set out on its long journey home again.
Mingling with this motley crew of savages went Anthony 124
Ejoights Errant of the Wilderness
Hendry. He quickly picked up a knowledge of the Assiniboine speech and was tireless in his questions about the
upper country and the route that they followed thither.
By the promise of great rewards he induced an Indian,
called "Little Deer," to be his guide to the unexplored
"Great River," the Saskatchewan, on whose banks the
French had built forts, and when, on June 26th, 1754,
the Indians set out from York Factory, Hendry was
given a hearty farewell by his less adventurous comrades.
Patiently paddling, portaging, and tracking the canoes
up the Hayes River, the party made fair progress, considering the rapidity of the current. By July 6th they had
reached Oxford Lake without incident, except for tremendous storms of rain, thunder, and lightning. Turning west
at this point, by a series of little streams and lakes they made
their way across to the Upper Nelson. The country was
barren, and they suffered much from scarcity of food
"We are greatly fatigued," Hendry writes, "with carrying
and hauling our canoes and we are not well fed; but the
natives are continually smoking, which I find allays hunger." To this trial was added the terrible pest of the
mosquitoes which hung around the party in clouds. "They
are intolerable," Hendry says, "giving us peace neither
night nor day." However, Hendry was tough as the
Indians themselves and so was able to sustain all the hardships of the journey.
. Travelling south-westward from the Upper Nelson by
way of Playgreen and Moose Lakes and an intervening network of streams, on July 22nd Hendry at last had the Early Explorers
satisfaction of gliding out upon the broad waters of the
"Great River," of which the Indians had told. It was a-
historic moment, for he was the first Englishman to behold
the Saskatchewan, that mighty river of the Canadian
plains. Hendry was now nearly five hundred miles from
York Factory, but the river, on whose majestic, sweeping
current he gazed, had its sources in the eternal snows of the
Rocky Mountains, almost a thousand miles still farther to
the west.
Twenty-two miles upstream, about where the Pas now is,
they came to a French fort built by the trader De La Corne
in the previous year. "On our arrival two gentlemen came
to the water side," writes Hendry, "and in a very genteel
manner invited me into their house, which I accepted.
One of them asked me if I had any letter from my master
and where, on what design, I was going inland. I answered
that I had no letter and that I was sent to view the country
and intended to return in the spring. He told me the
Master (De La Corne) and men were gone down to Montreal
with the furs, and that they must detain me till their
return. However, they were very kind, and at night I
went to my tent and told Attickasish, or Little Deer, who
smiled and answered, 'They dare not.' I sent them two
feet of tobacco, which was very acceptable to them."
Tobacco was, in those days, put up in long twisted rolls
and measured off by the foot or the yard. The Frenchmen, in their turn, invited Hendry to breakfast and dinner
and presented him with the gift of some choice moose flesh.
Next morning, without let or hindrance, Hendry went on
i 126 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
his way. Such was the first meeting on the plains of the
Great West of those two races which, for a century and a
half, had been contending for the mastery of North America,
and which at that very moment were girding themselves for
the great final act of that epic struggle.
Six miles above the fort Hendry turned south from the
Saskatchewan. From this point on he was to traverse a
country never before seen by white men. Paddling
across Saskeram Lake for twenty miles, they ascended the
Carrot River, both'banks of which were thickly lined with
birch trees.    Then, abandoning their canoes, they struck
boldly out overland for the open plains. The march was
a trying one. Mosquitoes still plagued them. Food was
scarce. "Neither bird nor beast is to be seen," writes
Hendry, "and we have nothing to eat." At last, after
seventy miles, they chanced upon a huge patch of ripe
raspberries and wild cherries. Two moose, also, were shot,
and multitudes of red deer were encountered. "I am
now," Hendry records, "entering a most pleasant and
plentiful country of hills and dales with little woods."
Accordingly, on August 8th, a halt was made to celebrate
their safe return through all dangers from their long journey
to the Bay. All joined in the feasting and smoking and
dancing, which lasted for a day and a night. From now
on they could proceed more leisurely on their way, as game
could be had in abundance and they no longer needed to
fear the danger of famine.
They met numerous tribes, mostly Assiniboines. With
all of them Hendry smoked the peace pipe, and he invited Early Explorers
them down to the shores of the Bay to trade their furs with
the English. But in almost every case the reply was the
same: "We are conveniently supplied from the Paqua-
Mistagushewuck Whiskeheginish," that is, the trading
house of the Frenchmen. Hendry soon plainly saw that if
the Company was to compete successfully with the French,
it, too, must build forts Ip
on the plains and bring
its goods right to the
very door of the Indians.
"On the 13th of August," Hendry writes,
"we are now entered the
Muskuty Plains and shall
soon see plenty of buffalo
and the Arclfithinue Indians, hunting them on
horseback." By the
Muskuty Plains he apparently means the open,
treeless prairie, and the
Archithinue Indians are Sarcee Chiefs.
no other than the famous Blackfoot Confederacy of Bloods,
Blackfeet, Piegans, and Sarcees. These were the most
fierce and warlike of all the tribes of the Far West. The
traders of Hudson Bay had never heard of these strange
"Horse Indians," and Hendry was determined not to turn
back until .he had met their great chief and had invited
him to send his men down to the Bay for trade. 128 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Two days later they sighted several herds of buffalo
grazing peacefully on the plains, but, after closely examining
the ground, Hendry's Indians told him that the main herd
had moved off to the north-west and that the Blackfeet,
whom they were seeking, had followed them. He at once
commanded his party to travel in the same direction.
This brought them, in five days, to a large river with
high banks, crowned with birch, poplar, and fir trees.
Undoubtedly this was the South Saskatchewan River.
Hendry was at a loss to know how the party could cross it,
but the Indians soon found a way. Felling some willows,
they made rough canoe frames from the branches and
covered them deftly with moose skins. In half a day the
task was done, and the party was carried safely across to
the other bank. Three days later they came to another
broad stream flowing rapidly eastward between high,
forest-clothed banks. This was the North Saskatchewan.
They were in between the two branches of the great river
to the west of the Forks and were entering the finest hunting ground in all the West, a hunter's paradise, where
buffalo, moose, deer, wild fowl, fish, and beaver abounded.
In mid-September Hendry writes, "I cannot describe the
fineness of the weather and the pleasant country I am now
in." They were by that time in the midst of the buffalo
herds, and the Indians made great slaughter with bow and
arrow among the noble beasts. But the casualties were not
all on one side. "Sunday," Hendry says, "I dressed a
lame man's leg, and he gave me for my trouble a moose
nose, which is considered a great delicacy among the In- Fighting a Grizzly.  Early Explorers
dians." A little later, he tells us : "I went with the young
men a-buffalo hunting, all armed with bows and arrows;
killed several; fine sport. We beat them about, lodging
twenty arrows in one beast. I killed a bull buffalo; he was
nothing but skin and bone. I took out his tongue and left
his remains to the wolves, which were waiting around in
great numbers. My feet are swelled with marching, but
otherwise I am in perfect health. So expert are the natives
buffalo hunting they will take an arrow out of the buffalo
when the beasts are foaming and raging with pain and tearing the ground up with their feet and horns until they fall
down. The buffalo are so numerous, like herds of English
cattle, that we are obliged to make them sheer out of our
Other and less welcome game than buffalo was also to be
found. Grizzly bears, such as Kelsey had encountered
farther east and north, were found here too. On September
17th, Hendry tells us: "Two young men were miserably
wounded by a grizzly bear that they were hunting to-day.
One may recover but the other never can." The next day
this Indian died. Later another Indian, when hunting for
beaver, wounded a grizzly bear. With a ferocious growl
the huge beast rushed at him, but he flung his beaver coat
in its face, which the bear in its rage stopped to rend into
pieces. Thus the Indian escaped by a trick they commonly used when forced to flee from a bear.
They now began to overtake the Blackfeet, and on
October 1st they at last encountered a party. These
redoubtable warriors rode up very gallantly and fearlessly, ..
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
armed with bows and arrows, darts, and bone lances or
spears. Hendry smoked the peace pipe with them and
presented their leader with gifts. The latter promised in
turn to announce the coming of the White Men to the
Great Chief of his Nation.
It was not until October 14th, however, after they had
travelled south-west across the Red Deer River, that they
An Indian Camp at the Foot-hills of the Rockies.
overtook the main Blackfoot encampment. It consisted
of two hundred tepees, pitched in two rows, so as to form
a street, about the middle of which was an opening where
the great tent of the chief was placed. Up this street
marched the bold English explorer, preceded by four of the
principal Indians of his party, and with the rest bringing Early Explorers
up the rear. As he passed, he was followed by the craning
necks and peering eyes of multitudes of warriors, squaws,
and children, whose first glimpse this was of one of the
strange race of white men, of whom they had often heard
The tent of the Great Chief, Hendry tells us, "was large
enough to contain fifty persons. He received us, seated
on a buffalo skin, attended by twenty elderly men. He
made signs to me to sit down on his right hand, which I did.
Our leaders (the Assiniboines) set several great pipes going
the rounds and we smoked according to their custom. Not
one word was spoken. Smoking over, boiled buffalo flesh
was served in baskets of bent wood. I was presented with
ten buffalo tongues."
These friendly ceremonies over, Hendry now came to
business. "Great Chief of the Blackfeet," he said, "I am
sent by the White Chiefs who live afar off by the Great
Eastern Waters to invite you to send your young men
down to their forts with the fur of the fox and the beaver.
For these they will receive in return beads and cloth and
powder and shot and guns and all things else that their
hearts may desire. And by the White Chiefs they will be
received with kindness and friendship."
The wily old Chief did not answer at once but when
Hendry came the next morning he said: "White Man,
I have heard thy message, but the fort is far off. Our
young men ride the plains like the wind, but they know not
the skill of the paddle. They live not on fish, but on the
flesh of the buffalo.    They follow the herds as they wander 132
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
from place to place, and winter and summer they lack not
for food day by day. The bow and the arrow, the spear
and the dart suffice them. They are lords of the plentiful
plains, while we hear that those who go down to the fort
ofttimes starve on the way.   Therefore we cannot go to the
fort, though we thank
thee for coming this long
way to invite us. White
Man, go in peace, and
carry the word of the
Blackfeet in friendship to
the Great White Chiefs
who dwell by the far Salt
Water." He then presented Hendry and the
Assiniboine leaders with
gifts, and they took their
departure. "His remarks," Hendry frankly
records, "I thought exceedingly true."
The explorer noted
many interesting tilings
about these strange Indians. Their horses they turned out
to grass, tethered by long thongs of buffalo hide to stakes
driven fast in the ground. Their pads and stirrups were
also of buffalo skin, while their halters were plaited of hair.
Their horses were clean-cut and spirited and about fourteen
hands high.   The Blackfeet were splendid horsemen and de-
An Indian of the Plains. Early Explorers
lighted to show their skill in racing each other and in hunting the buffalo. The chiefs maintained strict discipline
over their warriors, and a careful watch by scouting outposts was kept around the encampment.
Hendry's mission was now really finished, but he could
not easily return to York Factory until the Indians went
down in the spring. After leaving the Blackfeet, he travelled
south-west sixty miles and then
circled northward. In a fairly
well-wooded country, watered
by many streams, in which the
beaver were plentiful, he made
preparations for passing the
winter. As closely as we can
tell he was now somewhere near
the upper Red Deer River, about
midway between the spots where
now stand the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. From Fort
York he had travelled in his
roundabout course probably nearly one thousand three
hundred miles, while, as the crow flies, he was distant about
nine hundred and fifty miles from his friends on the shores
of Hudson Bay.
It was now November, and the squaws of the party were
busy dressing skins for moccasins and winter clothing.
Hendry tells how the women sat at the doors of the tepees
"knitting moose leather into snowshoes" for winter travel
A Blackfoot Brave. 134 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
in the woods. But the warriors spent their time feasting
and dancing and thumping their tom-toms, with no thought
for the morrow, though many of them were not yet half
provided with skins for warmth in the winter. "What
surprises me most," Hendry writes, "they never go out of
their tents but when they want provisions, although the
beaver and otters are swarming about us in the creeks and
The autumn was mild and beautiful. On December ist
Hendry was still wearing his summer clothing, and in his
journal he says: "No frost here more than in the middle of
summer." Then winter swooped down with true Western
suddenness. The very next day came a blinding snowstorm and a frost that hardened the ground and sealed up
the sloughs with ice. The lazy Indian braves now busied
themselves with hunting and trapping to secure the skins
for their winter clothes. But Hendry was surprised to
note that when they had killed all they wanted for food and
for clothing, they would exert themselves no further and
relapsed again into idleness.
"Why do you not trap the fox and the beaver?" asked
the impatient trader.
"The Blackfeet would kill us if we trapped in their
country," they replied, with a curming smile.
Hendry was not satisfied. "Where, then, will you get
the skins to carry down to the fort in the spring?" he
At first they laughed and remained silent, but when he
pressed them for an answer, they impatiently said:   "We Early Explorers
can get from the Blackfeet far more furs in the spring than
our canoes can carry.    Why, then, should we labor ? "
Hendry now understood. The Assiniboines bought furs
from the Blackfeet with the goods they got from the white
men, and in turn sold the furs to the Company at a good
profit. Thus in the winter they could afford to live idly at
ease, though in spring and summer they had to face the
arduous trip to the trading posts.
The winter passed pleasantly. The encampment was
moved leisurely about from place to place. There was an
abundance of game, and Hendry hunted and trapped to his
heart's content. A party of Indians who had raided the
Blackfeet joined them with many fresh scalps and a number
of prisoners. They offered Hendry the gift of a boy and
a girl as his slaves, but he declined them with thanks.
Early in March they began to move eastward. For some
distance they went down the Red Deer on sleds. Then the
ice grew unsafe, and they began preparations for the long
trip to the Bay. The young men went in search of birch
bark for canoes, the older men fashioned the vessels, and
the women prepared bags of dried meat or pemmican, as
it was called, for the journey. All were in cheerful spirits
at the coming of spring. Feasting and dancing and
thumping of native drums were incessant. On April
23rd Hendry took part in the celebration by hanging out
his flag in honor of St. George. He explained the meaning
of his act to the curious savages. They were vastly impressed by the story of St. George and the Dragon and
enthusiastically joined in with him to do honor to such a 136 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
great warrior. Thus was held the first strange, quaint
commemoration of the patron saint of England on the plains
of the Great West.
That very evening the ice broke up in the river, and on
the 28th they embarked in their canoes for distant Fort
York. It was easy going downstream on the Red Deer
and the Saskatchewan. The current was swift, and the.
melting snows made the channel deep and free, so they
easily made thirty or forty miles a day. Frequently they
encountered other bands of Assiniboines, all well supplied
with furs which they had acquired, for the most part, by
trade with the Blackfeet. H Of over sixty canoes that now
made up their flotilla, Hendry says, there was "not a pot
nor a kettle among us." They had all been exchanged with
the Blackfeet for the pelts that filled the canoes.
A little below the Forks of the Saskatchewan they came
to the first French fort. Hendry was hospitably received
by the French commander, but there was guile in his kindness. While he was clining with the leader the French
soldiers poured out ten gallons of brandy for Hendry's
Indians, and then when they were in the genial humor thus
produced proceeded to trade with them. "It is surprising," Hendry wrote ruefully, "to observe what an influence
the French have over the natives. I am certain they have
got above one thousand of the richest skins." Three days
elapsed before Hendry could coax the Indians away from
their over-friendly French hosts.
Six days later they came to the fort at the Pas, where
Hendry had called on his way up the river.   De La Corne, Early Explorers
the commandant, had now returned from the East, and he
and his little garrison of nine men received the Englishman
cordially. But it was only to play on him the same trick
as before. "The Indians are all drunk," Hendry laments,
"but the master was very kind to me. He is dressed very
genteel, but his men wear only drawers and striped cotton
shirts, ruffled at the hand and breast. This house has been
long a place of trade and is named Basquia. It is twenty-
six feet long, twelve wide, nine high, having a sloping roof,
the walls log on log, the top covered with willows, and
divided into three rooms, one for trade, one for storing furs,
and one for dwelling." De La Corne showed Hendry his
storeroom rilled with furs, and he records: "The French
speak several Indian languages to perfection; they have the
advantage of us in every shape, and if they had Brazile
tobacco, which they have not, would entirely cut off our
This time it took the Indians four days to sober up from
the French brandy. Then they went on down the Nelson
and Hayes to Fort York. There were now only the heavy
furs left, which the French traders did not want, but even
these formed a cargo of great value, and so Hendry received
a royal welcome at the Factory, when on June 20th, 1755,
his fleet of canoes swept into view on the river.
But his popularity did not last. When he came to the
part of his story that dealt with the Blackfeet, the traders
laughed. "Indians on horseback!" they exclaimed,
"Impossible! Whoever heard of such a thing? Where
could they get the horses?"   We know that they got them fcl£>.w*tf
138 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
from the Spaniards far to the south in Mexico, but the
Governors on Hudson Bay preferred to believe simply that
Hendry was lying. Then, too, perhaps, they feared that,
if the Adventurers took for truth Hendry's tales of the great
wealth inland and acted on his urgent advice, forts would
be built in the interior, and they would be sent to meet the
dangers and hardships that he had braved, a possibility
from which they shrank timidly back. So, when the
factors wrote home, for jealous and cowardly reasons they
discredited Hendry's exploits and urged against his plans
for planting trading posts inland. And they were successful. The great Company gave him only the paltry
gratuity of £20 for his toil and his courage, and all permission to go again inland was firmly refused.
Anthony Hendry was not the man to bear without protest
such ingratitude and stupidity. He resigned from the Company's service and returned to England, where we lose sight
of him. But the scoffing of that age has given place to the
admiration of this. Those who laughed at him then have
themselves become a laughing-stock for all time, while
Anthony Hendry has taken his rightful place as the sturdy
and fearless pioneer explorer of the vast inland empire of
the Upper Saskatchewan Valley.
I.  Hearne's First Journey
Boom! Boom! Boom! Seven times the great guns of
Prince of Wales Fort spoke out in thunderous salute. As
the smoke-clouds floated slowly
upward, a little party emerged
from the massive gateway of the
fortress and set out north and west
over the white waste of new-fallen
snow. Cheer after cheer followed
them from their friends, clustered
thick on the ramparts, and anxious eyes watched until they became mere black specks in the
distance and finally were lost in
the immensity of the wilderness. Samuel Hearne.^
To-day you may still see the ruins of Fort .Prince of
Wales. In 1782 the French Admiral La Perouse captured
it. Before he left he tried to blow it up, but failed. In
places his mines shattered the upper walls, but, for the
most part, the huge, squared blocks of granite still stand
solidly in place, though the mortar is crumbling between.
The charred ends of rafters that once echoed to the wild
141 142
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
song and merry laughter of the fur traders still cling to
the walls of bastion and dwelling house, and the cannon
that once pealed forth a welcome to the incoming Company's ships lie dismantled, spiked, and silent. Thus
La Perouse left the fort, and thus it stands to-day — a
dismal ruin on a desolate coast.
But it was not so on that sixth of November, 1769, when
Samuel Hearne was sent forth with pomp of cannon to
Fort Prince of Wales (Churchill),— From Hearne's Account, 1799 Edition.
wander on the Barren Lands in search of a fabled mountain of copper. Commenced in 1743, when war with
France once again endangered the possessions of the
English Company on Hudson Bay, Fort Prince of Wales
was designed to be a veritable northern Gibraltar. It
was in the shape of a square, the sides of which were three
hundred and sixteen feet long.    The walls were of hammer- Early Explorers
dressed stone, thirty feet thick at the base and twenty
feet high. At each corner stood a stout bastion, so that
attackers could be taken by flank fire, while over the walls
frowned forty-two guns which the Adventurers commanded
the Governor to "keep
constantly loaded with
powder and ball ready
for service during the
time the rivers are open."
Over this stronghold,
in strength second only
to Quebec in all North
America, ruled the Governor, Moses Norton,
lording it like a king over
the Company's men and
over the Indians who
came to the fort for trade.
These were mostly Chipe-
wyans who hailed from
the distant North-West.
In the summer they wandered out on the Barren
Lands — the tundra or Arctic prairies — living on the
innumerable herds of musk-ox and caribou that found
pasture there. The winter they spent in the wooded
country to the south-west around Great Slave Lake, which
they called Athapuscow, which means "the lake with the
beds of reeds."
A Chief of the Chipewyans with Wampum Necklace. f
144 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Many a cargo of the richest pelts had these Chipewyans
brought down the Seal River to Churchill, for the farther
north the thicker and finer the fur coat of the animals.
But even in the early days the traders had noted that
these Northern Indians, as they called them, also brought
down with them curious copper Weapons and tools. This
metal they seemed able to secure in abundance. Whence
could it come? The Indians, when questioned, pointed
vaguely to the north-west and answered, "There where
the sun sets in summer, many days' journey across the
great northern plain, lies the Neetha-san-san-dazey —
the Far-Off-Metal River. Near it is a whole mountain
of copper. If the white men build a fort there and send
their great winged canoes through the icy sea to the mouth
of the river, they can fill them full with both the furs and
the metal which they covet."
But who would attempt the difficult and dangerous task
of crossing the Barren Lands to find this Coppermine
River? He must needs be both a bold and a resolute
man who would face such an undertaking. The Governor's
choice fell on Samuel Hearne. Hearne was as yet only a
youth of twenty-four years, but his life had been crammed
full of rugged experience. At eleven he had gone to sea,
and the sea was no tender school for boys of that age.
Almost immediately he had taken part in a stubborn
sea fight. During the Seven Years' War he had served as a
midshipman in the Royal Navy. Then, when quiet peace
times returned, still in search of adventure, he took service
in a Hudson's Bay Company's ship.   For two or three Early Explorers
years he traded with the Indians and Eskimos along
the west coast of the Bay and thus acquired some valuable
knowledge of the natives. Moreover, as a seaman, he was
trained to take the ship's reckonings, and thus could be
trusted to determine by accurate observations, the position
of any lakes, rivers, or mines which he might discover.
Special orders had been issued by the Governing Committee in London to send out the expedition, and so when
the party set forth on November 6th, 1769, Hearne was
amply equipped with everything he had deemed necessary
for the success of his journey. Powder and shot for
hunting, tents and blankets for shelter, tobacco, hatchets,
beads, and other trinkets as presents for the Indians, were
piled high on the sledges. Supplies enough for a trip of
two years were taken along. Two other white men, one
a seaman and the other a landsman, went with the young
officer, while Chief Chawchinahaw and a small band of
Northern Indians acted as guides.
In the highest of spirits at the magnificent farewell
given him at the fort, Hearne, under the guidance of
his Indians, struck off north-west, crossed the Seal River,
and entered the Barren Grounds. Here hardships began.
The sledges on which they hauled their supplies were
knocked to pieces on the bowlder-strewn ground, and wood
with which to repair them was scarce. Indeed, they were
lucky if in that "land of little sticks," as the Indians
called it, they found a few stunted bushes from which
they could chop a little brush to boil their kettles with.
Everywhere stretched the level, monotonous plain, dead f~
146 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
and shrouded in an endless mantle of snow. Over it
swept unhindered the winds from the north that made
the bitter winter cold pierce to the bone. Owing to the
lack of wood for tentpoles and camp fires, Hearne says
in the record he kept of his journey, "It was scarcely
ever in our power to make any other defence against the
weather than by digging a hole in the snow down to the
moss, wrapping ourselves up in our clothing, and lying
down in it with our sledges set up edgeways to windward."
But hardships Hearne had both the strength and the
courage to endure. It was the treachery of his Indian
guides that proved his undoing. Early in the journey,
he became aware that Chawchinahaw was playing a
double game. He did not really have the success of the
undertaking at heart. He tried to discourage the explorer
by telling him the most alarming tales of the difficulties
that lay in his path. When that did not deter Hearne in
the slightest, he had recourse to the weapon of hunger.
They had now entered a more wooded country to the
west where food was more plentiful, but the Northern
Indians, leading the way, deliberately killed only sufficient game for themselves, while Hearne and his men,
coming after, could find scarcely enough to support them.
"A few partridges were all we could get to live on," said
Hearne, "and these were so scarce that we seldom could
kill as many as would amount to half a bird a day for
each man, which, considering that we had nothing else
for the twenty-four hours was in reality next to nothing."
Then the Northern Indians began to desert,  always carrying off with them some of Hearne's powder and shot,
and whatever else took their fancy. When he taxed Chaw-
chinahaw openly with his treachery, the chief brazenly
announced his intention of going off too. Accordingly,
Hearne tells us: "He and his crew set off towards the
south-west, making the woods ring with their laughter,
and left us to consider our unhappy situation, near two
hundred miles from Prince of Wales Fort, all heavily
laden and our strength and spirits greatly reduced by
hunger and fatigue."
There was nothing to do but turn back. Full of disappointment, Hearne dejectedly faced about for the fort.
For mile after mile of the weary march they kept on,
tugging stubbornly at the heavily laden sledges. They
were now favored by a spell of fine weather, and, partridge
proving plentiful, the danger of hunger came to an end.
"On December nth," Hearne writes, "we arrived safe at
Prince of Wales Fort, to my own great mortification and
to the no small surprise of the Governor, who had
placed great confidence in the abilities and conduct of
II.  Hearne's Second Journey
But Hearne was not the man to fold his hands in defeat.
Preparations for a second attempt were at once begun,
and by February 23rd, 1770, he was ready to start again.
This time he went without any white companions and
took only three Chipewyans and two Southern Indians
or Crees.   No cannon now roared out a salute in honor 148
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
of his departure, for they were buried deep in the midwinter snows that crowned the battlements; but three
hearty British cheers from the garrison gave Godspeed
to the adventurer.
Instead of crossing the Seal River, Hearne this time
ascended it to the west until he came to Lake Shee-than-nee,
or High Hill Lake. Here, where there was an abundance
of fish, they resolved to camp until the wild geese came
north in the spring. They pitched their moose-leather
Indian tent, with the door to the south, far out on a point
that commanded a beautiful view of the wooded shores
of the lake. Then, with the snow and moss cleared away
down to the rock and the floor strewn with odorous pine
branches, they made themselves snug round their camp
fire, and cutting holes in the ice of the lake so that they
could spread a net by passing it with a pole from hole to
hole, they secured plenty of fine pike and trout to support
But suddenly, on April ist, greatly to their surprise,
the nets yielded no fish. Angling through the ice proved
equally unsuccessful. A trying time followed. Once for
three days they had "no refreshments except a pipe of
tobacco and a draft of water." Then they had luck and
shot two deer. Whenever they thus obtained food the
Indians gorged themselves, feasting with no thought of
the future. "Indeed," Hearne says, "it was either all
feasting or all famine. Once for near seven days we
tasted not a mouthful of anything except a few cranberries, water, scraps, of old leather, and burnt bones.   I Early Explorers
have frequently seen the Indians examine their wardrobe,
which consisted chiefly of skin clothing, and consider
what part could be best spared; sometimes a piece of an
old, half-rotten deer skin and at others a pair of old shoes
were sacrificed to alleviate extreme hunger."
At the end of April they moved north towards the Barren
Lands, and by. the middle of May geese, swans, ducks, gulls,
and other birds of passage were flocking northward in
infinite numbers, filling the air with their cries. There
was now an abundance of food, but often no fuel with
which to cook it, wood being lacking and the moss being
too wet to burn. Thus they were frequently reduced to
eating in its raw state fish, fowl, venison, and even the
evil-smelling flesh of the musk-ox.
They had neglected to bring poles for their tents from
the wooded country and now were compelled to spend
day and night in the open under the most trying conditions
of alternate rain and snow, and thawing and freezing.
"But notwithstanding these hardships," writes the indomitable Hearne, "we continued in perfect health and
good spirits."
Early in June, with the melting of the snow, they threw
away both their snowshoes and sledges and took all their
goods on their backs.. This was hard work. Hearne
describes his own burden. It consisted of the quadrant
and its stand, a trunk containing books, papers, and a
compass, a large bag filled with his wearing apparel, a
hatchet, knives, files, and other such things intended for
presents  for  the  natives.   His  awkward  load  weighed
j 150 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
more than sixty pounds, but he staggered sturdily on
with it day after day, often for twenty miles over the
rough ground of the plains.
On June 20th they reached the Kazan River, flowing
north into Yath-kyed or White Snow Lake. Here they
found a band of Northern Indians in canoes, busily spearing the caribou as they swam across the river, the animals
being easily overtaken while in the water. The Indians
ferried Hearne's party across the river and informed him
that there were other rivers ahead that could not be forded.
"This induced me," he says, "to purchase a canoe at the
easy rate of a single knife, the full value of which did not
exceed one penny."
They were now travelling north-west towards Lake Du-
bawnt and were in the heart of the Barren Lands. Barren
indeed they were of trees, but not barren of beauty or of
life. Everywhere plant life was struggling for victory
over the rugged rocks. The surfaces of granite boulders
and the more exposed tops of the low rises and hills were
stained by lichens black and gray, lilac and olive green,
brown and scarlet and white, till they flamed and glittered
in the sun. Everywhere in the less exposed places were
the mosses, a deep, rich, living carpet of a thousand tints
and hues and wayward patterns. The powdered rocks,
washed down by rain into the ponds and lakes, had formed
mud flats where a lush growth of grass made fair green
meadows. Everywhere, too, was a fairy growth of flowers.
Tiny cranberry and crowberry and cloudberry shrubs
were there, struggling to bear aloft a burden of fruit heavier Early Explorers 151
often than the plants themselves. Scarlet arctous, white
ledums, purple vaccinium, and mairanias were scattered
and massed far as the eye could see. Nor was the higher
animal life absent from the scene. The echoing calls of
gulls and loons fell upon Hearne's ear. On the slopes
ground squirrels sunned themselves, and through the land
white wolf and wolverine prowled seeking their prey.
Huge herds of clumsy musk-ox lumbered across the plain,
and the restless caribou or reindeer pastured as in a vast
park, travelling always in the face of the wind and changing their course with the shifting breeze. Sometimes
they were in groups of scores or hundreds; sometimes in
mighty herds that presented a forest of tossing antlers
that reached to the far horizon. And Hearne, of all
white men, was the first to gaze on this magnificent panorama of the Barren Lands — barren of man and of his
handiwork, but full of nature's beauty and of nature's life.
On through this wild scene, strange to his eyes after the
cultivated landscape of England, wandered Hearne with
his Indians, carrying their packs and their little canoe.
At the end of August they reached and crossed the Du-
bawnt River north of the Lake. As the rivers all ran
northward and the Indians wished to travel from east to
west in a land that supplied no wood for rafts or canoes,
they had always to carry these vessels with them. "They
are sometimes obliged," Hearne says, "to carry them one
hundred and fifty or two hundred miles without having
occasion to make use of them, yet at times they cannot
do without them." m
152 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
The explorer now became aware that his Northern
Indians were no longer making steadily for the north-west,
but were simply drifting about from place to place after
the caribou herds with the rest of the Indians. When
questioned they sullenly answered: "The summer is far
spent. We cannot this year reach the Coppermine. It
is best to pass the winter in the great woods to the southwest. Then next year we can march north to the mountain of copper."
Of necessity Hearne had to consent. As they travelled
slowly south-west other bands of Indians joined them,
until a village of seventy tepees and upwards of six hundred
people was formed. "Our encampment," Hearne narrates,
"had the appearance of a small town, and in the morning,
when we began to move, the whole ground seemed to be
alive with men, women, children, and dogs. Yet the deer
were so numerous that the Indians not only killed as many
as were sufficient for our large number, but often several
only for the skins, marrow, and tongues, and left the
carcasses to rot or to be devoured by the wolves, foxes,
and other beasts of prey."
Then, on August 12th, a great calamity befell the explorer. He was making an observation of the sun to
determine his latitude. Leaving the quadrant standing,
he sat down to eat dinner, when a sudden gust of wind
toppled the precious instrument over. The ground was
stony, and the quadrant was shattered into fragments.
Hearne stood in deep dismay. He could now no longer
trace his journey with accuracy nor surely locate the Early Explorers
Coppermine, even if he should reach it. He must go
back to the fort.
It was a bitter disappointment to swallow. Reluctantly
Hearne turned once again towards Fort Prince of Wales,
but all the stubborn pluck of his race was aroused. He
would try again and again. Even if it cost him his life he
would reach the Far-Off-Metal River for which he had
twice set out.
The very next day Hearne was plundered of most of
his goods by a party of Northern Indians. The white
man, having no longer the wherewithal to reward his
followers, they now became insolent and did but very
poor service. Travelling down the west side of Dubawnt
Lake, they then turned south-east towards the Churchill
River. In September cold weather set in. The Northern
Indians had been joined by their wives, who prepared
warm winter suits of skins for them, but they selfishly
refused to allow the squaws to perform this service for
Hearne and his Crees, who consequently suffered miserably
from the cold.
"In this forlorn state we continued our course to the
south-east," Hearne tells us. Then suddenly their fortunes
changed. On the evening of September 20th, there loomed
through the dusk a party of strange Indians, quickly advancing. At their head stalked a giant, Matonabbee.
Six feet tall and straight as an arrow, he was a prince
among Red Men, and he was the friend of the white fur
traders. He was the son of a Northern Indian and a
Southern  slave woman,  but when his father died  the 154
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Governor had adopted him as his son, and thus for several
years he had lived at the fort with the English, whose
language he partly knew. He had travelled far to the
south with the Crees, far to the west into the land of the
Athabaska Indians, and far to the north into the Barren
Lands with his own folk. He had acted as the Company's
messenger and ambassador to these peoples. All their
languages he spoke with ease, and among all the tribes
he was a man of power.
Matonabbee quickly learned the forlorn adventurer's
story. He at once clothed him in a warm suit of
otter skins and prepared a great banquet in his honor.
Long into the night the feasting and singing and dancing
continued, while Hearne and Matonabbee conversed with
each other.
"White man," inquired the Indian, "will you search
yet again for the Mountain of Copper ?"
"Surely I will, if I can only find better guides," Hearne
Then rising to his full height the chief said: "I, Matonabbee, have journeyed to the Far-Off-Metal River, and
if the Great Chief at the fort will consent, I myself will
guide thee thither."
Hearne was delighted. With a splendid guide like
Matonabbee he felt sure of success. He assured the
Indian that Governor Norton would accept his offer and
provide all supplies for the journey.
As they travelled on towards the fort, they discussed
plans for the expedition.    Matonabbee, strangely enough, Early Explorers
attributed most of Hearne's hardships to the absence of
women. "When all the men are heavy laden," he said,
"they can neither hunt nor travel to any considerable
distance, and in case they meet with success in hunting
who is to carry the produce of their labor? Women were
made for labor," he added. "One of them can carry or
haul as much as two men can do. They also pitch our
tents, make and mend our clothing and, in fact, there is
no such thing as travelling any considerable distance or
for any length of time in this country without their assistance. Women," said he again, "though they do
everything, are maintained at trifling expense, for, as
they always stand cook, the very licking of their fingers
in scarce times is sufficient for their existence." Such,
indeed, was the wretched condition of women among the
Indians. They were the burdenbearers and slaves of the
On November 25 th, Hearne reached Prince of Wales
Fort, full of his project for a new expedition. Three
days later Matonabbee also arrived. As Hearne had expected, the Governor fell in with their plans, and the stores
of the fort were thrown wide open for equipping the party.
III.  Hearne's Third Journey
In spite of the hardships he had suffered, Hearne did
not linger to enjoy the ease of fife at the fort, even though
it was in the heart of the winter. In less than two weeks,
such was his pluck and determination, all was in readiness
for a start, and on December 7th,  1770,- Hearne, with 156 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Matonabbee as his guide, set forth for the third time for
the distant Coppermine River.
This time, on the advice of Matonabbee, they took a
more southerly course to avoid the Barren Lands where
game and shelter at that season were difficult to secure.
At the outset privation was again encountered. One of
Matonabbee's caches, on which they had depended for
food, was found rifled by another band of Indians. So
they had to tighten their belts and press onward. For
three days they subsisted on tobacco and snow water.
The cold was intense. From morning till night they
marched on doggedly, hauling the heavy sledges. The
Indians, in spite of all, maintained their cheerfulness, but
it was Christmas time and Hearne, in his bleak surroundings, could not but think fondly of home. "I could not
refrain," he says, "from wishing myself again in Europe,
if it had been only to have had an opportunity of alleviating
the extreme hunger that I suffered with the refuse of the
table of one of my acquaintances."
On the last day of the year they reached Nueltin Lake.
Here there was plenty of fish, and here, too, they found
the wives and children of many of the Indians of the party,
tarrying till the men returned from the fort. There was
now no lack of women to do the drudgery, to which Matonabbee had attributed the failure of previous attempts.
The great Chief himself had no fewer than eight wives,
which was quite in accord with his power and dignity.
Early in February they crossed the Kazan River and
traversed the northern end of Lake Kasba on the ice,
*mm 1 Early Explorers
and, by the 2nd of March, they were on the shores of Whol-
daia or Pike Lake, the source of the Dubawnt River. Here
they encountered a band of Northern Indians, who had
lived all winter in ease and plenty by catching deer in a
pound. Hearne gives an interesting account of this method
of hunting. "When the Indians design to impound deer,"
he says, "they look out for one of the paths in which a
number of them have trod, and which is observed to be
still frequented by them. When these paths cross a lake,
a wide river, or a barren plain, they are found to be much
the best. The pound is built by making a strong fence
with brushy trees. I have seen some that were not less
than a mile round and am informed that there are others
still more extensive. The entrance of the pound is not
larger than a common gate, and the inside is so crowded
with small counter-hedges as very much to resemble a
maze, in every opening of which they set a snare made
with thongs of deerskin, well twisted together, which
are amazingly strong. A row of small brushwood is then
stuck up in the snow on each side of the entrance. These
poles or brushwood are generally placed at the distance
of fifteen or twenty yards from each other and ranged in
such a manner as to form two sides of a long, acute angle,
growing gradually wider in proportion to the distance
they extend from the entrance of the pound, which sometimes is not less than two or three miles, while the deer's
path is exactly along the middle between the two rows
of brushwood. When the Indians see any deer going
that way men, women, and children walk along under 158 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
cover of the woods till they get behind them, then step
forth to open view and proceed towards the pound in the
shape of a crescent. The poor, timorous deer, finding
themselves pursued and at the same time taking the two
rows of brushy poles to be two ranks of people stationed
to prevent their passing on either side, run straight forward in the path till they get into the pound. The Indians
then close in and block up the entrance. The deer being
thus enclosed, the women and children walk round the
pound to prevent them from breaking or jumping over the
fence, while the men are employed in spearing such as are
entangled in the snares, and shooting with bows and
arrows those which remain loose in the pound." Hearne
thought this method of hunting, rather unsportsmanlike, and he greatly deplored the wastefulness of the
Indians, who often killed far more than they could possibly
Throughout March they wandered westward from Lake
Wholdaia, and by April 8th, 1771, they had reached what
the Indians called Little Fish Hill Lake. At this point
Matonabbee resolved to turn northward. For ten days,
however, they lingered to prepare a good supply of dried
meat, for with the spring the deer were beginning to travel
north-east from the woods to the Barren Lands. They
also took care to secure a good supply of staves of birch
wood, seven or eight feet long, for tent poles for use on
the northern plains in summer and for snowshoe frames
the next winter. At the same time they laid in a supply
of other timber and of birch bark for building canoes.
^       • Early Explorers
Turning north, by May 2nd they reached Lake Clowey,
whose waters apparently ran westward into Great Slave
Lake. This seemed to be a well-known meeting place for
the Indians, for other parties continually joined them, all
supplied with materials for building canoes and journeying through the Barren Lands. Indeed, Lake Clowey,
being on the edge of the Barrens, was an excellent rendezvous for this purpose.
For more than a fortnight they lingered here, and Hearne
had a splendid chance of observing some of the Indian
customs. One struck him as very amusing. If any
warrior coveted any piece of property or even the wife
of another, he would offer to wrestle him for them. Hearne
was the witness of many a bloodless but spirited contest.
"I never knew any of them receive the least hurt in
any of these encounters," he tells us. "The whole business consists in hauling each other about by the hair of
the head. They are seldom known either to strike or
kick one another. It is not uncommon for one of them
to cut off his hair and to grease his ears immediately before
the contest begins. This, however, is done privately, and
it is sometimes truly laughable to see one of the parties
strutting about with a great air of importance and calling
out 'Where is he? Why does he not come out?' when
the other will bolt out with a clean-shorn head and greased
ears, rush on his antagonist, seize him by the hair and,
though perhaps a much weaker man, soon drag him to
the ground, while the stronger is not able to lay hold on
his opponent." 160 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
The names of the children were also curious. The boys
were usually called by their parents by the name of some
place, season, or animal. "The names of the girls,"
Hearne says, "are usually taken from some part or property of a marten, such as the White Marten, the Black
Marten, the Summer Marten, the Marten's Head, the
Marten's Foot, the Marten's Heart, and the Marten's
Tail.    Matonabbee's eight wives were all called Martens."
Many of the savages at Lake Clowey, when they learned
 I that Hearne and Matonabbee were bound for the Coppermine River, joined them in order to strike a blow at their
hereditary enemy the Eskimos. Hearne did not like this
transformation of his peaceful exploring expedition into
a bloodthirsty war party, but Matonabbee was as relentless as the rest in his determination to attack the hated
foe, and so Hearne could do no tiling. They simply laughed
him to scorn as a coward when he remonstrated with them,
and set about preparing wooden shields. These were
about three-quarters of an inch thick, two feet broad,
and three feet long, and were intended for protection
against the Eskimo arrows.
The ardor of war now spurred on the party. At Lake
Peshew they left most of the women and all the children
behind, so that they could push more rapidly northward.
"We no sooner began our march," Hearne narrates, "than
the squaws and children set up a most woeful cry and continued to yell piteously as long as we were within hearing.
This mournful scene had so little effect on my party that
they walked away laughing and as merry as ever." Early Explorers
Their progress now was rapid. They crossed two large
lakes on the ice — Artillery and Clinton-Colden Lakes,
in all probability — and on June 21st Hearne noticed
that the sun did not set. They were at last within the
Arctic Circle. Next day they came to a river bearing the
ponderous name of Conge-ca-tha-wha-chaga, where they
met a new tribe, the Copper Indians, assembled as usual
to kill the deer as they swam across the river.
The Copper Indians proved very hospitable. They
prepared a great feast for the strangers, and Hearne smoked
the peace calumet with them and gave them such gifts as
he could spare from his scanty store. They expressed
unbounded delight at the prospect of having the white
men build a fort in their country. Hearne, indeed, was
the first European they had ever seen. "It was curious
to see," he says, "how they flocked about me and expressed
as much desire to examine me from top to toe as a naturalist
would a strange animal. They, however, found me to be
a perfect human being except in the color of my hair and
eyes; the former, they said, was like the stained hair of .a
buffalo's tail and the latter, being light, were like those of
a guii."   IlifBR Jr  f   $:
On July 2nd, their numbers swelled by many of the Copper
Indians, they set off north-west overland through the Stony
Mountains, for their goal, the Coppermine River. The
way was*rugged, and on the 6th a great fall of snow nearly
buried them in the cave where they had sought shelter.
But a thaw took away the snow as quickly as it had come,
and in a day or two they were tormented by myriads of fi£dt£*.
162 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
mosquitoes as they went on again. At a place called
Grizzled Bear Hill the traveller was astounded to find
great boulders rolled from their beds and the earth plowed
up in every direction by the huge bears in their search
for ground squirrels. Evidently the grizzlies came from
the woods to the westward to live on this prey in the
At last, on July 13th, 1771, Hearne stood on the bank
of the Far-Off-Metal River. As he gazed on its waters
he was profoundly disappointed. The Indians had told
of a mighty river up which ships might sail for many miles
from its mouth. Instead it was only a stream one hundred
and eighty yards wide, full of shoals and rapids, and scarcely
navigable even for canoes.
But the Indians had forgotten all about Hearne and
his mountain of copper. They were now within striking
distance of the Eskimos, and the lust for blood was upon
them. Sending their spies down towards the mouth of
the river, they hunted the deer and cooked enough venison
to do for some days, so that when they neared the Eskimos
they would need to light no telltale fires. When the spies
returned with the news that near the mouth of the river
on the west side there were five tents of the enemy, the
Indians were highly elated. They at once formed their
plan of attack. Though they outnumbered the Eskimos
two to one, they designed to steal up cautiously on them
next night and slaughter them while they slept.
Crossing the river, they busied themselves with warlike preparations.    Guns, spears, and shields were over- An Eskimo Family L Early Explorers
hauled and put in good order. Each Indian painted his
buckler with some figure, the sun or the moon, a bird
or a beast of prey, or the pictures of imaginary beings
whom they thought to dwell in the different elements of
earth, sea, and air. On these beings the warriors relied
for success in the battle.
Winding their stealthy way northward, always seeking
the cover of the rocks and the hills, the Indians reached a
point witnin two hundred yards of the Eskimo tents.
Here they lay quiet in ambush while the last preparations
were made. "These chiefly consisted," Hearne tells us,
"in painting their faces, some all black, some all red, and
others with a mixture of the two."
Thus rendered hideous, the Indians stole forward. It
was one o'clock in the morning, but the Arctic sun hung
red in the heavens and there was plenty of light for the
frightful deed. The Eskimos were sound asleep, and the
Indians crept up to the very eaves of the tents without
being discovered. Then the air was rent by a chorus of
terrible yells that told the poor Eskimos their dreaded
foe was upon them.
To the rear stood Hearne, a helpless and horrified spectator of the awful scene. "It was shocking beyond description," he tells us. "The poor, unhappy victims were
surprised in the midst of their sleep and had neither time
nor power to make any resistance. Men, women, and
children ran out of their tents and endeavored to make
their escape, but thev Indians having possession of all the
land side, to no place could they fly for shelter.   One 164 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
alternative only remained, that of jumping into the river;
but as none of them attempted it, they all fell a sacrifice
to Indian barbarity. The shrieks and groans of the poor,
expiring wretches were truly dreadful." With tears in
his eyes and a sob in his throat, Hearne turned away.
Fifty years later Sir John Franklin visited the scene of
this massacre and found the bleaclring bones of the Eskimos still strewing the ground. Long did the natives
of the district remember this incident in the immemorial
feud between Indians and Eskimos, and, in remembrance
of it, the spot where the rushing and foaming current of
the Coppermine takes its last leap before reaching the
sea is suitably called to the present day Bloody Falls.
After the massacre followed plunder and wanton destruction. The Indians seized all the copper utensils for
their own use, but the tents and tent poles were cast into
the river, all the stores of dried salmon and musk-ox were
destroyed, and the stone kettles were broken to pieces.
Afar off, on the opposite bank of the river, another band
of Eskimos, who had not been discovered by the spies,
had been roused by the screams of their fellows to be the
woeful spectators of the scene of death and ruin. The
breadth and swiftness of the river protected these survivors from attack, but the Indians, in derision, climbed
a hill and forming in a circle clashed their spears and shields
together, uttered war-cries of victory, and continually
called out, "Tima! Tima!" the Eskimo words for
"What cheer!" Then they sat down, and, in full sight
of their enemies, made a meal of the Arctic salmon that
— abound in those waters. So numerous were these fish
below the falls that, with a light pole armed with a few
spikes, they could bring up at a jerk from the water from
two to four fish.
From the high ground where he stood Hearne could see
the ocean a few miles to the northward. He descended
the stream to its mouth and, on July 17th, 1771, stood on
the shore of the Arctic Sea. Along the coast there was a
thread of open water upon which the sun's rays shimmered
and danced, but beyond it to the horizon, north, east, and
west, gleamed the unbroken white of the ice pack.
This was a second keen disappointment. Not only was
the Coppermine River unnavigable, but the way to its
mouth was blocked by the Arctic ice. Would the mountain of copper prove just as delusive as the other tales
of the Indians? Hearne soon got his answer. Having
erected a landmark and taken formal possession of the
lonely land for the Hudson's Bay Company, he turned
again inland to search for the copper deposits. Led by
his Indians he reached one of the mines after a walk of
about thirty miles south-east from the river's mouth. It
was a desolate scene — nothing but a vast jumble of rocks,
rent this way and that as though by a mighty earthquake.
The Indians had said that the hills were entirely composed
of the metal, all in lumps like pebbles and easy to carry
away, but a search of four hours brought to light only
one piece of any considerable size. This weighed four
pounds. Hearne took it back to the fort, and the Hudson's Bay Company still have it in their possession.    But
BSWHS** 166 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
it was clear that no great mine of wealth lay here for the
Merchant Adventurers. The mountain of copper was
only an Indian myth.
The Indians themselves were not at all at a loss to explain the disappearance of the copper. They said that
many, many years ago their ancestors had been led to
the mountain of copper by a very old woman, and they
could then get as much of the metal as they wished. But
the old woman became greatly displeased with them and
sat down on the ground, saying: "I shall sink into the
earth and take all the copper with me." The Indians
mocked her and went away. Next summer when they
returned she was still there, but she had sunk into the
ground up to her waist. The next year when they came
back she had entirely disappeared, and with her had gone
all the copper except the scattered fragments found still
among the broken rocks. Such was their superstitious tale in
explanation of the disappearance of the mountain of copper.
Hearne's mission was now accomplished. On this third
trip he had travelled more than a thousand miles. It
remained to make the long journey back to Fort Prince
of Wales. On July 25th, wearied and footsore from
forced marching, the party rejoined the squaws and the
children. Game was plentiful, and they moved slowly
southward. At this time occurred one of the saddest
incidents of Indian life. One of the Indian's wives had
been sick for a long time and was no longer able to keep
up with the party. So she was left behind to perish.
This was in accordance with the Indian custom, though it was not always followed. The friends and relations,
leaving some victuals and water and, if possible, a little
firewood, would tell the sick one the path they were going
to follow and then, covering him or her up with deerskins,
would say farewell and walk away crying. Sometimes
those so abandoned recovered and rejoined the tribe, but
more often they met a lingering death by starvation. This
poor woman caught up with the party three different
times, but then, completely worn out, she dropped behind, and no one went back to help her.
By October, winter was closing in with gales of snow
and hard frosts. For this season, the Indians announced
their intention of going to the country of the Athapuscow
Indians to hunt for moose, beaver, and marten, and, on
December 24th, Hearne stood on the northern shore of
Athapuscow or Great Slave Lake. From the Indian
accounts he judged it correctly to be about three hundred
miles in length. Here he spent his second Christmas in
the wilds, alone with the savages, seven hundred miles
from the nearest outpost of civilization at Churchill River.
Of food there was this time a rude abundance, and though
the days were short, with the sun in its circuit above the
southern horizon scarcely rising at highest halfway up
the trees, yet the Aurora Borealis flaming and rustling
overhead, together with the moon and the stars, made
night almost like day. "It was frequently so light all
night," Hearne says, "that I could see to read a very
small print. The Indians make no difference between
night and day when they are hunting the beaver, but
m^UMJBM 168 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
those nocturnal fights are always found insufficient for
the purpose of hunting deer or moose."
Early in January they crossed Great Slave Lake on the
ice to its southern shore. "The scene was agreeably
changed," Hearne records, "from an entire jumble of
rocks and hills to a fine level country in which there was
not a hill to be seen or a stone to be found. Buffalo,
moose, and beaver were very plentiful, and we could discover the tracks of martens, foxes, and other animals of
the fur kind." Hearne gives an accurate description of
the great American bison, which thus is proved to have
ranged as far north of the prairies as Great Slave Lake.
Of the amazing strength and activity of these ponderous
beasts he says, "When they fly through the woods from
a pursuer they frequently brush down trees as thick as a
man's arm and, be the snow ever so deep, such is their
strength and agility that they are enabled to plunge through
it faster than the swiftest Indian can run on snowshoes."
On January 16th they reached the "Grand Athapuscow'1
or Slave River. "The woods about this river," Hearne
narrates, "particularly the pines and the poplars, are the
tallest and stoutest I have seen in any part of North
America. Some of this wood is large enough to make
masts for the largest ships that are built."
Wandering in this level woodland realm throughout the
winter, they turned east in the spring. March found them
once again in a country of hills and rocks. April saw
signs of spring with the waterfowl streaming northward
overhead.    In May the snow and ice went with a rush, Early Explorers
and canoes were built for fording the streams of the Barren
Lands. On the last day of May they crossed the Kazan
River, and on June 30th, 1772, Hearne was welcomed
back like a conqueror at Fort Prince of Wales. "I arrived
hi good health," he says, "having been absent eighteen
months and twenty-three days on this last expedition;
but from my first setting out with Chawchinahaw it was
two years, seven months, and twenty-four days."
The Company of Adventurers were not unmindful of
the services Hearne had performed. Two years later
they chose him, as the most enterprising of their traders,
to found the Company's first inland post at Cumberland
House on the Lower Saskatchewan, and, in 1775, he was made
Governor of Fort Prince of Wales on the Churchill River.
Hearne's fame, however, is that, not of the fur trader,
but of the explorer. He had discovered many new rivers
and lakes; he had pierced to the very heart of the Barren
Lands, and many of the regions he then traversed have
never since been pressed by the feet of civilized man. ft He
had won his way to his goal, the Coppermine River, and
of all white men was the first to reach the Arctic Ocean
from the interior of America. His was the honor of finding Great Slave Lake and Slave River, and being the first
to reach the basin of that mighty river system that Mackenzie was later to trace to its mouth. His journeys had
proved at least two things. A North-West Passage through
North America to the Western Sea did not exist. There
might be a channel to the north of the solid continent,
but if so it was so long and so ice-blocked as to be of no 170
Knights Errant of the Wilderness"
use as a trade route. The Western Sea itself, if it were
not an idle fancy, must lie, as La Verendrye had found,
many hundreds of miles farther to the westward than he
had been, and not but a few days' journey, as many had
claimed, because no Indians were met with who ever had
been to that ,sea. On the contrary, all said that still
other tribes lived towards the sunset, where there was
a high Mountain chain beyond which "all rivers run to
the westward." Hearne himself rightly claims that his
journeys had "put a final end to all disputes concerning
a North-West Passage through Hudson Bay," while the
journal which he wrote of his travels remains to the present
day in many respects the most authoritative work on the
Far North of Canada.
Ruins of Fort Prince of Wales. Early Explorers
A short walk from the ruins of Fort Prince of Wales
brings one to a little rocky inlet called Sloop Cove. There,
carved by his own hand in the face of the cliff, may still
be traced the words, "SI Hearne, July ye 1, 1767." This
simple legend preserves in the rock of that rugged land
through which he wandered the name of one of the most
hardy and intrepid explorers of the Great North-West.
■ft*   mm
I.  Mackenzie, the Young Nor'wester
The Western Sea! What magic for great souls had those
words held! They had lured Hudson on to his sad destiny.
With those words ringing ever in their ears, La Verendrye
and his sons had pressed onward
towards the west, till the great
mountain barrier reared itself
above the plain and barred their
further progress. To west and
north Hearne had travelled inland from Hudson Bay a thousand miles and more, and yet no
Western Ocean had met his gaze,
but only mighty inland lakes
and rivers and the frozen Arctic
But men now knew beyond a doubt that there was a
Western Sea. Long before Hearne's journey Vitus Bering,
a Danish seaman sent out. by Peter the Great, czar of all
the Russias, had discovered the Strait that bears his name
and that separates Asia from North America. In 1776
the famous Captain Cook had sailed along the coast of
Sir Alexander Mackenzie.
J 176 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
what is now British Columbia and Alaska and had passed
through Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean. There was a
Western Sea, then. Mariners had now sailed it from east
to west and south to north. }; But who was to be the first
to reach it overland and thus fulfill the dream that for three
centuries had inspired heroic men to deeds of exploration?
Who would first pierce through the mountains and possess
themselves of the great Empire of the Pacific Coast with its
wealth untold of furs and timber and gold?
There were keen rivals in the field to win this costly
prize. To the south American traders were pressing up
the Missouri to the foothills. To the north the ancient
Company of Merchant Adventurers was awakening from
its century of slumber on the shores of Hudson Bay and
beginning to stretch its mighty arms south and west and
north for trade. Far to the west Russian traders from
Siberia were beginning to cross the sea to win fortunes in
America. But most vigorous and aggressive of all was the
famous North West Company of Canada. Trading up the
Red, the Assiniboine, and the Saskatchewan Rivers, it
soon began to reach out on either hand into the territories
of its rivals and sent its traders south to the Missouri and
north to the Churchill and the Athabaska.
The story of the Nor'westers is a wonderful romance.
The victory of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham had ended
the long struggle between Britain and France for supremacy
in North America. When New France fell, the French fur
traders, who had followed in La Verendrye's footsteps,
packed their last load of peltries in their canoes and with-
■&B Early Explorers 177
drew from the Great West. For a little while the English
Company had no competitor. Then came a change.
Scottish and English traders hired French-Canadian canoe-
men, pushed through from Superior to Lake Winnipeg,
and once again the merry chansons of the voyageurs were
heard on the lakes and rivers of the West.
These new traders the old Hudson's Bay Company contemptuously termed "the peddlers," but they were too
shrewd and energetic to be safely treated with contempt.
By 1767 "the peddlers'' were trading with the Crees and
the Assiniboines near Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine
River, and in the same year James Finlay, from Montreal,
penetrated as far as the Saskatchewan. Peter Pond, Joseph
and Thomas Frobisher, Thomas Currie, and other daring
traders followed Finlay. These men, like the French before them, intercepted the Indians on their way to the forts
on Hudson Bay and thus secured the choicest of the furs.
Nor were the newcomers content to operate in the Saskatchewan Valley alone. They soon appeared in that
north country where the Merchant Adventurers had never
before had any rivals. By 1774 Joseph Frobisher had
made his way northward from the Saskatchewan to the
Churchill by way of Sturgeon or Cumberland Lake, the
Sturgeon-Weir River, and Frog Portage, and two years
later Thomas Frobisher erected a permanent fort on the
Churchill for trade with the Indians of the Athabaska
country on their way to Fort Prince of Wales.
But to sit like the Old Company on the edge of a great
land and wait for trade was not the sort of life that ap-
msf. 178
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
pealed to these bustling traders. They must be ever pushing farther afield. So, in 1778, Peter Pond blazed the path
still farther into the wilderness where yet no white man
had been. He went up the Churchill to Ile a la Crosse
Lake and then, paddling through Lake Clear and Buffalo
Lake, he ascended the shallow River La Loche to the lake
of the same name. Here, following the old Indian trail now
known as Portage La Loche or Methye Portage, Pond
and his party with infinite labor climbed the high, rocky
ridge that divides the waters flowing into Hudson Bay from
those emptying into the Arctic Ocean.
As they surmounted the last rise a marvellous scene
burst on their view. A thousand feet below lay a beautiful
valley, walled in by two lofty, forest-clad heights. Through
the midst of it wound a stream of crystal pure water, shining in the afternoon sun like a thread of silver, while to
the blue mist that hung on the far horizon stretched a
land of lawn and wood on which vast herds of buffalo and
elk wandered at will to pasture. This was the valley of
the Clearwater, a fitting gateway to the great countries of
the Athabaska, the Peace, and the Mackenzie which lay
Quickly descending amid the grateful shade of the pines,
Pond launched his canoes on the little stream and drifted
down to the Athabaska. At this point the river is three-
quarters of a mile wide, and his heart must have given a
great leap as he swept out on its broad waters. Such a
stream could flow only through a mighty land. On the
Athabaska, about thirty miles from its mouth, he built a
^Hi    ; Early Explorers
fort called Old Pond Fort, and a little later he descended
the river to Lake Athabaska itself. He was the first white
man to stand on the shores of this "Lake of the Hills."
The trader was now established in the very heart of the
great Empire of the North. Though Pond knew it not, he
stood also at the beginning of a path that led to another
Empire of the Pacific and to the long sought Western Sea,
for from the westward rolled the flood of the Peace River,
and through the passes of the Upper Peace lay the road to
the Pacific Ocean. But Pond had done his work in pene^
trating to the Athabaska. It remained for a greater than
he, Alexander Mackenzie, to finish the quest on which so
many brave hearts had joyously set forth and from which
as yet not one had returned with victory.
Thirty miles off the west coast of Scotland lie the Outer
Hebrides Islands like a long breakwater, thrown out to
protect the mainland from the boisterous gales that sweep
across the Atlantic. The largest of them is the Island of
Lewis, and here, in 1763, in the little town of Stornoway,
Alexander Mackenzie was born. The people of the Hebrides were a hardy fisher folk, born and bred to the life
of the sea, and, as Alexander grew up, his bold spirit found
pleasure in sharing the perils and hardships of the deep-sea
fishermen. But he had received a good education; he
was strong, intelligent, and ambitious. The little island
did not give room for his restless energies, and so, in 1779,
when only sixteen years of age, he took ship for Canada.
Here, indeed, was a land big enough even for him.    For*
a thousand miles the mcoming ship sailed up the mag- 180 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
nificent Gulf and River St. Lawrence before it reached
Montreal. But this, as Alexander well knew, was only
the entrance to Canada. Beyond Montreal lay the Great
Lakes, and beyond them the Great Plains, and beyond
them the Great Rocky Mountains, and beyond them again,
somewhere, by a path no one yet had travelled, lay the
Pacific, the Western Sea. Perhaps even then in his soul
the resolve was made that he would find that way and
solve that mystery. And in the sturdy frame of the
Scottish lad, the level-poised head, the alert eye, the firm,
clean-cut mouth, and the broad brow, crowned with its
curly thatch of hair, there was abundant promise that from
any task to which he had once set his hand he would not
turn lightly back.
In those days the fur trade was the lodestone that attracted all adventurous spirits, and Mackenzie was soon
in the midst of the great game. He was not long in learning how to play it. By this time most of the Montreal
merchants, seeing that they must be united to compete
with the Hudson's Bay Company with any success, had
joined to form the North West Company. But some of
them held aloof and established a rival firm which later
came to be called the XY Co. It was to this smaller, opposition party that Mackenzie attached himself.
For five years he worked in the counting offices at Montreal, and then his keen business ability and complete
mastery of all the points of the trade led his employers to
place him in command of an expedition to Detroit.
Mackenzie was yet only twenty-one years of age, but he led Early Explorers 181
his party successfully up the rapids of the St. Lawrence
and through the wilds of Upper Canada, in which the
United Empire Loyalists were then just beginning to settle.
So successful was Mackenzie at Detroit that the very next
year, 1785, he was made a "bourgeois" or partner in the
Company and sent far into the western land, of which he
had dreamed, to trade on the Churchill River.
Alexander Mackenzie and his cousin, Roderick, who was
in the same Churchill district, got along in a friendly way
with their rivals. Not so their partner, Peter Pond, the
pioneer of the Athabaska. Hot-headed and quarrelsome,
he got into a broil with Ross, the Nor'wester, and the
latter was shot. The news of this bloodshed caused long
debate when the partners of the two Companies met that
summer, as was their custom, at Grand Portage at the head
of Lake Superior. At last it was decided to club their
interests together under the name of the North West Company, and the man who was sent to take charge of the
difficult situation that had arisen on the Athabaska was
Alexander Mackenzie.
And now behold the young adventurer, in the summer of
1787, making his way from Grand Portage back to the
Churchill and thence by Peter Pond's route to the still more
distant Athabaska. Seldom was it that a man of less than
forty years was given a command under the Company.
Mackenzie was only twenty-four, yet his indomitable
industry and courage had made him, at that age, a Nor'west
partner and had placed him in charge of the most coveted
of all the fur districts.    As Mackenzie reached the summit
IBPJ...-U	 182 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
of La Loche Portage and gazed down the valley of the
Clearwater, and still more as he floated out upon the full
current of the Athabaska and later stood on the shores of
the great lake into which it poured its waters, his spirit
must have expanded within him. Here, indeed, was a
realm worthy of conquest and he, Alexander Mackenzie,
must be the man to wrest from it the secrets that lay
hidden within its borders.
Mackenzie was soon at work. His keen mind at once
grasped the fact that Lake Athabaska was the hub of the
whole region. It tapped the Peace from the west, the
Athabaska from the south, the Slave from the north, and
the Barren Lands from the east. Accordingly, he had
constructed on its shores Fort Chipewyan, which from that
time to the present has been the great emporium of the
northern fur trade. From this as a centre, the French-
Canadian Leroux was dispatched to develop trade on that
Great Slave Lake which Hearne had visited sixteen years
before. Other traders were sent up the Peace and the
Athabaska, and from this far distant north-west great
cargoes of furs were sent down to Grand Portage the next
But Mackenzie was no mere fur trader, seeking to pile
up gold. In him burned the quenchless spirit of the explorer. The unknown was a challenge which he could not
resist. Whence came the mighty Peace River? Whither
flowed the still mightier stream formed by its junction with
the Athabaska? Hearne had reached the Arctic along
the Coppermine, but that puny river could not be the Early Explorers 183
outlet for these vast waters. Indians spoke of a river
flowing out of Great Slave Lake far to the west and the
north. Did it find its outlet in the Arctic or in the long
sought Sea of the West? He must solve these questions.
Even though his journeys might lead only to the frozen
Arctic, they would add to the sum of men's knowledge and
open up new regions for trade.
So Mackenzie made his resolve. By the beginning of
June, 1789, the canoes, filled with the season's pelts for the
distant Grand Portage and Montreal, were dispatched on
their long voyage. For the summer months Mackenzie
was free. He could now take in hand the project he had
long had at heart. He would travel down the north-flowing
river to its mouth, wherever it might be.
II.  Mackenzie's First Journey
Mackenzie knew that the short northern summer would
barely suffice for the trip downstream and the toilsome
return against the current, and so he hurried his preparations. By June 3rd all was in readiness for the race to
the sea. "We embarked at nine o'clock in the morning
at Fort Chipewyan on the south shore of the Lake of the
Hills in a birchbark canoe." Thus unassumingly commences the record of one of the most remarkable journeys
of exploration in the history of North America.
Mackenzie took his place in the largest canoe manned
by four cheerful and sturdy French-Canadian voyageurs
and a young German named Steinbruck. In a smaller
canoe with his two wives travelled the guide, a Chipewyan 184
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
Indian, called the English Chief because of the many
journeys he had made across the Barrens to the Hudson's
Bay Company's posts. He had been one of Matonabbee's
braves on Hearne's famous tliird journey and was well
and favorably known throughout the North Land. Two
other Indians, engaged as interpreters and hunters, followed in a third canoe, while in a fourth, loaded high with
goods, were Leroux and his men, who were to remain on
Great Slave Lake for trade. Already this hardy Canadian
had spent two winters on the lake, and two trading posts
had been built there. So the first part of the journey was
over known ground. jp|
Amid cheers and a salvo of musket shots, the party
pushed gaily out from the wooded point of land on which
old Fort Chipewyan stood. A paddle of twenty miles
westward along the south shore of the lake, and then seven
miles north across its glassy surface, brought them to the
entrance to the Slave River, which they commenced to
descend. Mackenzie notes the remarkable fact that
usually this river flows out of Lake Athabaska to the north,
but when the Peace is in flood the current of the Slave is
reversed and it pours its waters backward into the lake.
The Kitche Okema, as Mackenzie was called by his
Indians, was strict with his men. The first day they had
made but thirty-seven miles. That was not enough to
suit him. Next morning he roused his party at four, and
by half-past seven at night they had traversed sixty-two
miles. The next day they were off at three, and so day by
day, from morning till night, they pressed on — or rather Early Explorers 185
from twilight to twilight, for all the night through the red
and gold of the sunken sun colored the northern sky and
as they progressed ever northward increasingly changed
night into day. But, though Mackenzie was exacting, he
was just, and his very strictness won the confidence and
respect of his men and was one of the secrets of his success.
On the second day they passed the mouth of the Peace
sweeping majestically down through a channel more than
a mile broad into the Slave. On June 5th a dull roar ahead
warned them that they were approaching a rapid. In
fact, it proved to be a series of rapids, and all day long they
labored loading and unloading the canoes and transporting them and the baggage across the portages. One of the
women tried to save herself trouble by running her canoe
through a rapid, but the swirling water gripped it and dashed
it to destruction at the foot of the falls. All her goods were
lost, though she herself, almost by a miracle, reached
shallow water and dragged herself exhausted to land.
Worn out with their labor the party camped at five in the
afternoon, and a joyous shout from the voyageurs hailed
the arrival of the hunters with seven geese, a beaver, and
four ducks for dinner.
But tired though they were, rest was difficult. All day
the mosquitoes hung about them in clouds, and all night
the shrill war-cry of these pests filled the air and their stings
tormented the travellers. So, at half-past two, they were
off again, and by six in the evening they had covered
seventy-two miles. Then came a change in the weather.
A hurricane of wind lashed the water and compelled them
iwmuia 186 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
to land. A torrent of rain descended which drove through
the tents and drenched them to the skin, while it grew so
cold that the Indians put on their mittens. The men
huddled together for warmth and smoked in stolid discomfort. A night and a day passed thus, and then on
the morning of June 9th the weather cleared, and a few
miles' travel brought them to Great Slave Lake. In less
than a week, in spite of all difficulties, they had covered
two hundred and seventy-two miles.
tit was a dreary prospect that now met their gaze. Except for a strip of open water along the shore, ice still
covered the great lake — ice that stretched unbroken to
the horizon and looked like the packs of the Arctic Sea.
Yet, wonderful to relate, though the ground had thawed
only to a depth of fourteen inches, the trees on the shores
of river and lake were in full leaf. There were myriads of
wild fowl on the mud banks and in the reedy marshes.
The Indians said that both to east and west of the Slave
there were great plains on which buffalo roamed and that
moose and reindeer and beaver were plentiful in the neighboring woods. The lake swarmed with fish. It was
evident that if they had to wait for the moving of the ice
there would at least be no lack of provisions.
Great Slave Lake was the centre of the land of the
Chipewyan Indians, and Mackenzie, like Hearne, records
many odd things about them. Their ideas of the creation
of the world and of heaven and hell were very curious.
"They believe," he says, "that at first the globe was one
vast and entire ocean, inhabited by no living creature Early Explorers 187
except a mighty bird whose eyes were fire, whose glances
were Hghtning, and the clappings of whose wings were
thunder. On his descent to the ocean and touching it, the
earth instantly arose and remained on the surface of the
waters. This bird then called forth all the varieties of
animals from the earth except the Chipewyans, who were
produced from a dog. This causes their aversion to the
flesh of that animal as well as to those who eat it. They
believe also that in ancient times their ancestors lived till
their feet were worn out with walking and their throats
with eating. They describe a deluge when the waters
spread over the whole earth except the highest mountains,
on the tops of which they preserved themselves. They
believe that immediately after their death they pass into
another world, where they arrive at a large river, on which
they embark in a stone canoe, and that a gentle current
bears them on to an extensive lake, in the centre of which
is a most beautiful island. In view of this they receive
judgment for their conduct during life. If their good
actions are declared to predominate they are landed upon
the island, where there is to be no end to their happiness.
But if their bad actions weigh down the balance, the stone
canoe sinks at once and leaves them up to their chins in
the water to behold and regret the reward enjoyed by the
good, and eternally struggling, but without avail, to reach
the blissful island from which they are excluded forever."
For five days the restless Mackenzie chafed at delay, and
then a westerly wind opened up a lane in the ice, and they
started northward.    Time and again the ice closed, com- 188 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
pelling them to seek shelter on the little islands that dot
the surface of the lake. On one of these islands they found
a small herd of reindeer, marooned like themselves by the
drifting ice, and so they had plenty of fresh meat. The
mosquitoes no longer annoyed them, but the cold at night
was a hardship. Though it was June 21st, it froze so hard
that the open water was covered with a film of ice an eighth
of an inch thick.
At last they reached the north side of the lake, and there
they encountered three lodges of Red Knife or Copper
Indians, so called because of their copper weapons and
utensils. They knew notiiing, they said, of the great river
which Mackenzie sought, except that it flowed out of the
west end of the lake. So he procured a guide from them,
and, leaving Leroux to conduct the trade on the lake, he
continued his search for the western outlet. It proved
a baffling quest. Day after day they poked in and out
among the islands and marshes trying to find an exit, but
in vain. The Red Knife guide, it was clear, knew no more
about the way than they did themselves, and the English
Chief was so enraged that he threatened to murder him.
Finally, however, on June 29th, on rounding a long island,
they found themselves carried along by a current, and
soon the lake shores narrowed into the banks of a great
river flowing to the west.
Twenty precious days had been spent on Great Slave
Lake. But a steady breeze now blew from the east and,
hoisting sails on their canoes, they scudded lightly before
it.   They met many bands of Indians, Beavers, Slaves, Early Explorers
Dog-ribs, Hares, and others, for the river was the great
highway of the country. But they were all very shy and
fled at the approach of the strangers. This was because
of the raids of the Crees. From the Saskatchewan, war
parties of these doughty braves penetrated far into the
north, and Mackenzie found traces of their ravages even
beyond the Liard River. As the Iroquois laid the fear of
death on the St. Lawrence valley, and the Sioux were the
dread of the plains, so the Crees seem to have been the
terror of all the north country. Once, when Mackenzie
encamped at the foot of a high hill, he took the fancy to
climb it and view the land from its summit. After a hard
climb of an hour and a half he reached the top, only to find
it occupied by an Indian encampment. Often the less
warlike tribes dwelt in such inaccessible places as these, to
be safe from the terrible Crees.
And indeed the Indians of the Mackenzie valley were
very primitive and ill-equipped for war. Their only axes
were of stone, attached by a deerskin thong to a wooden
handle about two feet long. They had bows and arrows,
the latter pointed with bone, horn, flint, copper, and sometimes iron. Their spears were six feet in length and
pointed with bones. Their daggers were of horn or bone,
flat and sharp-pointed, and they also carried a sort of club
made from the antlers of the reindeer. But these things
were of little avail against the superior weapons that the
Crees were now getting in trade from the white men.
Presents of beads, looking-glasses, knives, and other
trifles  soon  overcame  the first shyness  of  the Indians r
190 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
towards Mackenzie, and they approached to marvel at
the strange white men and their wonderful possessions.
The firearms that were endowed with the power of sudden
and magic death filled them with awe, and more than once
Mackenzie was asked by the Indians not to let them off in
their presence. They were unacquainted both with tobacco and firewater, and when these were offered to them
they accepted them more to oblige their visitors than because they enjoyed them.
Mackenzie always inquired of the Indians he met what
was the character of the river that lay below them. The
answers he got were wonderful but very unsatisfactory.
They told him that the river was full of impassable falls
and rapids, that it would require several winters to get to
the sea, that old age would come upon them before their
return, and that the path was beset with monsters of horrid
shapes and evil powers. One party even went so far as
to point out a distant island and declare that behind it
there was a Manitou in the river which swallowed every
person who approached it. "As it would have required
half a day to have indulged our curiosity," Mackenzie
dryly remarks, "we proceeded on our voyage."
These foolish tales had no effect on the white men, but
Mackenzie's superstitious Indians were panic-stricken.
They were tired of the journey. They were afraid of the
Eskimos. Never had they travelled so incessantly before.
They would have deserted, but they were now far from
their own country among strange tribes whom they feared.
Afraid to go on and yet more afraid to desert, their state Early Explorers
was a wretched one. But all their complaints and forebodings fell unheeded on their imperious master. All his
restless energy was centered in pushing on to his goal, the
mouth of the river, and whither he led they found that
they must follow.
On July ist they passed the mouth of the River of the
Mountain — now the Liard. The next day far ahead to
the west they sighted the Rockies. "We perceived,"
Mackenzie says, "a high mountain which appeared on
our nearer approach to be rather a cluster of mountains,
stretching as far as our view could reach to the southward
and whose tops were lost in the clouds." Was this the
same mountain range that far to the south had barred
La Verendrye's way to the Western Sea? Mackenzie
believed that it was, and the conviction began to be borne
in upon him more and more strongly that he who would
reach that Sea must first find a path through the silent
peaks to the westward.
Some distance below, a spur of the mountains crossed
the river, the course of which for several hundred miles
now lay between two parallel ranges. The peaks were
always in sight, sinning marble-white in the sunny distance.
The weather was warm, as they were nearing the region
of perpetual day. But, in spite of the sun and the force
of the current, masses of ice still clung to the river bank in
many places, and the ground was thawed only to a depth
of a few inches.
On July 5th they passed the mouth of the Great Bear
River.   Through this the waters of the lake of the same hit
192 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
name, the largest lake in the Northland, pour into the
Mackenzie in a peculiar greenish current, like the waters
of the sea. One hundred and fifty miles farther downstream they came to the most striking part of the entire
course of the great river. Here suddenly it narrows from
a breadth of several miles to five hundred yards, and flows
on, deep, calm, and majestic, between tree-crowned banks,
rising sheer and rugged from the water's edge to a height
of one hundred and twenty-five to two hundred and fifty
feet. The great limestone cliffs which form this mighty
gorge, fashioned by nature into the semblance of a giant
battlement, have been named the Ramparts of the
On July 9th they encountered a tribe of Indians much
superior in intelligence to those of the upper river. They
told Mackenzie that he would sleep ten nights before he
reached the sea. One of their number also was willing to
act as his guide. Encouraged by this most welcome news,
Mackenzie pressed eagerly on.
The very next day the river began to be divided by many
islands, and they were confronted with a maze of channels.
The guide, terrified at the prospect of meeting the dreaded
Eskimos, wished to keep to the east, but Mackenzie chose
the large middle channel. The guide then rebelled, and
the Chipewyans, alarmed at their distance from home and
the unknown dangers before them, demanded that the
party turn back. But the French-Canadians were loyal
to a man. "For some time back," writes Mackenzie,
"their  spirits were  animated by  the expectation  that Early Explorers
another day would bring them to the Mer d'Ouest and
even in our present situation they declared their readiness
to follow me wherever I should be pleased to lead -them."
The old adventurous spirit of La Salle and La Verendrye
burned in the breasts of these humble but heroic voyageurs
and helped their leader in the crisis. The Indians were
soothed by the promise that if they did not reach the sea
within seven days he would turn back, and they then resumed the journey.
That night they pitched their tents near an abandoned
Eskimo camp. Mackenzie sat up to observe the sun and
was gratified to find that k did not sink below the horizon.
They were in the land of the Eskimos and within the Arctic
The Mouth of the Mackenzie by the Light of the Midnight Sun.
Circle. They must be near the sea. At half-past twelve
he roused one of his tired men to behold the spectacle of
the midnight sun. Rubbing his eyes the man sat up, and
when he saw the sun so high he thought it time to start,
wm 194 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
and began calling his comrades. Great was their astonishment when they were told that it was just past midnight,
and that the sun had never set.
Next day, July 12th, they paddled on down the middle
channel, finding more traces of the Eskimos. The soil on
the banks was not thawed more than four inches deep, and
yet it was carpeted with the bright green grass, the mosses,
and the beautiful flowers which Hearne had seen in the
Barren Lands. It was strange to behold this verdure growing on a film of earth, while ice still caked the river bank
and snowdrifts filled the hollows. Such trees as there were
were spruce, larch, and birch. They were gnarled and
knotted dwarfs, only a few feet high, but often two or three
hundred years old. The wonder was, however, that trees
would grow at all in such a soil.
The river now broadened out into what appeared to be a
great lake. In reality it was the wide river mouth of the
central channel of the Mackenzie delta. Though the ex-
plorer did not know it he had reached his goal, the sea.
They camped on a high island, and Mackenzie and the
English Chief climbed to its loftiest point to survey the
scene. To the west lay open water, but from the southwest far around to the eastward extended a solid sweep of
ice. South-west on the distant horizon and running far to
the north could still be seen the white, phantom outline
of the mountains. No land appeared ahead, but to the
east lay many islands. "My men," says Mackenzie,
"could not at this time refrain from expressions of real
concern that they were obliged to return without reaching
iU,^-T<—-—■MMMM—mmmwmmu    -   , Early Explorers 195
the sea." But both leader and men were soon to be undeceived. Early that night they were compelled to get
up hastily to rescue the baggage from the rising flood.
Was it the tide, or simply the wind heaping the water up
against the shore? Next morning they knew. Mackenzie
was roused by the shouts of his men. Far out on the open
water objects, which they had at first taken to be cakes of
ice, had suddenly come to life and were actively disporting
themselves. What were these strange animals? The
inland voyageurs did not know, but Mackenzie, bred to
the life of the sea, knew that they were whales. They had
reached the Arctic Ocean.    Their quest was at an end.
The men went wild with excitement. In a trice the
canoe was ready, and, with flashing paddles, they were off
in mad pursuit. But at their approach the great fish dived,
and soon a fog settled down over the water, which brought
an end to the chase. "It was indeed a very fortunate
circumstance that we failed to overtake them," writes
Mackenzie, "as a stroke from the tail of one of these enormous fish would have dashed the canoe to pieces." In
honor of the event Mackenzie called the island Whale
Island, and near their camp he put up a memorial of their
visit. On July 14th, 1789, he records: "This morning
I ordered a post to be erected close to our tents, on which
I engraved the latitude of the place, my own name, the
number of persons which I had with me, and the time I
remained here."
For two days longer they remained at the mouth of the
great river, coasting among its islands and trying to get
JUJUUMUIUU 196 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
into touch with the Eskimos. But the Eskimos were far
afield fishing for whales and hunting the reindeer, and the
search for them proved fruitless. So, on July 16th, they
turned southward. "We made for the river," Mackenzie
says, "and stemmed the current."
It was easy travelling in the delta, but when they reached
the main stream the strong current, which before had borne
them so swiftly northward, was now against them. Frequently it was necessary to land and tow the canoe with a
line. This was the hardest of work. The narrow shore
was strewn with rough fragments from the rocky banks.
Moccasins wore out and the men became weary and footsore. So arduous was it that those in the canoes had to
relieve those on shore every two hours. But they were now
facing homeward, and were inspired by the consciousness of
having performed a great deed. Success, too, had given
Mackenzie a greater ascendancy than ever over his men,
and under his tireless leadership they made good progress.
On their way up the great river they met many tribes
of Indians whom they had missed on their way down, and
the explorer constantly questioned them about their
country, particularly about the region to the westward.
Of this he was told marvellous tales. From the Eskimos
the Indians said they had heard of white men far towards
the setting sun in the land across' the great mountains.
They came in canoes big as islands to a great lake called
Belhoullay Toe, or the White Man's Lake. Beyond the
mountains was a great river, mightier they said than even
the Mackenzie, which flowed westward to the lake. Early Explorers
This river, of which the Indians had heard rumors, was
doubtless the Yukon, and the White Man's Lake was the
Pacific. Mackenzie, even at that late season, would have
struck out overland to reach this westward-flowing river,
but all his attempts to secure a guide failed. All the
natives were too terrified to venture into the strange land
beyond the mountains, and it was no wonder, if they
really believed the stories which they told about it. The
inhabitants of that country, they said, were of gigantic
stature and adorned with wings. They possessed canoes
larger than Mackenzie's. They fed on large birds and
could devour a beaver at a single meal. They could slay
common men with their eyes, and it would be sure death
for any one to venture thither.
Impatient with these fables, Mackenzie pushed forward.
On August 2nd they passed the mouth of the Great Bear
River. A few miles above this point they were astounded
to find the bank of the river on fire. A closer examination
showed that it was a seam of coal burning slowly. From
Mackenzie's day to our own this fire has smoldered on,
and for two miles along the river at this point smoke may
be observed pouring upward from the fire, now far down
under the earth. At the same spot they found a sort of
white, sticky mud which the Indians sometimes ate, and
which they used as a gum for chewing. The explorers
tasted it, and found that it had a pleasing, milky flavor.
On August 14th they reached the Liard, and two days
later they paddled out through reedy shallows on to the
broad expanse of Great Slave Lake.    There they were re-
j 198
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
joined by Leroux, who had had a profitable summer's
trade. On August 30th, the explorer paid off his Indians,
and continued his way southward up the Slave River. He
reached Fort Chipewyan on September 12th, 1789. He
had been absent exactly one hundred and two days, during
which he had traversed nearly three thousand miles and
had explored to its mouth a hitherto unknown river that
was no unworthy rival to the Mississippi and the St.
III.  Mackenzie's Second Journey
Though his exploit had been one of the most notable in
all the brilliant annals of North American exploration, yet
Mackenzie himself was dissatisfied with his achievement.
He called the great stream that now bears his name the
"River Disappointment," for he had hoped to reach the
open Western Sea and instead had found only the ice-
choked Arctic. Even there he had still seen the mountains
stretching ever farther northward. Like La Verendrye, he
now concluded that these mountains could not be outflanked. They must be pierced. But where? The
Frenchman, when death overtook him, was about to ascend
the Saskatchewan to its sources. At Mackenzie's door
flowed another river, the Peace, which from its very greatness must take its rise far in the heart of the western mountains. Could he but reach those upper waters and set foot
upon the height of land, he would soon portage across to
westward-flowing streams and float down them to the sea.
More and more irresistible became his desire to perform
this deed.   He could not rest with this great mystery Early Explorers
unsolved. He could not let the Spaniard from Mexico and
the Russian from Siberia win the Pacific slope when, by a
bold effort, it was possible to press through from the plains
and gain for Britain her share in the wealth of"that new land.
What mattered it that his partners in the North West
Company treated his first voyage with jealous silence and
would not take up a vigorous policy of exploration? He
would put his own courage and resources into the task, and
if determination could win then he would not fail.
With Mackenzie to resolve was to act. In the autumn
of 1791, at his own expense he took the long journey to
London, there to acquire that knowledge of astronomy,
the lack of which had greatly hampered him in accurately
tracing his first voyage. Having spent the winter in study,
he purchased the best instruments that money could buy
and then took ship for Canada. October, 1792, found him
once more on Lake Athabaska and ready for the great
Mackenzie's plan was to winter on the Peace River and,
with the spring, make a dash westward for the Sea. On
October 10th the party started from Fort Chipewyan, and
by the 12th were paddling up the main stream of the Peace.
They passed Peace Point, the spot on which long ago Cree
and Beaver Indians had composed their strife and thus
given a name to both the point and the river. Portaging
around the twenty-foot fall that breaks the lower course
of the Peace, they reached the Old Estabfishment, the
Company's first fort on the river. It had already been
abandoned, but it is interesting as having been the scene
HS^BHI 2cx> Knights Errant of the Wilderness
of the first agricultural experiment in that country. "In
the summer of 1788," Mackenzie says, "a small spot was
cleared at the Old Establishment and sown with turnips,
carrots, and parsnips. The first grew to a large size and
the others thrived very well, and experiment was also made
with potatoes and cabbages, the former of which were
successful, but, for lack of care, the latter failed. There is
not the least doubt but the soil would be very productive
if a proper attention was given to its preparation." Such
was the first small beginning of agriculture in that great
northern granary of Canada.
Six miles beyond the point where the Smoky River joins
the Peace, Mackenzie halted and set his men to the task of
building winter quarters. The cold days were now upon
them, and they worked as busily as beavers to erect shelter.
By the New Year they were all safely housed in a stout,
palisaded fort, and able to defy the coldest weather. At
times the thermometer did fall many degrees below zero,
but the winter was broken by the most remarkable mild
spells, caused by the warm south-west chinook winds blowing across the mountains from the Pacific. "On December 29th," wrote Mackenzie, "a rumbling noise was heard
in the air like distant thunder, when the sky cleared away
in the south-west, from whence there blew a perfect hurricane which lasted till eight. Soon after it commenced, the
atmosphere became so warm that it dissolved all the snow
on the ground; even the ice was covered with water and
had the same appearance as when it is breaking up in the
spring." Early Explorers
From the Indians Mackenzie heard of a great river on the
other side of the mountains flowing towards the sunset.
These tidings only whetted his impatience to be off. In
April, spring came with all its Northern suddenness. In a
few days the snow vanished, the grass was green, and
flowers blossomed everywhere. On the 25th the ice on the
river went out with a rush, and by the end of the month the
furs were packed and shipped off by canoes for Grand
Portage. Then on May 9th, 1793, they stood ready to
take the plunge into the unknown land that lay to westward.
The party consisted of Mackenzie, Alexander Mackay,
a trusted veteran of the fur trade, six French-Canadian
voyageurs, two of whom had been with Mackenzie on his
first voyage, and two Indians to serve as guides, hunters,
and interpreters. Their canoe was a beauty, thirty feet
long, twenty-six inches deep, and four feet nine, inches
broad. So light was it that on a good road two men could
carry it three or four miles without resting, yet it could hold
with ease the ten men and their three thousand pounds of
baggage. As they pushed off from midstream some of the
Indians left behind, Mackenzie tells us, "shed tears on the
reflection of those dangers which we might encounter in our
expedition, while my own people offered up their prayers
that we might return in safety."
Had the explorers known the hardships and perils that
were before them they might well have been daunted. But
for a time all went well. Their way lay through what
Mackenzie called "the most beautiful scenery I have ever 202 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
beheld." The country was like a great park, groves of
trees alternating with open, rolling prairie, and everywhere
it was alive with game. They saw vast herds of elk and
buffalo, the latter with their young frisking gaily about
them. They came upon bear tracks too, measuring nine
inches wide, and on May 16th Mackenzie writes, "We this
day saw two grizzly and hideous bears." The Indians were
in great terror of these animals and never ventured to attack
them except in parties of three or four strong.
On the afternoon of May 17th they caught a glimpse of
the snowclad peaks of the Rockies, and a mountain keenness began to pervade the air. Then the river banks grew
higher, until they were two rocky precipices that excluded
all view of the surrounding country. The current became
swifter,, so that they had to pole instead of paddle. Soon
the river narrowed till in places it was but fifty yards across,
while all ahead the canyon roared and echoed with the
rushing waters. Mackenzie climbed a hill, only to find that
as far as he could see the river was a series of foaming rapids
and leaping cataracts. There was no tiling for it but to
keep on. When poling was impossible, they tracked the
canoe with their sixty fathom line. Once, in the midst of
a dangerous rapid, a wave struck the canoe head on, and
the towing rope parted. For one tense moment there
flashed across Mackenzie's mind the vision of his canoe
wrecked, his supplies lost, his expedition ruined — but
almost by a miracle the next wave cast the canoe ashore,
where it was made fast by the men. On another occasion
those on the towline came to a sheer face of solid rock where Early Explorers
there was no room for them to pass. It looked as though
the obstacle were insurmountable, but Mackenzie was as
ready as any of his men to imperil his life for the success of
the undertaking. Seizing an axe, he began to cut footholds in the rock. One false move and he would have been
hurled to destruction in the torrent below, but, step by
step, he got across. Then, leaping down to a small rock
ahead, he caught the others on his shoulders as they followed him, and thus they were able to go on.
Day after day they persevered. Foot by foot they
fought their way up the gorge of the Peace. At last flesh
and blood could do no more. The voyageurs, hardy and
cheerful though they were, began to mutter threateningly.
Far as the eye could reach was notliing but foaming waters
and precipitous banks, ever seeming to grow more impassable. It was madness, the men said, to further attempt
the passage of such a river.    They must turn back.
But to turn back was the last thing Mackenzie would
consent to. If they could not ascend the gorge, then they
must portage around it, even though the portage should be
over a mountain top. The explorer called a halt. Next
day Mackay was sent in advance to seek a path along the
river's edge to a point where it again became navigable.
He returned with the news that it would be nine miles overland through thick woods, high hills, and deep valleys
before they could again launch their canoe. Mackenzie
was resolute to make the attempt, but to inspire his men
he used a little cunning. He prepared a special feast,
"A kettle of wild rice," he says, "sweetened with  sugar,
BR 204
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
with their usual regale of rum, soon renewed that courage
which disdained all obstacles that threatened our progress,
and they went to rest with a full determination to surmount
them on the morrow."
Next day they began the portage. It was stubborn
work. First the baggage had to be carried two hundred
feet or more up the pre- ^tW^i H
cipitous bank, where a
false step would have
hurled the voyageur to
instant death. Then,
with infinite labor, the
canoe was warped to the
top by passing the line
around tree trunks. On
they went in the same
fashion up the mountain
side. Four of the party
now had to be detached
to clear a way through
the woods, while the
others strained at the heavy packs and toiled onward with
the canoe. It was uphill work till noon of the second
day, when the ground began to slope gently downward
again. They had crossed the summit of the Rockies, but
high though they were they could see little, for still higher
peaks soared white above them on all sides. On the evening of the second day they camped, dead tired, near the
tongue of a glacier, from which flowed an ice-cold rivulet
Carrying Supplies Over a Portage. Early Explorers
of purest water. At four o'clock on May 24th the gleaming
water of the Peace, to their inexpressible joy, was again
beheld through the trees, and the exhausted explorers
launched their canoe once more upon its current. They
had crossed what is now called Rocky Mountain Portage.
The Rockies, through which the Peace thus cuts its furious
way, were now behind them, but far ahead they were
dismayed to see still another range towering aloft to bar
their westward way.
On May 31st they stood at the forks of the Peace.
Were they to ascend the Finlay coming from the northwest or the Parsnip flowing from the south-east ? The voyageurs wished to go up the former, which was the broader
and gentler stream, but Mackenzie, much to their disgust,
chose the latter, for an old Indian had told him that it was
from the headwaters of this that a portage led to a great
river where the Indians built houses and lived upon islands.
This river must flow to the Pacific, and could he but launch
his canoe upon it, he felt that success would be within his
The snows were melting in the mountains, and the Finlay
was a raging torrent, difficult to stem. In the first afternoon they covered only two or three miles, but they kept
on. Often they had to land to repair their canoe. Often
the water was so high that they got in among the trees of
the forest that bordered the stream and pulled themselves
along by the branches. Everywhere, however, as they*
advanced there was abundant evidence that even if their
toil should not open up a way to the Western Sea, yet they
K' 206 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
were penetrating a country of great value to the fur trader.
"In no part of the North-West," says Mackenzie, "did I
see so much beaver work. In some places they had cut
down several acres of large poplars, and we saw also a great
number of these active and sagacious animals. The time
which these wonderful creatures allot for their labors is the
whole of the interval between the setting and the rising sun."
Often the men grew sullen and discontented and wished
to turn back, but Mackenzie's ardor rose superior to every
trial, and by the example which he set and the continual
words of hope and inspiration which he addressed to them
he kept them at their task. Nor was their progress without
some little encouragement. One day they spied a party
of Rocky Mountain Indians. At first the savages were
greatly alarmed at the apparition of these strange white
men, but after a little while, won over by trifling gifts, they
were induced to approach. They had heard of white men
before, they said, but never till now had they seen them.
They knew of a large river flowing towards the midday sun
which the White Chief would reach by continuing his
course and crossing the portage. To the west of them,
also, they said, lived the Carrier Indians, who traded
between the Mountain Indians and those of the coast.
The latter lived in houses on the shores of the "Stinking
Lake," as they called the ocean, and thither white men had
come in great ships with sails like clouds. Were these the
Spaniards, or the Russians, or the British under Captain
Cook, who just a little while before had sailed along the
coast of what is now British Columbia?   Mackenzie did Early Explorers
not know, but the tidings of these white men and of the
great river to the southward buoyed him up in his hope of
reaching the sea.
Mackenzie had missed the mouth of the Pack or Mc-
Leod's Lake River, because it was concealed behind a
wooded island. Had he found and followed it he could
have reached the Fraser by a much easier route. As it
was, he kept on up the Parsnip until at last on Tuesday,
June nth, 1793, they reached the shore of a little lake,
blue as the sky that topped the encircling mountain peaks.
Mackenzie was now at one of the sources of the mighty
river that takes its name from him. Four years ago he
had stood two thousand four hundred and twenty miles
downstream at the point where the waters of the lake at
his feet were destined to find their ultimate home in the
Arctic Ocean. Over every mile of that vast distance the
intrepid explorer had now travelled. His was the honor
of being first at the mouth and first at the source of one of
the world's greatest rivers.
They stood upon the Great Divide. Eight hundred and
seventeen paces across a low, rocky ridge brought them to
another little lake, from which ran a brawling mountain
stream. On this they launched their canoe. They were
now on waters tributary to the Fraser, the third largest
river of the Pacific coast, and of all white men they were the
first to float down a stream which flowed, though far to
southward, into the Western Sea.
Mackenzie called the little river they were now descending the Bad River, and good reason they had so to remember
»■ ■■■■■■■■■■"■■■■■■■■■■■■IMIW|illlWIUBB—B—BBB—B-—^pap—■—Wj &-* _ ^X
208 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
it. They had not gone far when the violence of the current
dashed the stern of the canoe upon a rock. The steersman
lost control, and next instant the boat swung round and
the bow was shattered upon the other bank. One man,
thrown out by the shock, luckily found refuge on a sand
bank. Another, as the canoe dashed madly on, tried to
stop it by seizing an over-hanging branch, only to be
whipped like a shot out of the canoe and hurled ashore.
On, on the vessel went, tumbling over a cascade and now,
a mere wreck, with the remaining men clinging to it for dear
life, it drifted swiftly downstream for several hundred
yards until at last the struggling men managed to get it
into shallow water. The Indians, completely unmanned,
sat on the bank and wept at this calamity. But the heroic
Mackenzie remained to his waist in the ice-cold water,
holding the canoe until the voyageurs had got the baggage
ashore.   Then, half dead, he staggered to the bank.
Seldom has a leader's courage and resolution so been
tried. The canoe was broken. Some of the baggage and
all the musket balls had been lost. The voyageurs were
wearied, discouraged, and mutinous. The Indians were
completely terrified, and clamored to turn back. But
Mackenzie's iron will never wavered for a moment. Wisely,
he waited till the men had had a warm meal and their usual
dram of rum, and then he addressed them. The greater
the dangers and difficulties, he said, the greater would be
the honor of reaching the Western Sea. He appealed to
the pride of the French-Canadians, praising the hardihood
of the men of the north.   To turn back would be eternal Early Explorers
disgrace; to press onward would be to win undying glory.
At last his words had their effect on the generous French
temper of the boatmen, and, fired by his own indomitable
spirit, with a shout they pledged themselves to follow
wherever he might lead them. "Fortitude in Distress'1
was the famous motto of the North West Company.
Never put more staunchly into practice than on this
occasion. The canoe was repaired, and, surmounting
obstacle after obstacle, they traversed the course of the
Bad River, and on June 17th Mackenzie writes: "At
length we enjoyed, after all our toil and anxiety, the inexpressible satisfaction of finding ourselves on the bank
of a navigable river on the west side of the first great range
of mountains."
Down this river they floated to the Fraser, reaching the
main stream at the great fork where it is half a mile wide.
Here the river takes a magnificent sweep to the west before
it turns southwards on its course to the Sea. As they
advanced, they saw many signs of the presence of natives.
They found a deserted Indian house and observed smoke
rising above the trees in the distance. But, though
Mackenzie was very anxious to meet the Indians in order
to secure guides and gain information regarding the country,
it was not until June 21st that he succeeded in getting in
touch with any of them. Then the reception that he was
accorded was scarcely of the kind that he wished.
They were Carrier Indians. The first of the party who
spied the white men set up a loud whoop to alarm his
fellows, and soon the savages swarmed out of the woods, 210 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
armed with their bows and arrows and spears. Wild with
excitement they danced and gesticulated on the shore, all
the time brandishing their weapons and shouting out
menacing cries. When the voyageurs ventured to approach
they were received with a shower of arrows, none of which,
by great good luck, did any damage. The friendly speeches
of the interpreter were completely disregarded, so Mackenzie ordered his men to land on the opposite bank.
Thus the two parties faced each other with the river rolling
It was of the utmost importance that these Indians should
be won over. If they remained hostile they would send
word of the approach of enemies down the river. Every
step forward would be opposed, and the little party would
be overwhelmed by the numbers of its foes. But how to
win their friendship — that was the question. At last
Mackenzie hit on a scheme which only a daring mind like
his would have conceived.
He proposed to walk alone along the margin of the river.
He took the precaution, however, of having one of his
Indians slip into the woods behind him armed with two
muskets. There he was to lie concealed, and, if the
Carriers attacked Mackenzie, he was to fire upon them, and
the others were to rush at once to their leader's assistance.
The plan worked to perfection. Mackenzie walked
along the bank and openly laying aside his weapons made
friendly signals to the Indians. Seeing him alone, two
of them at last pushed timidly off from the other shore,
but they halted a hundred yards away.   The explorer Early Explorers
then displayed looking-glasses, beads, and other alluring
trinkets as gifts, which enticed them to approach the shore,
but they came with their canoe stern foremost, ready to
dart away at an instant's warning. Finally Mackenzie's
friendliness induced them to land. Then the interpreter
came up, and soon they were all sitting side by side in
friendly talk. Presently the adventurous pair returned
to their companions, delighted with the gifts they had
received, and it was not long before the white men were
invited to cross the river, where they and their belongings
were received with mingled admiration and astonishment.
As the explorer distributed little gifts liberally and treated
the children to the wonderful unknown luxury of lumps
of sugar, he soon became very popular and his questions
about the way to the sea were readily answered. The
place where the great river entered " the Stinking Waters,"
they said, was many, many days' journey towards the midday sun. The current was strong and broken by innumerable falls and rapids, while towering, perpendicular
banks, much higher and more rugged than any they had
yet encountered, made portaging impossible. Added to
these perils were those from the natives who, the Carriers
said, were very fierce and hostile.
It was hardly an encouraging picture, but Mackenzie
was not easily daunted. Persuading two of the Carriers
to act as guides, he went stubbornly on. But the Indians,
of whom he now met numerous parties, all told the same
story, the truth of which was more and more confirmed by
the fierce rush of the river current and the mountains, 212
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
which reared themselves ever more tlireateriingly to southward. Why, if he wished to reach the sea, the Indians
asked, did he not follow their route straight to the westward instead of descending this south-flowing river? It
was not a long journey, for the sea was not far towards
the setting sun. First, they ascended a stream, now called
the Blackwater, which flowed from the west into the
Fraser. From thence they travelled along a well-beaten
path, and slept but two nights before they came to a river
that flowed down to the sea. On this river were many
villages, and the inhabitants had great canoes, larger
even than Mackenzie's, in which they could quickly make
the voyage to the coast. Always the natives told this same
story of the difficulties of the river ahead and the ease with
which he could travel overland to the Western Sea. What
should he do ?
Mackenzie pondered long over this problem. After
all, his goal was the Sea, and not the exploration of this
river. The river must, of course, lead to the Sea, but
his own common sense told him that any stream that cut
its way through such a mass of mountains as lay before
him must be very difficult to navigate. Then, too, time
was precious. The summer was wearing on. They had
only thirty days' provisions left, and their ammunition
was becoming exhausted. His one chance, he concluded,
of completing the expedition that year lay in making the
dash overland to the sea. So he resolved to turn north
and retrace his course to the Blackwater, or West Road
River, as he called it.   But this was not turning back. Early Explorers
If the overland route should fail, he was unalterably determined to return to the Fraser and try to descend it to
its mouth. This he would do, even if he had to attempt
it alone, and if it cost him his life.
Having thus resolved, Mackenzie stated the situation to
his men, not hiding its difficulties and perils. At the
same time he told them the decision to which he had come.
The response of the noble fellows was magnificent. It
was worthy of such a leader. "They unanimously assured me," Mackenzie proudly records, "that they were
as willing now as they had ever been to abide by my resolutions, whatever they might be, and to follow me wherever
I should go."
It was Sunday, June 23rd, when this momentous decision was made. A guide was at once procured who
preceded them overland to an appointed place on the
Blackwater, and the canoe then faced about for the ascent
of the Fraser to that point. Before turning back, however,
Mackay carved the name of Alexander Mackenzie, with
the date, on a tree by the river bank. On this spot, the
furthest point to which Mackenzie descended the Fraser
River, the North West Company later erected a fort, and
in honor of the explorer called it Alexandria.
Their way back was beset with danger at every step.
When the Indians saw them retracing their course up
the river thus unexpectedly, they at once feared treachery
and became extremely hostile. During the day the explorers had to be perpetually on their guard, and at night
each stationed himself with his back to a tree and his 214 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
musket within easy reach. The voyageurs in this threatening situation again became panic stricken, and it was
only Mackenzie's steady head that averted disaster. The
old canoe was now quite useless, and two days had to be
spent in building a new one. Then on they went again
and on July 3rd reached the Blackwater. Here, to their
. great relief, their guide met them. He had kept his word,
and he proudly boasted of his faithfulness as he strutted
about in a fine new painted beaver robe. So pleased was
Mackenzie that he gave him a jacket, a pair of trousers, and
a handkerchief, with which reward the Indian was immensely delighted.
Next day they prepared for the overland journey.
The canoe was placed bottom up on a stage made of poles,
and was shaded from the sun by a covering of tree branches.
Such provisions as they could not carry they cached.
This was cleverly done. Two deep holes were dug, the soil
and the sod being carefully placed on a large sheet spread
near by. Then an oilcloth was laid in the bottom of each
hole, and the articles were placed upon it. Another
tarpaulin was drawn over the top, and some of the earth
was thrown in and tramped down. Over this the sod
was carefully replaced and on top of it a camp fire was
kindled, the ashes of which completed the work of concealment. The unused earth was then cast into the river,
and the men took up their packs. Each of the voyageurs
took on his shoulders a burden of nearly ninety pounds
in addition to his musket and ammunition, while the
loads of Mackenzie and Mackay were not much lighter. Early Explorers
Thus encumbered, at noon on July 4th they set out on their
tramp to the Sea.
Their way lay roughly along the Blackwater River.
Up hill and down dale they went, through somber forest,
sunny glade, and steaming marsh. Heavy laden as they
were, their feet sank deep in the forest mold. When it
rained, they had no shelter but an oilcloth spread above
them with sticks. The moisture made the out-croppings
of the rocks slippery as ice and left the underbrush so
dripping wet that, even though Mackenzie went ahead
to dash the drops from the branches, yet his men were
all drenched to the skin. In this rough work their moccasins were soon worn out, and their clothes were torn to
tatters. Footsore and exhausted utterly, when nightfall came they dropped their packs and fell asleep beside
them, too tired to keep a watch.
But in the midst of all their trials, they were upborne
by a growing consciousness that they were on the right
path at last. The very first night they encountered an
elderly Indian, who said that for men not heavily burdened it was but an eight days' journey to the sea. He
had just returned thence, he said, and he displayed a
lance of European manufacture which he had "obtained
in trade with the Coast Indians. At the first Indian camp
to which they came, Mackenzie found two halfpence
hung as earrings in children's ears. % One was an English
halfpenny of the reign of George III and the other a coin
of Massachusetts bearing the date of 1787. Another
party told them that that very year, at the time when the
tiuumjuw 216 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
leaves began to grow, a great wooden canoe sailed by white
people had appeared at the coast. Thus, as they advanced,
the evidence that they were nearing the Western Sea
grew ever more convincing.
Everywhere, too, the natives received them in a friendly
fashion, and thus their progress was speeded. On the
6th they came to the great main road leading to the sea,
and, as it ran through a fairly level country, they made
more rapid headway. Then, striking south-west from
the upper branches of the Blackwater, the road led them
across the Dean River and through the snowcapped
passes of the Tsi-tsutl Mountains to the headwaters of
the Bella Coola. It was on the banks of this stream,
late at night on July 17th, that the fires of an Indian village gleaming through the dusk told the weary travellers
they had reached the last stage of their journey, for here,
they had been informed, they could obtain canoes in which
they would be able to paddle quickly down the river to
the Sea.
Some of their Indian companions had gone ahead to
announce their coming, and Mackenzie was received most
graciously. § He was directed to the house of the Chief.
It was a large dwelling, he tells us, erected on upright
poles, at some distance from the ground. A broad piece
of timber with steps cut in it was the stairway that led
up to the entrance. ^Mounting this, Mackenzie entered
a large apartment in which three fires blazed. At the far
end several men were seated on a wide board ready to
receive him, and behind them was a plank about four feet
L Early Explorers 217
wide which marked off the sleeping from the living room.
The squaws and children had retired to bed and were now
peering forth from this recess in wide-eyed wonder at their
strange guests.
Shaking hands with his hosts, Mackenzie seated himself
beside the Chief. The latter, as soon as all of the party
had arrived, rose gravely, and, ordering mats to be placed
before his guests, served them with delicious roasted
salmon and other native dishes of herbs and berries. jj I Having been regaled with these delicacies," the explorer writes,
"we laid ourselves down to rest, with no other canopy
than the sky; but I never enjoyed a more sound and refreshing sleep, though I had a board for my bed and a billet
for my pillow."
Next morning when they awoke at five o'clock, these
kindly Indians already had a fire lit and at once served
them with a delicious breakfast of salmon and fresh-
picked berries. Mackenzie gives a very interesting description of these friendly Coast Indians. Their houses
were mostly, like that of the Chief, constructed ten or
twelve feet above the ground on stout upright posts. In
one of the villages which he visited, he saw one of these
houses that was one hundred and twenty feet long and
forty feet wide. This was a sort of Indian apartment
house, in which many families lived. Along the centre
was a row of fireplaces, and along each side the house was
divided by cedar planks into little rooms about seven
feet square, across the entrance to which was a movable
board about three feet high.    These were the bedrooms 218 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
to which they retired for rest. Above, on the great beams
that stretched from side to side of the house, rested strongly
made wooden chests in which the natives kept provisions,
utensils, and other valuables. From beam to beam were
placed poles, on which roasted fish were hanging ready
for use, while above all was the roof, composed of boards
and bark, resting on a central ridge pole. At the top
were left numerous openings for the entry of light and air
and the escape of the smoke.
The chief food of the Indians was salmon, of which there
were incredible numbers. With great ingenuity and labor
the natives constructed embankments or weirs across
the river, thus damming back the current. In these
they left passages for the salmon leading directly to their
fishing machines. These were great basket-like traps,
fifteen feet long and four or five feet wide, made of long
thin strips of wood fastened on hoops so as to let the water
run through, but keep all but the smallest fish entrapped.
At the foot of the fall they also fished with dipping nets.
The natives were very superstitious regarding the salmon,
lest anything might frighten them away. All other animal
food they believed unclean. Thus, when one of the voyageurs threw a deer bone into the river, instantly a native
dived, brought it up, and, having cast it into the fire,
washed his hands, which he deemed to have been soiled.
When Mackenzie asked for a canoe to carry his party
down the river, they would provide it only on condition
that no venison should be taken aboard, as they thought
that might scare away the salmon from the stream. Early Explorers
Leaving this, the Friendly Village, as he called it, Mackenzie now embarked, with seven natives manning the
canoes. "I had imagined," he says, "that the Canadians
who accompanied me were the most expert canoemen in
the world, but they were very inferior to these people,
as they themselves acknowledged." So skillful were these Indians
that they could take a
canoe leaping over the
weirs without shipping
a drop of water. Proceeding downstream at
a great pace, in two
and a half hours they
came to another settlement.
It was a larger village
of more than two hundred people. Immediately the strangers appeared all was in an
uproar of fear and excitement, but Mackenzie walked calmly
into the midst of them, and soon they laid aside their
weapons and crowded around to examine him with the
greatest curiosity. At last he became so tightly wedged
in the crowd that he could scarcely stir hand or foot.
Then an elderly chief made his way with dignity through
the throng and embraced the explorer, while his son, who
Two Chiefs of the Coast Indians of
British Columbia.
■M1U.WIHW1MBHB 220 Knights Errant of the Wilderness
followed him, placed on Mackenzie's shoulders a magnificent cloak of otter skin. The latter responded with the
gift of a blanket to the young chief and of a pair of scissors
to his father. He explained to him how these might be
used for trimming his beard, which was of great length,
and to this purpose the Indian at once applied them.
In the great lodge of the chief a banquet was now spread
with all due ceremony. It consisted largely of roast
salmon and sweet cakes made from the inner rind of the
hemlock tree. These were dipped in salmon oil and found
to be very delicious. For three hours the feast lasted,
and then Mackenzie made a tour of the village. The
great totem poles of these people showed considerable
skill in sculpture, as did also the carved posts and rafter
ends of some of the houses. With great pride the Chief
showed Mackenzie his big cedar canoe, which was forty-
five feet long. It was painted black with white figures of
different kinds of fish on it, and the gunwale fore and aft
was inlaid with the teeth of the sea otter. In this canoe,
he said, ten years before he had been kindly received by
white men sailing along the coast in two large vessels.
These were probably the ships of Captain Cook.
Mackenzie was now impatient to be again on his way,
but his new friends were very reluctant to part with him
until they saw him set up his instruments to observe the
sun. This was magic. At once they fell into a great panic
and begged him to desist lest he should frighten the salmon
from their river. Immediately now the canoe for which he
had asked was provided, and they were speeded on their way. B5H  Early Explorers
They were now nearing the end of their long quest.
The river soon began to divide into many channels and
the salty tang of the sea was in the air. When they
camped that night they saw in the distance that inlet of
the Pacific now called North Bentinck Arm, and next
morning at eight o'clock, July 20th, 17.93, the prow of
their canoe began to glide through the salt water of the
Sea. It was ebb tide and the seaweed lay bare along the
shore. Seals aired themselves on the rocks and dived
into the deep cool waters, while porpoises bobbed up and
down at play, and overhead white eagles screamed and
flew low in a cloudy sky.
Crossing the entrance to South Bentinck Arm, Mackenzie landed on Point Menzies. A little later he proceeded further westward along Burke Channel, and there
waited for the sky to clear so that he could observe the
sun and fix his position on the coast. In this he at last
succeeded. "I now mixed up some vermilion in melted
grease," he says, | and inscribed in large characters on the
south-east face of the rock this brief memorial—'Alexander
Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the 22nd of July, one
thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.'" Such was
the finding of the far-famed Western Sea.
But even in the very hour of triumph danger and disaster
threatened. For two days they had been followed about
by an ever increasing throng of natives, whose attitude
grew more and more menacing. They were led by a
swaggering fellow who said that white men in a great
canoe who had recently been in the bay had fired on his 222
Knights Errant of the Wilderness
friends and beaten him with a sword, and he seemed bent
on revenge. Mackenzie's Indians and even the voyageurs
had grown terror-stricken at this situation and had implored hhn to turn back now that he had reached the Sea.
But all the savages in the world would not have turned
Mackenzie back until he had made the observations
necessary to establish his position on the coast. Now,
however, he could face about with honor and, retracing
his way to the mouth of the Bella Coola, he landed and
approached a village. But the hostile natives had preceded them, and suddenly a horde of Indians sprang out
upon him, brandishing knives and with murder in their
eyes. For the moment Mackenzie was alone and in
deadly peril. He levelled his musket, which halted them,
for they knew the power of firearms. One, however,
creeping up silently, seized him from behind. With a
struggle Mackenzie disengaged himself, but in so doing
lost his cloak and his hat. Then the arrival of his own
people sent his assailants scattering into the woods. But
Mackenzie's blood was now up and he was resolved to
teach them a lesson. Marching on boldly, he took possession of the village and refused to give it up, until the
cowed Indians had restored toiiim his hat and cloak and
all other goods which they had stolen, and had given his
party a supply of fish.
Having thus resolutely dealt with his enemies, the victorious explorer named the place Rascals' Village and went
on his way without further molestation. He rested again
at Friendly Village, and then crossing the mountains,
reached the Fraser on August 4th, exactly one month after Early Explorers 223
his departure overland for the sea. August 15th found
them again on the waters of the Bad River. Two days
later they launched their canoes on the Parsnip, and on
August 24th Mackenzie was hailed with rejoicing at the
fort on the Peace River from which he had started early
in May. "Here," says Mackenzie, "my voyages of discovery terminate. Their toils and their dangers, their
solicitudes and their sufferings have not been exaggerated
in my description. I received, however, the reward of
my labors for they were crowned with success."
Success! Though the modest explorer might thus
simply put it, that is far too mild a word with which to
picture the worth of his achievements. He had traced a
mighty unknown river, whose basin was an empire, from
its source in the heart of the Rocky Mountains to its far-
off delta in the Arctic Ocean. Through countless perils
and hardships he had won his way to that Western Sea
which for three hundred years had been the goal sought
by the most daring spirits of two great races — and sought
till then in vain. Where Carrier, Hudson, La Salle, La
Verendrye, and others had failed, he had won victory. It
was no wonder, then, that when the ragged explorer emerged
from the untracked wilderness which he had conquered,
he leaped quickly into a foremost place among the fur
traders of Canada, while the king, with justice, accorded
him that honor of knighthood which in olden days was
the guerdon of brave deeds. But greatest of all his rewards was that for all time he will be remembered as the
one whose valor and endurance opened up the first pathway
across North America from sea to sea. ■Mitoaa^^ wmms University of British Columbia Library
■AM Li K    /
APR 231W
jUfH 1367
JAN 21) 1991
9 1991 ROD
OCT 2,5 REC'b
DEC! 01970
FORM No. 310  


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