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Voyages from Montreal on the river St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the frozen… Mackenzie, Alexander, 1764-1820 1802

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Array   JI.I    .,
\f \
Continent oj* North America,&c.
A.     ~-  VOYAG
IN THE YEARS 1789 AND 1793.
Illustrated with
1802*  r
Ol^tpresenting this Vokime to my Country,
it is not necessary to enter into a particular
account of those voyages whose journals form
the principal part of it, as they will be found,
I trust, to explain themselves. It appears,
however, to be a duty, which the Public
have a right to expect from me, to state the
reasons .which have influenced me in delaying the publication of them.
W' It has been asserted, that a misunderstanding between a person high in office and
jnyself, was the cause of this procrastination.
It has also been propagated, that it was occa-
casioned by that precaution which the policy
of commerce will sometimes suggest; but
they are both equally devoid of foundation.
The one is an idle tale : and there could be
no solid reason for concealing the circumstances of discoveries, whose arrangements
and prosecution were so honourable to my
associates and myself, at whose expence they
were undertaken. . The delay actually arose
from the very active and busy mode of life
B 11
in which I was engaged since the voyages
have been completed ; and when, at length,
the opportunity arrived, the apprehension of
presenting myself to the Public in the character of an Author, for which the course and
occupations of my life have by no means
qualified me, made me hesitate in committing
my papers to the Press; being much better
calculated to perform the voyages, arduous
as they might be, than to write an account
of them. However, they are now offered to
the Public with the submission that becomes
I was led, at an early period of life, by
commercial views, to the country ||North-
West of Lake Superior, in North America,
and being endowed by Nature with an inquisitive mind and enterprising spirit; possessing
also a constitution and frame of body equal
to the most arduous undertakings, and being
familiar with toilsome exertions in the prosecution of mercantile pursuits, I not only
contemplated the practicability of penetrating across the continent of America, but was
confident in the qualifications, as I was animated by the desire, to undertake the perilous enterprize.
The general utility of such a discovery,
has been universally acknowledged; while PREFACE.
the wishes/ftf i&y particular fiends and opm-
mercial associates, that I should proceed in
the pursuit of it, contributed to quicken the
execution of this favourite project of my own
ambition: and as the completion of it extends
the boundaries of geographic science, and
adds new countries to the realms of British
commerce, the dangers I have enqountered,
(and the Mils I have suffered, have found
their retsompence ; nor will the many tedious
and weary days, or the gloomy and inclement
Rights which I have passed, have been passed in vain.       :   7   •'/■;"..■■' / •
The first ifoyage has settled the dubious
point of a practicable North-West passage^
and I trust it has set that long agitated question at rest, and extinguished the disputes
respecting it forever. An enlarged discussion of that subject will be found to occupy
the concluding pages of this volume. §|
In this voyage, I was not only without the
necessary books and instruments, but also
feit myself deficient in the sciences of astronomy and navigation; I did not he skate,
therefore, to undertake a winter's voyage to
this country, in order to procure the one,
and acquire the other. These objects being
accomplished, I returned, to determine the
practicability of a commercial communication ■">    .
through* the cori#fete of NoJthc America,
between the Atlantic and Pacilfen Geeaiis,
which is proved b^ my second J€&$tWk *|Nof
do I hesitate to declare My decided opinton,
that very great and essential advantages may
be derived by extending our tradfe freto otfe
sea to the other.'- ^::\+M:/^ :^^^P^ V/^^^R'
Some account of the fur tradfe of Canada
from that country, of the naiivfc inha&ita§ftt&,
and "of the extensive districts connected v^th
it, forms a preliminary discourse, which will,
I trust, prove interesting to agnation, whose
general policy is blended with, and whose
prosperity is supported by, tke pursuits of
commerce. It will also qualify the reader tp
pursue the succeeding fbyages with sup#*
rior intelligence and satisfaction. , *  r
• These voyages will ndt, I fear, afford the
vattety that may be expected from them; an&L
that which they offered to the eye, is not of a
nature to be effectually transferred to the
page. Mountairi% and vallles, the dreary
waste, and the A^de-spreading forests, the
lakes and rivers succeed each other in general description; and, except on the coasts of
the Pacific Ocean, where the villages were
permanent, and the inhabitants in a great
measure stationary, smatft bands of wandering Indians are the only people whom I shall PREFACE.
introduce to the acquaintance^ of Ihy aasad&tfs.
The beaver and tk buffalo;, the moose-
deer and! the elk,i ^hich are th^principatl
aiimals to be found in* these countries, are
aiteady so familiar to the naturalists of Europe, and have been so often as well as correctly described in thqir works, that the barfc
mention of themy as they enlivened) the landscape, or were hunted for food; with a cue-
$ory account of the soil, the course and navigation of lakes a&d rivers, and their various
produce, is all that caaabe reasonably expected
#om me, •■ ;--Hg^|^f.: "■-■'■•-- •••«, -', '^1|,
0$ I do not possess the science of the n&tu-
^alist; aited even if the qualifications of that
character had been attained by me, its duri(M§
spirit would not have been gratified. I could
n§t stop to dig into the earth, over whose
surface I was compelled to pass with rapid
steps; nor could I tutn asid© to coltect the
plants which nature Mgfat have scattered on
the waj[,/when my thoughts were anxiously
employed in making provision for the day
that was passing over me. I had to encounter perils by land and perils by water; to
watch the savage who was our guide, or to
guard against those of his tribe who might
meditate our destruction. I had, also, the
passions and fears of others to controul and , PREFACE. f     ■
subdue. m,To day, I had to assuage the rising discontents, and on the morrow, to cheer
the fainting spirits of the people who accompanied me..If The toil of our navigation
was incessant, and oftentimes extre^i; and
in our progress over land, we had no protection from the severity of the elements, and
possessed no accommodations or conveasdpa-
ces but such as could be contained in the
burden on our shoulders, which aggravated the toils of our march, and added to the
wearisomeness of our way. M. '.: .■•.," -,-. W
Though the events which compose my
journals may have little in themselves to
strike the imagination of those who love to
be astonished, or to gratify the curiosity of
tmch as are enamoured of romantic adventures; nevertheless, when it is considered,
that I explored those waters which had never
before borne any other vessel than the canoe
of the savage; and traversed those deserts
where an European had never before presented himself to the eye of its swarthy
natives; when to these consideratipns are
added the important objects which were pursued, with the dangers that were encountered,
and the difficulties that were surmou&fgd to
attain them, this work will, I flatter myself, PREFACE.
be found to excite an interest, and conciliate
regard, in the minds of those who peruse it.
t The general map which illustrates this
volume, is reduced by Mr. Arrowsmith from
his three-sheet map of North-America, with
the latest discoveries, which he is about to
republish. : His professional abilities^! are
well known, and no encomium of mine will
advance the general and merited opinion of
them..        ■■■:■• V       ■ ;'•■;..:''        ■■:■.-.* i   *:.   /.. .
Before I conclude, I must beg leave to inform my readers, that they are not to expect
the charms of embellished narrative, or animated description ; the approbation due to
simplicity and to truth, is all I presume to
claim; and I am not without the hope that
this claim will be allowed me. I have described whatever I saw with the impressions
of the moment which presented it to me.
The successive circumstances of my progress are related without exaggeration or display. I have seldom allowed myself to
wander into conjecture ; and whenever conjecture has been indulged, it will be found, I
trust, to be accompanied with the temper of
a man who is not disposed to think too highly
of himself: and if, at any time, I have delivered myself with confidence, it will appear, PREFACE.
I hope,f to be o# < those subjects, which, ?&oafo
the habits and experiekce of my life, will jus-i
tify. an unreserved communication of my opinions. . I a4n not aj oah($Mate for literary
fame: at tbe-same time, I cannot but indulge
the hope that this, volume, with all its imperfections, nVill not be thought unworthy the
attention. of) the scientific geographer ; and
that, by urifolding countries hitherto unexplored, and which, I presume, may now be
considered as a part of-thrfBritish dominions,
it will be received as a faithful tribute to the
prosperity of my country.
$*ovemhei<50, 1301 A GENERAL HISTORY
0-F  THE
1 HE fur trade, from the earliest settlement of
Canada, was considered of the first importance to
that colony. The country was then so populous,
that, in the vicinity of the establishments, the animals whose skins were precious, in a commercial
view, soon became very scarce, if not altogether
extinct. They were, it is true, hunted at former
periods, but merely for food and clothing. The Indians, therefore, to procure the necessary supply,
were encouraged to penetrate into the country, and
were generally accompanied by some of the Canadians, who found means to induce the remotest
tribes of natives to bring the skins which were
most in demand, to their settlements, in the way of
trade.  _Jj§
It is not necessary for me to examine the cause,
but experience proves that it requires much less
time for a civilized people to deviate into the manners and customs of savage life, than for savages
to rise into a state of civilization. Such was the
event with those who thus accompanied the natives on their hunting and trading excursions; for
they became so attached to the Indian mode of
life, that they le$t all relish for their former habits
and native homes. Hence they derived the title
of Courcurs des Bois, became a kind of pedlars,
and were extremely useful to the merchants engaged in the fur trade; who gave them the necessary credit to proceed on their commercial undertakings. Three or four of these people would
joinidieir stock, put their property into a birch-
bark canoe, which they worked themselves, and
either accompanied the natives in their excursions,
or went at once to the country where they knew
they were to hunt. At length, these voyages
extended to twelve or fifteen months, when they
returned with rich cargoes of furs, and followed
by great numbers of the natives. During the short
time requisite to settle their accounts with the
merchants, and procure fresh credit, they generally contrived to squander away all their gains,
when they returned to renew their favourite mode
of life: their views being answered, and their labour sufficiently rewarded, by indulging themselves in extravagance and dissipation, during the
short space of one month in twelve or fifteen.
This indifference about amassing property, and
the pleasure of living free from all restraint, soon
brought on a licentiousness of manners which
could not long escape the vigilant observation of
the missionaries, who had much reason to complain of their being a disgrace to the Christian religion; by not only swerving from its duties
themselves, but by thus bringing it into disrepute
with those of the natives who had become converts
to4t; and, consequently, obstructing the great ob- OF THE FUR TRADE, Sec.
ject to which those pious men had devoted their
lives. They therefore, exerted their influence to
procure the suppression of these people, and accordingly, no one was allowed to go up the country to traffic with the Indians, without a licence
from the government.
At first these permissions were, of course,
granted only to those whose character was such as
could give no alarm to the zeal of the missionaries: but they were afterwards bestowed as rewards for services, on officers, and their widows;
and they, who were not willing or able to make
use of them (which may be supposed to be always
the case with those of the latter description), were
allowed to sell them to the merchants, who necessarily employed the Coureursdes bois, in quality
of their agents; and these people, as may be imagined, gave sufficient cause for the renewal of
former complaints; so that the remedy proved, 8
fact, worse than the disease.
At length, military posts were established at
the confluence of the different large lakes of Canada, which, in a great measure-checked the evil
consequences that followed from the improper
conduct of these foresters, and, at the same time,
protected the trade. Besides, a number of able
and respectable men, retired from the army, pro-,
secuted the trade in person, under their respective licences, with great order and regularity, and
extended it to such a distance, as, in those days,
was considered to be an astonishing effort of
commercial enterprize. These persons and the
missionaries having combined their views at the
same time, secured the respect of the natives, and
the obedience of the people necessarily employed
in the laborious parts of this undertaking. These
gentlemen denominated themselves commanders,, A GENERAL HISTORY
and not traders, though they were intitled to both
those characters : and, as for the missionaries, if
sufferings and hardships in the prosecution of the
great work which they had undertaken, deserved
applause and admiration, they had an undoubted
claim to be admired and applauded : they spared
no labour and avoided no danger in the execution
of their important office ; and it is to be seriously
lamented, that their pious endeavours did not
meet with the success which they deserved: for
there is hardly a trace to be found beyond the cultivated parts, of their meritorious functions.
The cause of this failure must be attributed to
a want of due consideration in the mode employed by the missionaries, to propagate the religion
of which they were the zealous ministers. They
habituated themselves to the savage life, and naturalized themselves to the savage manners, and, by
thus becoming dependent, as it were, on the
natives, they acquired their contempt rather than
their veneration. If they had been as well acquainted with human nature, as they were with
the articles of their faith, they would have known,
that the uncultivated mind of an Indian must be
disposed by much preparatory method and instruction to receive the revealed truths of Christianity, to act under its sanctions, and be impelled
to good by the hope of its reward, or turned from
evil by the fear of its punishments. They should
have begun their work by teaching some of those
useful arts which are the inlets of knowledge, and
lead the mind by degrees to objects of higher
comprehension. Agriculture so formed to fix
and combine society, and so preparatory to objects
of superior consideration, should have been the
first thing introduced among a savage people : it
attaches the wandering tribe to that spot where ^_
it adds so much to their comforts; while it gives
them a sense of property, and of lasting possession, instead of the uncertain hopes of the chase,
and the fugitive produce of uncultivated wilds.
Such were the means by which the forests of Paraguay were converted into a scene of abundant
cultivation, and its savage inhabitants introduced
to all the advantages of a civilized life.
The Canadian missionaries should have been
contented to improve the morals of their own
countrymen, so that by meliorating their character and conduct, they would have given a striking example of the effect of religion in promoting the comforts of life to the surrounding
savages; and might by degrees have extended
its benign influence to the remotest regions of
that country, which was the object, and intended
to be the scene, of their evangelic labours. But
by bearing the light of the Gospel at once to the
distance of two thousand five hundred miles from
the civilized part of the colonies, it was soon obscured by the cloud of ignorance that darkened
the human mind in those distant regions.
The whole of their long route I have often
travelled, and the recollection of such a people as
the missionaries having been there, was confined
to a few superannuated Canadians, who had not
left that country since the cession to the English,
in 1763, and who particularly mentioned the
death of some, and the distressing situation of
them all. But if these religious men did not at-
tain the objects of their persevering piety, they
were, during their mission, of great service to
the commanders who engaged in those distant
expeditions, and spread the fur trade as far West
as the banks of the Saskatchiwine river, in 53.
North latitude, and longitude 102. West. n
At an early period of their intercourse with the
savages, a custom was introduced of a very excellent tendency, but is now unfortunately discontinued, of not selling any spirituous liquor to
the natives.^ This admirable regulation was for
some time observed, with all the respect due to
the religion by which it was sanctioned, and
whose severest censures followed the violation of
it. I!A painful penance could alone restore the
offender to the suspended rites of the sacrament.
The casuistry of trade, however, discovered a
way to gratify the Indians with their favourite
cordial, without incurring the ecclesiastical penalties, by giving, instead of selling it to them. |
But notwithstanding all the restrictions with
which commerce was oppressed under the French
government, the fur trade was extended to the
immense distance, which has been already stated;
and surmounted many most discouraging difficult
ties, which will be hereafter noticed; while, at
the same time, no exertions wrere made from
Hudson's Bay to obtain even a share of the trade
of a country, which according to the charter of
that company, belonged to it, and, from its proximity, is so much more accessible to the mercantile adventurer.
Of these trading commanders, I understood,
that two attempted to penetrate to the Pacific
Ocean, but the utmost extent of their journey I
could never learn; which may be attributed, indeed, to a failure of the undertaking.
For some time after the conquest of Canada,
this trade was suspended, which must have been
very advantageous to the Hudson's Bay Company,
as all the inhabitants to the westward of Lake Su-,
perior were obliged to go to them for such articles as their habitual use had rendered necessary. OF THE FUR TRADE, &c.
Some of the Canadians who had lived long with
them, and were become attached to a savage life,
accompanied them thither annually, till mercantile adventurers again appeared from their own
country, after an interval of several years, owing,
as I suppose, to an ignorance of the country in
the conquerors, and their want of commercial
confidence in the conquered. There were, indeed, other discouragements, such as the immense
length of the journey necessary to reach the limits
beyond which this commerce must begin; the
risk of property; the expences attending such a
long transport; and an ignorance of the language
of those who, from their experience, must be
necessarily employed as the intermediate agents
between them and the natives. But, notwithstanding these difficulties, the trade, by degrees,
began to spread over the different parts to which
it had been carried by the French, though at a
great risk of the lives, as well as the property of
their new possessors, for the natives had been
taught by their former allies to entertain hostile
dispositions towards the English, from their having been in alliance with their natural enemies
the Iroquois; and there were not wanting a sufficient number of discontented, disappointed people,
to keep alive such a notion; so that for a long time
they were considered and treated as objects of
hostility. To prove this disposition of the Indians, we have only to refer to the conduct of
Pontiac, at Detroit, and the surprise and taking
of Michilimakinac, about this period.
Hence it arose, that it was so late as the year
1766, before which, the trade I mean to consider,
commenced from Michilimakinac. The first who
attempted it were satisfied to go the length of the
river Camenistiquia, about thirty miles to the Vlll
Eastward of the Grande Portage, where the
French had a principal establishment, and was
the line of their communication with the interior
country. It was once destroyed by fire. Here
they went and returned successful in the following spring to Michilimakinac. Their success in*
duced them to renew their journey, and incited
others to follow their example. Some of them
remained at Camenistiquia, while others proceeded to and beyond the Grande Portage, which,
since that time has become the principal entrepot
of that trade, and is situated in a bay, in latitude
48. North, and longitude 90. West. After passing
the usual season there, they went back to Michilimakinac as before, and encouraged by the trade,
returned in increased numbers. One of these,
Thomas Curry, with a spirit of enterprize superior to that of his contemporaries, determined to
penetrate to the furthest limits of the French discoveries in that country; or at least till the frost
should stop him. For this purpose he procured
guides and interpreters, who were acquainted with
the country, and with four canoes arrived at Fort
Bourbon, which was one of their posts, at the
West end of the Cedar Lake, on the waters of the
Saskatchiwine. His risk and toil were well recompensed, for he came back the following spring
with his canoes filled with fine furs, with which
he proceeded to Canada, and was satisfied never
again to return to the Indian country.
From this period, people began to spread over
every part of the country, particularly where the
French had established settlements.
Mr. James Finlay was the first who followed
Mr. Curry's example, and with the same number
of canoes, arrived, in the course of the next season, at Nipawee, the last of the French settlements OF THE FUR TRADE, 8cc.
on the bank of the Saskatchiwine river, in latitude
nearly 43£. North, and longitude 103 West: he
found the good fortune, as ne followed, in every
respect, the example, of his predecessor.      fL
As maybe supposed, there were now people
enough ready to replace them, and the trade was
pursued with such avidity, and irregularity, that in
a few years it became the reverse of what it ought
to have been. An animated competition prevailed,
and the contending parties carried the trade beyond
the French limits, though with no benefit to themselves or neighbours, the Hudson's Bay Company;
who in the year 1774, and not till then, thought
proper to move from home to the East bank of Sturgeon Lake, in latitude 53. 56. North, and longitude
102. 15. West, and became more jealous of their
fellow subjects; and, perhaps, with more cause,
than they had been of those of France. From this
period, to the present time, they have been following the Canadians to their different establishments,
while, on the contrary, there is not a solitary instance that the Canadians have followed them; and
there are many trading posts which they have not
yet attained. This, however, will no longer be a
mystery, when the nature and policy of the Hud-
son's-Bay Company is compared with that which
has been pursued by their rivals in this trade.—
But to return to my subject.
This competition, which has been already mentioned, gave a fatal blow to the trade from Canada,
and, with other incidental causes, in my opinion,
contributed to its ruin. This trade was carried on
in a very distant country, out of the reach of legal
restraint, and where there was a free scope given
to any ways or means in attaining advantage. The
consequence was not only the loss of commercial
benefit to the persons engaged in it, but of the
good opinion of the natives, and the respect of their
~»jfc t
men, who were inclined to follow their example;
so that with drinking, carousing, and quarrelling
with the Indians along their route,  and among
themselves, they seldom reached their winter quarters ; and if they did, it was generally by dragging
their property upon sledges, as the navigation was
closed up by the frost.   When at length they were
arrived, the object of each was to injure his rival
traders in the opinion of the natives as much as was
in their power, by misrepresentation and presents,
for which the agents employed were peculiarly calculated.    They considered the command of their
employer as binding on them, and however wrong
or irregular the transaction, the responsibility rested with the principal who directed them.    This is
Indian law.    Thus did they waste their credit and
their property with the natives, till the first was
past redemption, and the last was nearly exhausted ;  so that towards the spring in each year, the
rival parties found it absolutely necessary to join,
and make one common stock of what remained, for
the purpose of trading with the natives, who could
entertain no respect for persons who had conducted
themselves with so much irregularity and deceit.
The winter, therefore, was one continued scene of
disagreements and quarrels.    If any one had the
precaution or good sense to keep clear of these
proceedings, he derived a proportionable advantage from his good conduct, and frequently proved
a peace-maker between the parties.    To such an
height had they carried this licentious conduct,
that they were in a continual state of alarm, and
were even frequently stopped to pay tribute on their
route into the country; though they had adopted
the plan of travelling together in parties of thirty
or forty canoes, and keeping their men armed;
which sometimes, indeed, proved necessary for
their defence. OF THE FUR TRADE, &c.
Thus was the trade carried on for several years,
and consequently becoming worse and worse, so
that the partners, who met them at the Grande
Portage, naturally complained of their ill success.
But specious reasons were always ready to prove
that it arose from circumstances which they could
not at that time controul; and encouragements were
held forth to hope that a change would soon take
place, which would make ample amends for past
It was about this time, that Mr. Joseph Fro-
bisher, one of the gentlemen engaged in the trade,
determined to penetrate into the country yet unexplored, to the North and Westward, and, in the
spring of the year 1775, met the Indians from that
quarter on their way to Fort Churchill, at Portage
de Traite, so named from that circumstance, on
the banks of the Missinipi, or Churchill river,
latitude 55. 25. North, longitude 103|. West. It
was, indeed, with some difficulty that he could induce them to trade with him, but he at length procured as many furs as his canoes could carry.' In
this perilous expedition he sustained every kind of
hardship incident to a journey through a wild and
savage country, where his subsistence depended on
what the woods and the waters produced. These
difficulties, nevertheless, did not discourage him
from returning in the following year, when he was
equally successful. He then sent his brother to
explore the country still further West, who penetrated as far as the lake of Isle a la Crosse, in latitude 55. 26. North, and longitude 108. West.
He, however, never after wintered among the
Indians, though he retained a large interest in the
trade, and a principal share in the direction of it till
the year 1798, when he retired to enjoy the fruits
of his labours; and, by his hospitality, became
.known to every respectable stranger who visited
Canada. XII
The success of this gentleman induced others
to follow his example, and in the spring of the yea*
1778, some of the traders on the Saskatchiwine
river, finding they had a quantity of goods to
spare, agreed to put them into a joint stock, and
gave the charge and management of them to Mr.
Peter Pond, who, in four canoes, was directed to
enter the English River, so called by Mr. Fro-
bisher, to follow his track, and proceed still further; if possible, to Athabasca, a country hitherto
unknown but from Indian report. In this enter-
prize he at length succeeded, and pitched his tent
on the banks of the Elk river, by him erroneously called the Athabasca river, about ibrty miles
from the Lake of the Hills, into which it empties
Here he passed the winter of 1778-9; saw a
vast concourse of the Knisteneaux and Chepewyan tribes, who used to carry their furs annually
to Churchill; the latter by the barren grounds,
where they suffered innumerable hardships, and
were sometimes even starved to death. The
former followed the course of the lakes and rivers,
through a country that abounded in animals, and
where there was plenty of fish : but though they
did not suffer from want of food, the intolerable
fatigue of such a journey could not be easily
repaid to an Indian: they were, therefore, highly
gratified by seeing people come to their country to
relieve them from such long, toilsome, and dangerous journies; and were immediately reconciled
to give an advanced price for the articles neces*
sary to their comfort and convenience. Mr.
Pond's reception and success was accordingly
beyond his expectation; and he procured twice
as many furs as his canoes would carry. They
also supplied him with as much provision as he
required during his residence among them, and
sufficient for his homeward voyage. Such of the
furs as he could not embark, he secured in one of
his winter huts, and they were found the following
season, in the same state in which he left them.
These, however, were but partial advantages,
and could not prevent the people of Canada from
seeing the improper conduct of some of their
associates, which rendered it dangerous to remain
any longer among the natives. Most of them who
passed the winter at the Saskatchiwine, got to the
Eagle hills, where, in the spring of the year 1780,
a few days previous to their intended departure,
a large band of Indians being engaged in drinking
about their houses, one of the traders, to ease himself of the troublesome importunities of a native,
gave him a dose of laudanum in a glass of grog,
which effectually prevented him from giving further trouble to any one, by setting him asleep forever. This accident produced a fray, in which
one of the traders, and several of the men were
killed, while the rest had no other means to save
themselves but by a precipitate flight, abandoning
a considerable quantity of goods, and near half the
furs which they had collected during the winter
and the spring.
About the same time, two of the establishments
on the Assiniboin river, were attacked with less
justice, when several white men, and a great number of Indians were killed. In short, it appeared,
that the natives had formed a resolution to extirpate the traders; and, without entering into any
further reasonings on the subject, it appears to be
incontrovertible, that the irregularity pursued in
carrying on the trade has brought it into its present
forlorn situation; and nothing but the greatest
calamity that could have befallen the natives, saved
the traders from destruction: this was the small
pox, whieh spread its destructive and desolating XIV
power, as the fire consumes the dry grass of the
field. The fatal infection spread around with a
baneful rapidity which no flight could escape, and
with a fatal effect that nothing could resist. Iflt
destroyed with its pestilential breath whole
families and tribes; and the horrid scene presented
to those who had the melancholy and afflicting
opportunity of beholding it, a combination of the
dead, the dying, and such as to avoid the horrid
fate of their friends around them, prepared to disappoint the plague of its prey, by terminating their
own existence.
The habits and lives of these devoted people,
which provided not to-day for the wants of tomorrow, must have heightened the pains of such
an affliction, by leaving them not only without
remedy, but even without alleviation. Nought
was left them but to submit in agony and despair.
To aggravate the picture, if aggravation were
possible, may be added, the putrid carcases which
the wolves, with a furious voracity, dragged forth
from the huts, or which were mangled within
them by the dogs, whose hunger was satisfied
with the disfigured remains of their masters. Nor
was it uncommon for the father of a family, whom
the infection had not reached, to call them around
him, to represent the cruel sufferings and horrid
fate of their relations, from the influence of some
evil spirit wTho was preparing to extirpate their
race; and to incite them to baffle death, with all
its horrors, by their own poignards. At the same
time, if their hearts failed them in this necessary
act, he was himself ready to perform the deed of
mercy with his own hand, as the last act of his affection, and instantly to follow them to the common place of rest and refuge from human evil.
It was never satisfactorily ascertained by what
means this malignant disorder was introduced, but OF THE FUR TRADE, &c.
it was generally supposed to be from the Missi-
souri, by a war party. §
The consequence of this melancholy event to the
traders must be self-evident; the means of disposing of their goods were cut off; and no furs were
obtained, but such as had been gathered from the
habitations of the deceased Indians, which could
not be very considerable : nor did they look from
the losses of the present year, with any encouraging
expectations to those which were to come. The
only fortunate people consisted of a party who had
again penetrated to the northward and Westward
in 1780, at some distance up the Missinipi, or English river, to Lake la Rouge. Two unfortunate
circumstances, however, happened to them; which
are as follow:
Mr. Wadin, a Swiss gentleman, of strict probity
and known sobriety, had gone there in the year
1779, and remained during the summer 1780.
Hispartners and others, engaged in an opposite interest, when at the Grande Portage, agreed to send
a quantity of goods on their joint account, which
was accepted, and Mr. Pond was proposed by them
to be their representative to act in conjunction
with Mr. Wadin. Two men, of more opposite
characters, could not, perhaps, have been found.
In short, from various causes, their situations became very uncomfortable to each other, and mutual
ill-will was the natural consequence : without entering, therefore, into a minute history of these
transactions, it will be sufficient to observe, that,
about the end of the year 1780, or the beginning
of 1781, Mr. Wadin had received Mr. Pond and
one of his own clerks to dinner; and, in the course
of the night, the former was shot through the
lower part of the thigh, when it was said that he
expired from the loss of blood, and was buried
next morning at eight o'clock.    Mr. Pond, and xvi
the clerk, were tried for this murder at Montreal,
and acquitted: nevertheless, their innocence was
so apparent as to extinguish the original sus-
The other circumstance was this. In the spring
of the year, Mr. Pond sent the abovementioned
clerk to meet the Indians from the Northward, who
used to go annually to Hudson's Bay; when he
easily persuaded them to trade with him, and return
back, that they might not take the contagion which
had depopulated the country to the Eastward of
them: but most unfortunately they caught it here,
and carried it with them,to the destruction of themselves and the neighbouring tribes.
The country being thus depopulated, the traders
and their friends from Canada, who, from various
causes already mentioned, were very much reduced
in number, became confined to two parties, who
began seriously to think of making permanent establishments on the Missinipi river, and at Athabasca; for which purpose, in 1781-2, they selected^
their best canoe-men, being ignorant that the small
pox penetrated that way. The most expeditious
party got only in time to the Portage la Loche,
or Mithy-Quinigam, which divides the waters
of the Missinipi from those that fall into the Elk
river, to dispatch one canoe strong handed, and
light-loaded, to that country ; but, on their arrival
there, they found, in every direction, the ravages
of the small pox ; so that, from the great diminution of the natives, they returned in the spring with
no more than seven packages of beaver. The strong
woods and mountainous countries afforded a refuge
to those who fled from the contagion of the plains;
but they were so alarmed at the surrounding destruction, that they avoided the traders, and were
dispirited from hunting, except for their subsistence.    The traders, however, who returned into OF THE FUR TRADE, &c.
the country in the year 1782-3, found the inhabitants in some sort of tranquillity, and more
numerous than they had reason to expect, so that
their success was proportionably better.
^During the winter of 1783-4, the merchants of
Canada, engaged in this trade, formed a junction
of interests, under the name of the North-West
Company, and divided it into sixteen shares, without depositing any capital; each party furnishing a
proportion or quota of such articles as were necessary to carry on the trade : the respective parties
agreeing to satisfy the friends they had in the
country, who were not provided for, according to
this agreement, out of the proportions which they
held. The management of the whole was accordingly entrusted to Messrs. Benjamin and Joseph
Frobisher, and Mr. Simon M'Tavish, two distinct
houses, who had the greatest interest and influence
in the country, and for which they were to receive
a stipulated commission in ajl transactions.
In the spring, two of those gentlemen went to the
Grande Portage with their credentials, which were
confirmed and ratified by all the parties having an
Option, exept Mr. Peter Pond, who was not satisfied with the share allotted him. Accordingly he,
and another gentleman, Mr. Peter Pangman, who
fead a righft to be a partner, but for whom no provision fead been made, came to Canada, with a
determination to return to the country, if they could
find any persons to join them, and give their scheme
a proper support.
The traders in the country, and merchants at
Montreal, thus entered into a co-partnership,
which, by these means, was consolidated and directed by able men, who,' from the powers with
which they were entrusted, would carry on 4he
trade to the utmost extent it would bear. The
traders in the country, therefore, having every
£ XVlll
reason to expect that their past and future labours
would be recompensed, forgot all their former
animosities, and engaged with the utmost spirit
and activity, to forward the general interest; so
that, in the following year, they met their agents
at the Grande Portage, with their canoes laden
with rich furs from the different parts of that immense tract of country. But this satisfaction was
not to be enjoyed without some interruption ; and
they were mortified to find that Mr. Pangman had
prevailed on Messrs. Gregory and Macleod to join
him, and give him their support in the business,
though deserted by Mr. Pond, who accepted the
terms offered by his former associates.
In the counting house of Mr. Gregory I had been
five years; and at this period had left him, with a
small adventure of goods, with which he had entrusted me, to seek my fortune at Detroit. He,
without any solicitation on my part, had procured
an insertion in the agreement, that I should be admitted a partner in this business, on condition that
I would proceed to the Indian country in the following spring, 1785. His partner came to Detroit
to make me such a proposition. I readily assented
to it, and immediately proceeded to the Grande
Portage, where I joined my associates.
We now found that independent of the natural
difficulties of the undertaking, we should have to
encounter every other which they, who were already in possession of the trade of the country,
could throw in our way, and which their circumstances enabled them to do. Nor did they doubt,
from their own superior experience, as well
as that of their clerks and men, with their
local knowledge of the country and its inhabitants,
that they should soon compel us to leave the
country to them. The event, however, did not
justify their expectations ; for, after the severest OF THE FUR TRADE, 8cc.
struggle ever known in that part of the world, and
suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival
spirit could instigate; after the murder of one of our
partners, the laming of another, and the narrow
escape of one of our clerks, who received a bullet
through his powder horn, in the execution of his
duty, they were compelled to allow us a share of
the trade. As we had already incurred a loss, this
union was, in every respect, a desirable event to
us, and was concluded in the month of July 1787.
This commercial establishment was now founded on a more solid basis than any hitherto known
in the country; and it not only continued in full
force, vigour, and prosperity, in spite of all interference from Canada, but maintained at least an
equal share of advantage with the Hudson's-Bay
Company, notwithstanding the superiority of their
local situation. The following account of this self-
erected concern will manifest the cause of its
It assumed the title of the North-West Company, and was no more than an association of commercial men, agreeing among themselves to carry
on the fur trade, unconnected with any other business, though many of the parties engaged had
extensive concerns altogether foreign to it. It may
be said to have been supported entirely upon
credit; for, whether the capital belonged to the
proprietor, or was borrowed, it equally bore interest, for which the association was annually accountable. It consisted of twenty shares, unequally
divided among the persons concerned. Of these, &
certain proportion was held by the people who
managed the business in Canada, and were styled
agents for the Company. Their duty was to import
the necessary goods from England, store them at
their own expence at Montreal, get them made up
into articles suited to the trade, pack and forward WA
them, and supply the cash that might be wanting
for the outfits, for which they received, independent of the profit on their shares, a commission on
the amount of the accounts, which they were obliged to make out annually, and keep the adventure
of each year distinct. Two of them went annually
to the Grande Portage, to manage and transact the
business there, and on the communication at Detroit, M