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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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.   IN THE YEARS 1789 AND 1793,
Printed and Sold by G. F. HOPKINS, stt Washington's,Head, No. 118, Pearl-Street;
1302.  TO
On presenting this volume 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.
It has been asserted, that a misunderstanding between a person high in office and myself, was the
cause of this procrastination. It has also been pre*-
pagated, that it was occasioned by that precaution
which the policy of commerce will sometimes suggest 5 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 expense they were undertaken. The delay
actually arose from the very active and busy mode
of life 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 com*-
mitting 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 $be
submission that becomes me.
I was led, at an early period of life* by commercial views, to the country North-West of Lake Su-
perior, in North America, and being endowed by
nature with an inquisitive mind and entefprizing
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 qu^ifi-
cations, as I was animated by the desire^ to uriSe^
take the perilous enterprize.
The general utility of such a discovery, has hdm
universally acknowledged ; while the wishes of my
particular friends and commercial 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 danger I have encountered, and the toils I have
suffered, have found their recompence ; nor will
the many tedious and weary days, or the gloomy
and inclement nights which I have passed, have
been passed in vain.
The first voyage has settled the dubious point of
a practicable North-West passage ; and I trust,
that 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 felt myself
deficient in the sciences of astronomy and navigation ; I did not hesitate, therefore, to undertake ai
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 continent of North America, between the At- PREFACE.
lantic and Pacific Oceans, which is proved by my
second journal. Nor do I hesitate to declare my
decided opinion, that very great and essential advantages may be derived by extending our trade
from one sea to the other.
Some account of the fur trade of Canada from
that country, of the native inhabitants, and of the
extensive districts connected with it, forms a preliminary discourse, which will, I trust, prove interesting to a nation whose general policy is blended
with, and whose prosperity is supported by, the
pursuits of commerce. It will also qualify the reader
to pursue the succeeding voyages with superior intelligence and satisfaction.
These voyages will not, I fear, afford the variety
ftat may be expected from them; and that which
they offer to the eye, is not of a nature to be effectually transferred to the page. Mountains and val-
lies, the dreary waste, and wide-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, small
bands of wandering Indians are the only people
whom I shall introduce to the acquaintance of my
The beaver and the buffalo, the moose-deer and
the elk, which are the principal animals to be found
in these countries, are already so familiar to the naturalists of Europe, and have been so often as well
as correctly described in their works, that the bare
mention of them, as they enlivened the landscape,
j or were hunted for food; with a cursory account of
the soil, the course and navigation of lakes and rivers,
and their various produce, is all that can be reasonably expected from me.
I do not possess the science of the naturalist; and
even if the qualifications of that character had been tul
attained by me, its curious spirit would not have
been gratified. I could not stop to dig into the
earth, over whose surface I was compelled to pass
with rapid steps; nor could I turn aside to collect
the plants which nature might have scattered on the
way, 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 control and subdue.
To-day I had to assuage the rising discontents, and
on the morrow to cheer the fainting spirits, of the
people who accompanied me. The toil of our navigation was incessant, and oftentimes extreme; and
in our progress over land we had no protection from
the severity of the elements, and possessed no accommodations or conveniences 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.
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 such 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 considerations are
added the important objects which were pursued,
with the dangers that were encountered, and the
difficulties that were surmounted to attain them,
this work will, I flatter myself, be found to excite
an interest, and conciliate regard, in the minds of
those who peruse it. PREFACE,
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 him.
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, I hope, to be on
those subjects which, from the habits and experience
of my life, will justify an unreserved communication of my opinions. I am not a candidate for literary fame: at the same time I cannot but indulge
the hope, that this volume, with all its imperfections, will not be thought unworthy the attention
of the scientific geographer; and that, by unfolding
countries hitherto unexplored, and which, I presume, may now be considered as a part of the British
dominions, it will be received as a faithful tribute
to the prosperity of my country.
London, November 30, J 801.
B  A
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.
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
00 their hunting and trading excursions ; for they became
so attached to the Indian mode of life, that they lost all relish for their former habits and native homes. Hence they
derived the title of Conreurs desBois^became a kind of ped- r
# A General History of the Fur Trade*
lars, 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 join their 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 cdntrived to squander away all their gains, when they returned to renew their
favourite mode of life : their views being answered, and
their labour sufficiendy 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 plea~
sure of living free* from all restraint, soon brought on a li*
centiousness 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 na*
tives Who had become converts to it ; and, consequently,
obstructing the great object to which those pious men had
devoted their lives. They, therefore, exerted thefe* influence to procure the suppression of these people, and accord*
ingly, 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 oiHcers, and their
widows j and they, who were not willing or able to make use
of them, (which may be supposed to be always the ease with
those of the latter description) were allowed to sell them to
the merchants, who necessarily employed the CoureurS des
Bois, in quality of their agents ; and these* people, as may
be imagined, gave sufficient cause for the renewal dif former
complaints ; so that the remedy proved, in feet, Worse than
the disease.
At length, military posts were established at the conflux
ence of the different "large lakes of Canada, which, in a great Jt. General History of the Fur Trade.
measure, checked the evil consequences that followed from
the improper conduct of these foresters, and, at the same
tim#, protected the trade* Besides, a number of able and
rggpectable men retired from the army, prosecuted 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 th%laborious parts of this undertaking. These gentlemen denominated themselves commanders, and not tracers, though they were entitled to both
lfc)se characters: and, as for the missionaries, if sufferings
and hardships in the prosecuti^ 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 la?
mented, that their pious endeavour did not meet with the
success which they deserved: for there is hardly a trace to
%£$und beyond the cultivated parts, of their meritorious
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 began 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 spo£>jyhere it adds so
1»- 4 A General History of^he Fur Trade*
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 we|*e 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 missioagries should have been contented
to improve the morals of their own countrymen- j 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, wkieh was the object,
and intended to be the scene, of tbseir 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 igr
noranoe that darkened the human mind in those distant re*
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 attain 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.
At an early period of their intercourse with the savages,
a custom was introduced of a verv excellent tendency., but
is new unfortunately discontinued, of not selling any spirituous liquors to the natives* *[%is 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. A painful penance
could alone restore the offender to the suspended rites of
the sacrament. The casuistrv of trade, however, disco-
vered a way to gratify the Indians with their favourite cordial, without incurring the ecclesiastical penaMes, by giving,
instead of selling it to them. A General History of tK%, Fur Trade.
But notwithstanding all the re^rictigms with which commerce was oppressed under the French government, the fur
trade was extended to the immense distance which has been
already statedjtand surmounted many most discouraging
difficulties, which will be hereafter noticed; whi|g|Mt the
same time, no exertions were 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 4$>nimanders,;T understood, that two
attempted to penetrate to the PaciSe 0§ean, but the utmost
extent of their journey I could never learn; which may be
attributed, indeed, to a failure of the undertaking.
For some timejafiter the conquest of; Canada, this trade
was suspended, which must have been very advantageous to
the Hudson's Bay Company, as all the inhabitant^to the
Westward of Lake Superior, were oMiged to go to thern
for such articles a? their habitual use had rendered necessary. Some of the Canadian&iwho had lived long with them,
and were become attached to a savage life, accompanied,
them thitheriannually, 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 bevond which this commerce must
begin ; the risk of property ; the expenses 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 Pontiao,
m I ill
$ A Gen&fffl HtMory &f ik^Fwr Tr&di*
at Detroit, and the surprise and taking of Michilimakinac,
about this period.
Hence it arose, ^at it was so late as th& year 17t>(>, before which, the trade I mean to consider, comiiife&ced from
Michilimakinac. The first who attempted it were satisfied
to go the length of $he River Camsnistigjuia, about tMrty
miles to the Eastward of the Graftde Portage, where the
French had a principal establishment, and was the line of
their communication with the interior couk&y. It wlb
once destroyed by fire. Here they went and returned successful in t^e following spring to Michilimakinac. Their
success induced them to renew their journey, and incited
others to follow their example. Some of 4hem remained at
Camenistiquia, while others proceeded to and beyond the
Grande Portage, which, since that time, ha&jbecome the
principal entrepot of that trade, and is situated in a bay, in
latitude 48 North, and longitude 90 West. Afeir passing
the usual season there, they went back to Michilimatmac as
before, and encouraged by the ttade, returned in increased
numbers. One of these, Thomas Curry, with a spirit of
enterprise superior to that of his contemporaries, de*ermi»-
ed to penetrate to the furthest limits of the French discoveries in that country : or at least till the frost should stop
him. Forrthis purpose he procured guides and interpreters, who were acquainted with the country, and with four
canoes arrived at Fort Bourbon, which was one of the imposts, at the West end of the Cedar Lake, on the waters of
the Saskatchiwine. His risk and toil were well recompensed, for fee 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
From this period people began to spread over every part
of the country, particularly where the French had established settlements*
Mr. James Fhalay was the first who followed Mr. Curcp's
example, and with tbe saanenumber of canoes, arrived, in
ithe course of the next season, at Nipawee, the last of the
French settlements on the hank of the Saskatdhiwineiliver,
in latitude nearly 43§ North, and longitude 103 West: he
found the good fortune, as he followed, in every respect,
the example of his predecessor^
As may be supposed, there were now people enough ready to replace them, and the trade was pursued with sucb A Genial History of the Fur Trade.
avidity, and irregularity, that in a §ew years it became the
reverse of what it ought to have been. An animated cofti^
petition 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 r7T4, arid not tin then, thought proper!®
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 i and there are many
trading posts which they have not yet attained. This,
however, will no longer fie a mystery when the nature and
policy of the Hudson's-Bay Company is compared with
that which has been pursued by their rivals in this trade.-—-
But to return to my subject*
^iPhis competition*, which has been already mentioned,
gave a fataltftwv 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
fiiope 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 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
pr©perty 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. "Whis is Indian law. Thus did they
watte their credit and their property with the natives, till the
first was past redemption, and the last was nearly exhausted ;
C 8
A General History of the Fur Trade*
Hi     ■
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 c nducted themselves with so much irregularity
and decei.. The winter, therefore was one continued scene
of disagi eements 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,
a,nd 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.
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 control ; and encouragements were held forth to hope that a change would soon
take place, which would make ample amends for past disappointments.
It was about this time, that Mr. Joseph Frobisher, one
of the gentlemen engaged in the trade, determined to penetrate into the country yet unexplored, to the North ami
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 Wes& A General History of the Fur Trade.
who penetrated as far as the lake of Isle a la Croisse, 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 directing 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.
The success of this gentleman induced others to follow
his example, and in the spring of the year 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. Frobisher, to follow
his track and proceed still further ; if possible, to Athabasca, a country hitherto unknown but from Indian report.
In this enterprize he at length succeeded, and pitched his
tent on the banks of the Elk River, by him erroneously
called the Athabasca River, about forty miles from the Lake
of the Hills, into which it empties itself?
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 no$ 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 thdir country to relieve
them from such long, toilsome, and dangerous journies ;
and were immediately reconciled to give an advanced price
for the articles necessary 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? 10
A General History of the Fur Trade.
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 karge band
pf 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 estab&hmentston the
Assiniboin river, were attacked with less justice, when
several white men, and a greater 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, which spread its destructive and desolating
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. It 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 those devoted people, which provided hot to-day for the wants of to-morrow, 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. A General Hk&ory of $he Fur Trade. 11
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 who was preparing to
extirpate their race; and to incite them to baffle death, with
all its horrors, by their own poniards. 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 it was generally-
supposed to be from the Missisouri, 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. His partners 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 the year 1781, Mr. 31 Ill
A General History of the Fur Trader
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 thai
he expired from the loss of blood, and was buried next
morning at eight o'clock. , Mr. Pond and the clerk were
tried for this murder at Montreal, and acquitted: nevertheless, their innocence was not so apparent as to extinguish
the original suspicion.
The other circumstance was this. In the spring of the
vear, 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 East-
Ward of them: but most unfortunately they caught it here,
and carried it with them, to the destruction of themselves
and the neighbouring tribes.   |gjj|
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 to think seriously 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 smallpox penetrated that way. The most expeditious party got
only in time to the Portage la Loche, or Mithy-Ouinigam,
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 smallpox; 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 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 A General 01istary of the Fur Trade. 13
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 all 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, except Mr. Peter
Pond, who was not satisfied with the share allotted him.
Accordingly he and another .gentleman, Mr. Peter Pang-
man, who had a right to be a partner, but for whom no provision had 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, could carry on the
trade to the utmost extent it would bear. The traders in
the country, therefore, having every 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 interrupt
tion; 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
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
niy 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 flHi
A General History of the Fur Trade.
j Hi'
^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. jJjSj
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 th&
trade of the country, could throw in our way, and which
their circumstances enabled them to doi Nor aid 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
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 success.
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, unconnect*
ed with any other business, though many of the parties en*
gaged had extensive concerns altogether foreign to it. Jfc
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
a certain proportion was held by the people who managed
the business in Canada, and Were styled agents for the* A General History of the Fttr Trade,
Company. Their duty was to import the necessary goods
from England, store them at their own expense at Montreal,
get them made up into the articles suited to the trade, pack
and forward 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, Michilimakinac, St. Mary's, and at Montreal,
where they received stores, packed up, and shipped the
company's furs for England, on which they had also a small
commission. The remaining shares were held by the proprietors, who were obliged to winter and manage the business of the concern with the Indians, and their respective
clerks, &c. They were not supposed to be under any obligation to furnish capital, or even credit. 9 If they obtained
any capital by the trade, it was to remain in the hands of the
agents ; for which they were allowed interest. Some of
them, from their long services