Arthur Henry Howard Heming.

The Drama of the Forests Romance and Adventure online

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[Frontispiece: A strange apparition was seen crossing the lake. It
appeared to have wings, but it did not fly; and though it possessed a
tail, it did not run, but contented itself with moving steadily forward
on its long up-turned feet. Over an arm it carried what might have
been a trident, and what with its waving tail and great outspreading
wings that rose above its horned-like head, it suggested . . . See
Chapter VI.]


_Romance and Adventure_











First Edition







A strange apparition was seen crossing the lake. It appeared to have
wings . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

I surmised at once who he was, for one could see by the merest glance

Oo-koo-hoo's bill

Oo-koo-hoo's calendar

Going to the brink, we saw a "York Boat" in the act of shooting the

Minutes passed while the rising moon cast golden ripples upon the water

The lynx is an expert swimmer and is dangerous to tackle in the water

Next morning we found that everything was covered with a heavy blanket
of snow

The bear circled a little in order to descend. Presently it left the

Going to the stage, he took down his five-foot snowshoes

As the wolf dashed away, the bounding clog sent the snow flying

"There's the York Factory packet from Hudson Bay to Winnipeg"

"It was on my father's hunting grounds, and late one afternoon"

Oo-koo-hoo could even hear the strange clicking sound

After half of May had passed away, and when the spring hunt was over

The departure of the Fur Brigade was the one great event of the year


It was in childhood that the primitive spirit first came whispering to
me. It was then that I had my first day-dreams of the Northland - of
its forests, its rivers and lakes, its hunters and trappers and
traders, its fur-runners and mounted police, its voyageurs and
packeteers, its missionaries and Indians and prospectors, its animals,
its birds and its fishes, its trees and its flowers, and its seasons.

Even in childhood I was for ever wondering . . . what is daily going on
in the Great Northern Forest? . . . not just this week, this month, or
this season, but what is actually occurring day by day, throughout the
cycle of an entire year? It was that thought that fascinated me, and
when I grew into boyhood, I began delving into books of northern
travel, but I did not find the answer there. With the years this
ever-present wonder grew, until it so possessed me that at last it
spirited me away from the city, while I was still in my teens, and led
me along a path of ever-changing and ever-increasing pleasure, showing
me the world, not as men had mauled and marred it, but as the Master of
Life had made it, in all its original beauty and splendour. Nor was
this all. It led me to observe and ponder over the daily pages of the
most profound and yet the most fascinating book that man has ever tried
to read; and though, it seemed to me, my feeble attempts to decipher
its text were always futile, it has, nevertheless, not only taught me
to love Nature with an ever-increasing passion, but it has inspired in
me an infinite homage toward the Almighty; for, as Emerson says: "In
the woods we return to reason and faith. Then I feel that nothing can
befall me in life - no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes) - which
Nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground - my head bathed by
the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space - all mean egoism
vanishes. . . . I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty."

So, to make my life-dream come true, to contemplate in all its
thrilling action and undying splendour the drama of the forests, I
travelled twenty-three times through various parts of the vast northern
woods, between Maine and Alaska, and covered thousands upon thousands
of miles by canoe, pack-train, snowshoes, _bateau_, dog-train,
buck-board, timber-raft, prairie-schooner, lumber-wagon, and
"alligator." No one trip ever satisfied me, or afforded me the
knowledge or the experience I sought, for traversing a single section
of the forest was not unlike making one's way along a single street of
a metropolis and then trying to persuade oneself that one knew all
about the city's life. So back again I went at all seasons of the year
to encamp in that great timber-land that sweeps from the Atlantic to
the Pacific. Thus it has taken me thirty-three years to gather the
information this volume contains, and my only hope in writing it is
that perhaps others may have had the same day-dream, and that in this
book they may find a reliable and satisfactory answer to all their
wonderings. But making my dream come true - what delight it gave me!
What sport and travel it afforded me! What toil and sweat it caused
me! What food and rest it brought me! What charming places it led me
through! What interesting people it ranged beside me! What romance it
unfolded before me! and into what thrilling adventures it plunged me!

But before we paddle down the winding wilderness aisle toward the great
stage upon which Diana and all her attendant huntsmen and forest
creatures may appear, I wish to explain that in compliance with the
wishes of the leading actors - who actually lived their parts of this
story - fictitious names have been given to the principal characters and
to the principal trading posts, lakes, and rivers herein depicted.
Furthermore, in order to give the reader a more interesting, complete,
and faithful description of the daily and the yearly life of the forest
dwellers as I have observed it, I have taken the liberty of weaving
together the more interesting facts I have gathered - both first- and
second-hand - into one continuous narrative as though it all happened in
a single year. And in order to retain all the primitive local colour,
the unique costumes, and the fascinating romance of the fur-trade days
as I witnessed them in my twenties - though much of the life has already
passed away - the scene is set to represent a certain year in the early






It was September 9, 189-. From sunrise to sunset through mist,
sunshine, shower, and shadow we travelled, and the nearer we drew to
our first destination, the wilder the country became, the more
water-fowl we saw, and the more the river banks were marked with traces
of big game. Here signs told us that three caribou had crossed the
stream, there muddy water was still trickling into the hoofprint of a
moose, and yonder a bear had been fishing. Finally, the day of our
arrival dawned, and as I paddled, I spent much of the time dreaming of
the adventure before me. As our beautiful birchen craft still sped on
her way, the handsome bow parted the shimmering waters, and a passing
breeze sent little running waves gurgling along her sides, while the
splendour of the autumn sun was reflected on a far-reaching row of
dazzling ripples that danced upon the water, making our voyageurs lower
their eyes and the trader doze again. There was no other sign of life
except an eagle soaring in and out among the fleecy clouds slowly
passing overhead. All around was a panorama of enchanting forest.

My travelling companion was a "Free Trader," whose name was Spear - a
tall, stoop-shouldered man with heavy eyebrows and shaggy, drooping
moustache. The way we met was amusing. It happened in a certain
frontier town. His first question was as to whether I was single. His
second, as to whether my time was my own. Then he slowly looked me
over from head to foot. He seemed to be measuring my stature and
strength and to be noting the colour of my eyes and hair.

Narrowing his vision, he scrutinized me more carefully than before, for
now he seemed to be reading my character - if not my soul. Then,
smiling, he blurted out:

"Come, be my guest for a couple of weeks. Will you?"

I laughed.

He frowned. But on realizing that my mirth was caused only by
surprise, he smiled again and let flow a vivid description of a place
he called Spearhead. It was the home of the northern fur trade. It
was the centre of a great timber region. It was the heart of a vast
fertile belt that was rapidly becoming the greatest of all farming
districts. It was built on the fountain head of gigantic water power.
It virtually stood over the very vault that contained the richest veins
of mineral to be found in the whole Dominion - at least that's what he
said - and he also assured me that the Government had realized it, too,
for was it not going to hew a provincial highway clean through the
forest to Spearhead? Was it not going to build a fleet of steamers to
ply upon the lakes and rivers in that section? And was it not going to
build a line of railroad to the town itself in order to connect it with
the new transcontinental and thus put it in communication with the
great commercial centres of the East and the West? In fact, he also
impressed upon me that Spearhead was a town created for young men who
were not averse to becoming wealthy in whatever line of business they
might choose. It seemed that great riches were already there and had
but to be lifted. Would I go?

But when I explained that although I was single, and quite free, I was
not a business man, he became crestfallen, but presently revived enough
to exclaim:

"Well, what the dickens are you?"

"An artist," I replied.

"Oh, I see! Well . . . we need an artist very badly. You'll have the
field all to yourself in Spearhead. Besides, your pictures of the fur
trade and of pioneer life would eventually become historical and bring
you no end of wealth. You had better come. Better decide right away,
or some other artist chap will get ahead of you."

But when I further explained that I was going to spend the winter in
the wilderness, that I had already written to the Hudson's Bay Factor
at Fort Consolation and that he was expecting me, Spear gloated:

"Bully boy!" and slapping me on the shoulder, he chuckled: "Why, my
town is just across the lake from Fort Consolation. A mere five-mile
paddle, old chap, and remember, I extend to you the freedom of
Spearhead in the name of its future mayor. And, man alive, I'm leaving
for there to-morrow morning in a big four-fathom birch bark, with four
Indian canoe-men. Be my guest. It won't cost you a farthing, and
we'll make the trip together."

I gladly accepted. The next morning we started. Free Trader Spear was
a character, and I afterward learned that he was an Oxford University
man, who, having been "ploughed," left for Canada, entered the service
of the Hudson's Bay Company, and had finally been moved to Fort
Consolation where he served seven years, learned the fur-trade
business, and resigned to become a "free trader" as all fur traders are
called who carry on business in opposition to "The Great Company." We
were eight days upon the trip, but, strange to say, during each day's
travel toward Spearhead, his conversation in reference to that thriving
town made it appear to grow smaller and smaller, until at last it
actually dwindled down to such a point, that, about sunset on the day
we were to arrive, he turned to me and casually remarked:

"Presently you'll see Fort Consolation and the Indian village beyond.
Spearhead is just across the lake, and by the bye, my boy, I forgot to
tell you that Spearhead is just my log shack. But it's a nice little
place, and you'll like it when you pay us a visit, for I want you to
meet my wife."

Then our canoe passed a jutting point of land and in a moment the scene
was changed - we were no longer on a river, but were now upon a lake,
and the wilderness seemed suddenly left behind.


On the outer end of a distant point a cluster of poplars shaded a
small, clapboarded log house. There, in charge of Fort Consolation,
lived the Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Beyond a little lawn
enclosed by a picket fence stood the large storehouse. The lower floor
of this was used as a trading room; the upper story served for a fur
loft. Behind were seen a number of shanties, then another large
building in which dog-sleds and great birch-bark canoes were stored.
Farther away was a long open shed, under which those big canoes were
built, then a few small huts where the half-breeds lived. With the
exception of the Factor's house, all the buildings were of rough-hewn
logs plastered with clay. Around the sweeping bend of the bay was a
village of tepees in which the Indian fur hunters and their families
spend their midsummer. Crowning a knoll in the rear stood a quaint
little church with a small tin spire glistening in the sun, and capped
by a cross that spread its tiny arms to heaven. On the hill in the
background the time-worn pines swayed their shaggy heads and softly
whispered to that, the first gentle touch of civilization in the

Presently, at irregular intervals, guns were discharged along the
shore, beginning at the point nearest the canoe and running round the
curve of the bay to the Indian camp, where a brisk fusillade took
place. A moment later the Hudson's Bay Company's flag fluttered over
Fort Consolation. Plainly, the arrival of our canoe was causing
excitement at the Post. Trader Spear laughed aloud:

"That's one on old Mackenzie. He's taking my canoe for that of the
Hudson's Bay Inspector. He's generally due about this time."

From all directions men, women, and children were swarming toward the
landing, and when our canoe arrived there must have been fully four
hundred Indians present. The first to greet us was Factor Mackenzie - a
gruff, bearded Scotsman with a clean-shaven upper lip, gray hair, and
piercing gray eyes. When we entered the Factor's house we found it to
be a typical wilderness home of an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company;
and, therefore, as far unlike the interiors of furtraders' houses as
shown upon the stage, movie screen, or in magazine illustration, as it
is possible to imagine. Upon the walls we saw neither mounted heads
nor skins of wild animals; nor were fur robes spread upon the floors,
as one would expect to find after reading the average story of Hudson's
Bay life. On the contrary, the well-scrubbed floors were perfectly
bare, and the walls were papered from top to bottom with countless
illustrations cut from the London _Graphic_ and the _Illustrated London
News_. The pictures not only took the place of wall paper, making the
house more nearly wind-proof, but also afforded endless amusement to
those who had to spend therein the long winter months. The house was
furnished sparingly with simple, home-made furniture that had more the
appearance of utility than of beauty.

At supper time we sat down with Mrs. Mackenzie, the Factor's half-breed
wife, who took the head of the table. After the meal we gathered in
the living room before an open fire, over the mantelpiece of which
there were no guns, no powder horns, nor even a pair of snowshoes; for
a fur trader would no more think of hanging his snowshoes there than a
city dweller would think of hanging his overshoes over his drawing-room
mantel. Upon the mantel shelf, however, stood a few unframed family
photographs and some books, while above hung a rustic picture frame,
the only frame to be seen in the room; it contained the motto, worked
in coloured yarns: "God Bless Our Home." When pipes were lighted and
we had drawn closer to the fire, the Factor occupied a quaint,
home-made, rough-hewn affair known as the "Factor's chair." On the
under side of the seat were inscribed the signatures and dates of
accession to that throne of all the factors who had reigned at the Post
during the past eighty-seven years.


After the two traders had finished "talking musquash" - fur-trade
business - they began reminiscing on the more picturesque side of their
work, and as I had come to spend the winter with the fur hunters on
their hunting grounds, the subject naturally turned to that well-worn
topic, the famous Nimrods of the North. It brought forth many an
interesting tale, for both my companions were well versed in such lore,
and in order to keep up my end I quoted from Warren's book on the
Ojibways: "As an illustration of the kind and abundance of animals
which then covered the country, it is stated that an Ojibway hunter
named No-Ka, the grandfather of Chief White Fisher, killed in one day's
hunt, starting from the mouth of Crow Wing River, sixteen elk, four
buffalo, five deer, three bear, one lynx, and one porcupine. There was
a trader wintering at the time at Crow Wing, and for his winter's
supply of meat, No-Ka presented him with the fruits of his day's hunt."

My host granted that that was the biggest day's bag he had ever heard
of, and Trader Spear, withdrawing his pipe from his mouth, remarked:

"No-Ka must have been a great hunter. I would like to have had his
trade. But, nevertheless, I have heard of an Indian who might have
been a match for him. He, too, was an Ojibway, and his name was
Narphim. He lived somewhere out in the Peace River country, and I've
heard it stated that he killed, in his lifetime, more than eighty
thousand living things. Some bag for one hunter."

Since Trader Spear made that interesting remark I have had the pleasure
of meeting a factor of the Hudson's Bay Company who knew Narphim from
boyhood, and who was a personal friend of his, and who was actually in
charge of a number of posts at which the Indian traded. Owing to their
friendship for one another, the Factor took such a personal pride in
the fame the hunter won, that he compiled, from the books of the
Hudson's Bay Company, a complete record of all the fur-bearing animals
the Indian killed between the time he began to trade as a hunter at the
age of eleven, until his hunting days were ended. Furthermore, in
discussing the subject with Narphim they together compiled an
approximate list of the number of fish, wild fowl, and rabbits that the
hunter must have secured each season, and thus Narphim's record stands
as the following figures show. I would tell you the Factor's name but
as he has written to me: "For many cogent reasons it is desirable that
my name be not mentioned officially in your book," I must refrain. I
shall, however, give you the history of Narphim in the Factor's own

"Narphim's proper name remains unknown as he was one of two children
saved when a band of Ojibways were drowned in crossing a large lake
that lies S. E. of Cat Lake and Island Lake, and S. E. of Norway House.
He was called Narphim - Saved from the Waters. The other child that was
rescued was a girl and she was called Neseemis - Our Little Sister. At
first Narphim was adopted and lived with a Swampy Cree chief, the
celebrated Keteche-ka-paness, who was a great medicine man. When
Narphim grew to be eleven years old he became a hunter, and first
traded his catch at Island Lake; then as the years went by, at Oxford
House; then at Norway House, then at Fort Chepewyan, and then at Fort
McMurray. After that he went to Lesser Slave Lake, then on to the
Peace River at Dunvegan, then he showed up at Fort St. John, next at
Battle River, and finally at Vermilion.

"The following is a list of the number of creatures Narphim killed, but
of course he also killed a good deal of game that was never recorded in
the Company's books, especially those animals whose skins were used for
the clothing of the hunter's family.

"Bears 585, beaver 1,080, ermines 130, fishers 195, red foxes 362,
cross foxes 78, silver and black foxes 6, lynxes 418, martens 1,078,
minks 384, muskrats 900, porcupines 19, otters 194, wolves 112,
wolverines 24, wood buffaloes 99, moose 396, caribou 196, jumping deer
72, wapiti 156, mountain sheep 60, mountain goats 29; and rabbits,
approximately 8,000, wild fowl, approximately 23,800, and fish
approximately 36,000. Total 74,573.

"Yes, Narphim was a great hunter and a good man," says the Factor in
his last letter to me. "He was a fine, active, well-built Indian and a
reliable and pleasant companion. In fact, he was one of Nature's
gentlemen, whom we shall be, and well may be, proud to meet in the
Great Beyond, known as the Happy Hunting Grounds."

Thus the evening drifted by. While the names of several of the best
hunters had been mentioned as suitable men for me to accompany on their
hunting trail, it was suggested that as the men themselves would
probably visit the Post in the morning, I should have a chat with them
before making my selection. Both Mackenzie and Spear, however, seemed
much in favour of my going with an Indian called Oo-koo-hoo. Presently
the clock struck ten and we turned in, the Free Trader sharing a big
feather bed with me.


After breakfast next morning I strolled about the picturesque point.
It was a windless, hazy day. An early frost had already clothed a
number of the trees with their gorgeous autumnal mantles, the
forerunners of Indian summer, the most glorious season of the Northern

When I turned down toward the wharf, I found a score of Indians and
half-breed trippers unloading freight from a couple of six-fathom
birch-bark canoes. Eager men and boys were good-naturedly loading
themselves with packs and hurrying away with them to the storehouse,
while others were lounging around or applauding the carriers with the
heaviest loads. As the packers hurried by, Delaronde, the jovial,
swarthy-faced, French-Canadian clerk, note-book in hand, checked the
number of pieces. Over by the log huts a group of Indian women were
sitting in the shade, talking to Delaronde's Indian wife. All about,
and in and out of the Indian lodges, dirty, half-naked children romped
together, and savage dogs prowled around seeking what they might
devour. The deerskin or canvas covers of most of the tepees were
raised a few feet to allow the breeze to pass under. Small groups of
women and children squatted or reclined in the shade, smoking and
chatting the hours away. Here and there women were cleaning fish,
mending nets, weaving mats, making clothes, or standing over steaming
kettles. Many of the men had joined the "goods brigade," and their
return was hourly expected. Many canoes were resting upon the sandy
beach, and many more were lying bottom up beneath the shade of trees.

The most important work undertaken by the Indians during the summer is
canoe building. As some of the men are more expert at this than
others, it often happens that the bulk of the work is done by a few who
engage in it as a matter of business. Birch bark for canoe building is
taken from the tree early in May. The chosen section, which may run
from four to eight feet in length, is first cut at the top and bottom;
then a two-inch strip is removed from top to bottom in order to make
room for working a chisel-shaped wooden wedge - about two feet
long - with which the bark is taken off. Where knots appear great care
is exercised that the bark be not torn. To make it easier to pack, the
sheet of bark is then rolled up the narrow way, and tied with willow.
In this shape, it is transported to the summer camping grounds. Canoes
range in size all the way from twelve feet to thirty-six feet in
length. The smaller size, being more easily portaged, is used by
hunters, and is known as a two-fathom canoe. For family use canoes are
usually from two and a half to three and a half fathoms long. Canoes
of the largest size, thirty-six feet, are called six-fathom or "North"
canoes. With a crew of from eight to twelve, they have a carrying
capacity of from three to four tons, and are used by the traders for

Online LibraryArthur Henry Howard HemingThe Drama of the Forests Romance and Adventure → online text (page 1 of 26)