Agnes Christina Laut.

The conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 online

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informed the natives who frequented the settlements
often starved on their journey, which was exceedingly
true,^* added Hendry. Reciprocal presents closed

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the interview. The present to the Assiniboine chief
was a couple of girl slaves, one of whom was mur-
dered at York ten years afterward by an Indian in a
'fit of jealousy.

Later, Hendry learned that the Assiniboines did
not want these Blackfeet of the far West to come
down to the bay. Neither would the Assiniboines
hunt except for food. Putting the two facts to-
gether, Hendry rightly judged that the Assiniboines
acted as middlemen between the traders and the
' Blackfeet.

By the end of October, Hendry had left the plains
and was in a rolling wooded land northwest of the
North Saskatchewan. Here, with occasional moves
as the hunting shifted, the Indians wintered; his
journal says, "eight hundred and ten miles west of
York," moving back and forward north and south of
the river; but a comment added by Andrew Graham
on the margin of the journal, says he was in latitude
59°. This is plainly a mistake, as latitude 59° is six
degrees away from the Saskatchewan; but eight
hundred and ten miles from York along the Sas-
katchewan would bring Hendry in the region be-
tween the modem Edmonton and Battleford. It is
to Hendry's credit that he remained on good terms
with the Assiniboines. If he had been a weakling,
he would easily have become the butt of the children

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who infested the tents like imps; but he hunted with
the hunters, trapped with the trappers, and could
outmarch the best of them. Consequently, there is
not a note in his journal of that doleful whine which
comes from the weakling run amuck of hard life in
a savage land.

When he met Indians hunting for the French
forts, with true trader instinct he bribed them with
gifts to bring their furs down to Hudson Bay. Almost
the entire winter, camp moved from bend to bend or
branch to branch of the North Saskatchewan, head-
ing gradually eastward. Toward spring, different
tribes joined the Assiniboines to go down to York.
Among these were "green scalps" and many women
captives from those Blackfeet Indians Hendry had
met. Each night the scalps hung like flags from the
tent poles. The captives were given around camp
as presents. One hears much twaddle of the red
man's noble state before he was contaminated by
the white man. Hendry saw these tribes of the Far
West before they had met any white men but him-
self, and the disposal of those captives is a criterion
of the red man's noble state. Whenever one was
not wanted — the present of a girl, for instance, re-
sented by a warrior's jealous wives — she was sum-
marily hacked to pieces, and not a passing thought
given to the matter. The killing of a dog or a beaver

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caused more comment. On the value of life as a
thing of worth in itself, the Indian had absolutely
no conception, not so much conception as a domestic
dog trained not to destroy life.

By spring, Hendry's camp had dwindled down to
a party of twelve. He now had only two pounds of
powder in his possession, but his party were rich in
furs. As the time approached to build canoes, the
Assiniboines began gathering at the river banks.
Young men searched the woods for bark. Old men
whittled out the gun' els. Women pounded pemmicai>
into bags for the long voyage to the bay. The nights
passed in riotous feast and revel, with the tom-tom
pounding, the conjurers performing tricks, the
hunters dancing, the women peeping shyly into the
dance tent. At such times, one may guess, Hendry
did not spare of his scant supplies to lure the Indians
to York Fort, but he did not count on the effects of
French brandy when the canoes would pass the
French posts.

Ice was driving in the river like a mill race all
the month of April. Swans and geese and pigeons
and bluejays came winging north. There was that
sudden and wondrous leap to life of a dormant
world — and lo! — it was summer, with the ducks on
the river in flocks, and the long prairie grass waving
like a green sea, and the trees bleak and bare against

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the vaporous sky now clothing themselves in foliage
as in a bridal veil shot with sunlight.

The great dog feast was solemnly held. The old
men conjured the powers of the air to bless them
a God-speed. Canoes were launched on April 28,
and out swung the Assiniboines' brigade for Fort
York. It was easier going down stream than up.
Thirty and forty miles a day they made, passing
multitudes of Indians still building their canoes on
the river banks. At every camp, more fur-laden
canoes joined them. Hendry's heart must have
been very happy. He was bringing wealth untold
to York.

Four hundred miles down stream, the Blackfeet
Indians were met and with great pow-wow of trading
turned their furs over to the crafty Assiniboines to
be taken down to York. There were now sixty
canoes in the flotilla and says Hendry "not a pot
or kettle among us." Everything had been bartered
to the Blackfeet for furs. Six hundred mfles from
their laimching place, they came to the first French
post. This distance given by Hendry is another pretty
effective proof that he had wintered near Edmonton,
if not beyond it, for this post was not the Pas. It
was subordinate to Basquia or Pasquia.

Hendry was invited into the French post as the
guest of the master. If he had been as crafty as he

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was brave, he would have hurried his Indians past
the rival post, but he had to live and leam. While
he was having supper, the French distributed ten
gallons of brandy among the Assiniboines. By
morning, the French had obtained the pick of the
furs, one thousand of the best pelts, and it was three
days before the amazed Hendry could coax the
Indians away from his polite hosts. Two hundred
miles more, brought the brigade to the main French
post — the Pas. Nine Frenchmen were in possession,
and the trick was repeated. "The Indians are all
drunk,'* deplores Hendry, "but the master was very
kind to me. He is dressed very genteel but his men
wear nothing but drawers and striped cotton shirts
ruffled at the hand and breast. This house has
been long a place of trade and is named Basquia. It
is twenty-six feet long, twelve wide, nine high,
having a sloping roof, the walls log on log, the top
covered with willows, and divided into three rooms,
one for trade, one for storing furs, and one for a
dwelling."

Four days passed before the Indians had sobered
sufficiently to go on, and they now had only the heavy
furs that the French would not take. On June i,
the brigade again set out for York. Canoes were
lighter now. Seventy miles a day was made. Hen-
dry does not give any distances on his return voyage,

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but he followed the same course by which he had
come, through Deer Lake and Steel River to Hayes
River and York, where all arrived on the 20th of
June.

To Hendry's profound disgust, he was not again
permitted to go inland. In fact, discredit was cast
on. his report. "Indians on horseback!" The fac-
tors of the bay ridiculed the idea. They had never
heard of such a thing. All the Indians they knew
came to the fort in canoes. Indeed, it was that
spirit of little-minded narrowness that more than
anything else lost to the Company the magnificent
domain of its charter. If the men governing the
Company had realized the empire of their ruling as
fully as did the humble servants fighting the battles
on the field, the Hudson's Bay Company might have
ruled from Atlantic to Pacific in the North, and in
the West as far south as Mexico. But they objected
to being told what they did not know. Hendry was
"frozen" out of the service. The occasion of his
leaving was even more contemptible than the real
cause. On one of his trading journeys, he was
offered very badly mixed brandies, probably drugged.
Being a fairly good judge of brandies from his
smuggling days, Hendry refused to take what Andrew
Graham calls "such slops from such gentry." He
quit the service in disgust.

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The Company, as the minutes show, voted him
;g2o gratuity for his voyage. Why, then, did the
factors cast ridicule on his report? Supposing they
had accepted it, what would have been entailed?
They must capture the furs of that vast inland coun-
try for their Company. To do that, there must be
forts built inland. Some factor would be ordered
inland. Then, there would be the dangers of French
competition — ^very real danger in the light of that
brandy incident. The factors on the bay — ^Norton
and Isham — were not brave enough men to under-
take such a campaign. It was easier sitting snugly
inside the forts with a multitude of slave Indians
to wait on their least want. So the trade of the
interior was left to take care of itself.

Notes on ChaUer XVIII . — Hendry's Journal is in Hudson's
Bay Company's House, London. A copy is also in the Canadian
Archives. Andrew Graham of Severn has written various notes
along the margin. If it had not been for Graham, it looks much
as if Hendry's Toumal would have been lost to the Company.
Hendry gives the distances of each day's travel so minutely,
that his course can easily be followed first to Basquia, then from
Basquia to the North Saskatchewan region. Graham's com-
ment that Hendry was at 59® north is simply a slip. It is out
of the question to accept it for the simple reason Hendry could
not have gone eight hundred and ten miles southwest from York,
as his. journal daily records, and have been within 6** of 59®.
Besides his own discovery that he had been crossing branches
of the Saskatchewan all the time and his afccount of his voyage
down the Saskatchewan to the Pas, are unmistakable proofs
of his whereabouts. Also he mentions the Eagle Indians re-
peatedly. These Indians dwelt between the north and south
branches of the Saskatchewan. Whether the other rivers that
he crossed were the Assiniboine or the Qu'Appelle or the Red
Deer of Lake Winnipegosis — I do not know.

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I had great trouble in identifying the Archithinue Indians
of Hendry s Journal till I came on Matthew Cooking's Journal
over the same ground. Dec. i, 1772, Cockine says: "This
tribe is named Powestic Athinuewuck, Waterfall Indians. There
are four tribes or nations which are all Equestrian Indians, viz :

^i^ Mithco Athinuwuck, or Bloody Indians.

(a) Koskiton TVathcsitock, or Black Footed Indians. •

(3) Pegonow, or Muddy Water Indians.

(4) Sai»ewudc, or Woody Country Indians.



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CHAPTER XIX

1770-1800

EXTENSION OF TRADE TOWARD LABRADOR, QUEBEC
AND ROCKIES— HEAKNE FINDS THE ATHABASCA
COUNTRY AND FOUNDS CUMBERLAND HOUSE ON
THE SASKATCHEWAN — COCKING PROCEEDS TO
THE BLACKFEET— HOWSE FINDS THE PASS IN
ROCKIES

W THILE Anthony Hendry, the English
^^ smuggler, was makmg his way up the
Saskatchewan to the land of the Blackf eet
— the present province of Alberta — the English Ad-
venturers were busy making good their claim to Lab-
rador. Except as a summer rendezvous, Rupert, the
oldest of the Company's forts, at the southeast comer
of the bay — had been abandoned, but far up the
coast of Labrador on the wildest part of this desolate
shore, was that fort which the Company was shortly
forced to dismantle at great loss — ^Richmond. When
Captain Coates was sent to cruise the east coast of
Hudson Bay, thirty men under^ohn Potts and Mr.
Pollexfen, had been left on Richmond Gulf to build
a fort. There was no more dangerous region on the
bay. It was here Hudson's crew had been attacked

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by the Eskimos, and here the Eskimos yearly came
to winter and hunt the white whale. Between the
rugged main shore and the outer line of barren
islands was usually open water. Camped on the
rocky islets, the timid Eskimos were secure from
Indian foe, and if the white whale fisheries failed,
they had only to scud across the open water or por-
tage over the ice to the mainland and hunt partridge
on Richmond Gulf. From one hundred and fifty
to three hundred Eskimos yearly wintered within
trading distance of Richmond.

Quickly, storehouses, barracks, wareroom and
guardroom were erected just inside the narrow en-
trance from Hudson Bay to Richmond Gulf, and
round all thrown a ten-foot palisade. This was in
1749. Coates had been attracted to Richmond Gulf
— ^which he calls Artiwinipack — by its land-locked,
sheltered position and the magnificent supply of
lumber for building. The Eskimo whale fisheries
were farther south at Whale River and East Main,
with winter lodges subordinate to Richmond. The
partridges of the wooded slopes promised abundance
of food, and there was excellent fox and beaver
trapping. Compared to the other rocky barrens of
northern Labrador, Richmond Harbor seemed Para-
dise, "&w/ oh, my conscience, ^^ wrote Captain Coates,
^Hhere is so profound silence, such awful precipices,

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no life, that the zvorld seems asleep. The land is so
tremendous high that wind and water reverberate
between the cliffs entering two miles to our gulf.
Inside are mountains, groves, cascades and vales
adorned with trees. On the Hudson Bay side nothing
is seen but barren rocks. Inside, all is green with
stately woods. . . . On the high mountains is
only snow moss; lower, a sort of rye grass, some snow
drops and violets without odor, then rows of ever-
greens down to the very sea. On the right of the gulf
is Lady Lakers Grove under a stupendous mountain,
whence falls a cascade through the grove to the sea.
In short, such is the elegant situation of Richmond
Fort that it is not to be paralleled in the world.^^

Such were the high hopes with which Richmond
Fort was founded. To-day it is a howling wilder-
ness silent as death but for the rush of waters heard
when white men first entered the bay. Partridge
there were in plenty among the lonely evergreens,
and game for trapping; but not the warmest over-
tures of Chief Factor Potts and Mr. PoUexfen and
Mr. Isbister, who yearly came up from Albany,
could win the friendship of the treacherous Eskimos.
They would not hunt, and the white men dare not
penetrate far enough inland to make their trapping
pay. Potts kept his men whale fishing oflf Whale
River, but in five years the loss to the Company had

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totaled more than £24,ocx>. The crisis came in
1 7 54. Day and night, the stealthy shadow of Eskimo
spies moved through the evergreens of the gulf. In
vain Potts gave the chiefs presents of gold-laced suits,
beaver hats with plumes, and swords. "They
shaked my hands," he records, "and hugged and
embraced and smiled"; but the very next trapper,
who went alone to the woods, or attempted to drive
his dog train south to Whale River, would see Eskimos
ambushed behind rocks and have his cache rifled
or find himself overpowered and plundered. One
day in February, Mr. Pollexfen had gone out with
his men from Whale Riyer trapping. When they
returned in the afternoon they found the cook boy
had been kidnapped and the house robbed of every
object that could be carried away — stores of ammu-
nition, arms, traps, food, clothes, even the door
hinges and iron nails of the structure.

Waiting only till it was dark, the terrified hunters
hitched their dog sleighs up, tore off all bells that
would betray flight, and drove like mad for the
stronger fort of Richmond. Potts hurriedly sent out
orders to recall his trappers from the hills and
manned Richmond for siege. It was four days be-
fore all the men came under shelter, and nightly the
Eskimos could be heard trying to scale the palisades.
The fort was so short of provisions, all hands were

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Extension of Trade Toward Labrador

reduced to one meal a day. Potts called for volun-
teers, to go to the rescue of the kidnapped cook — a
boy, named Matthew Warden; and thirteen men
offered to go. The Eskimos had taken refuge on the
islands of the outer shore. Frost-fog thick as wool
lay on the bay. Eskimos were seen lurking on the
hills above the fort. A council was held. It was
determined to catch three Eskimos as hostages for
the cook's safety rather than risk the lives of thirteen
men outside the fort. Some ten days later, when a
few men ventured out for partridges, the forest
again came to life with Eskimo spies. Potts recalled
his hunters, sent two scouts to welcome the Eskimos
to the fort and placed all hands on guard. Three
Indians were conducted into the house. In a twink-
ling, fetters were clapped on two, and the third bade
go and fetch the missing white boy on pain of death
to the hostages. The stolid Eskimo affected not to
understand. Potts laid a sword across the throats
of the two prisoners and signaled the third to be
gone. The fellow needed no urging but scampered.
"I had our men," relates Potts, "one by one pass
through the guardroom changing their dresses every
time to give the two prisoners the idea that I had a
large garrison. They seemed surprised that I had
one hundred men, but they spoke no word." The
next day, the fettered prisoners drew knives on their

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guard, seized his gun and clubbed the Company
men from the room. In the scuffle that followed,
both Eskimos were shot^^The danger was now
increased a hundredfold. I Friendly Montagnais
Indians, especially one named Robinson Crusoe,
warned Potts that if the shooting were known,
nothing could save the fort. The bodies were
hidden in the cellar till some Montagnais went out
one dark night and weighting the feet with stones,
pushed them through a hole in the ice. How quickly
white men can degenerate to savagery is well illus-
trated by the conduct of the cooped-up, starving
garrison. Before sending away the dead bodies,
they cut the ears from each and preserved them in
spirits of alcohol to send down by Indian scouts to
Isbister at Moose with a letter imploring that the
sloop come to the rescue as soon as the ice cleared.
For two months the siege lasted. Nothing more
was ever heard of the captured boy, but by the end
of May, Isbister had sent a sloop to Richmond. As
told elsewhere, Richmond was dismantled in 1778
and the stores carried down to Whale River and
East Main.

Important changes had gradually grown up in
the Adventurer's methods. White servants were no
longer forbidden to circulate with the Indians but
encouraged to go out to the hunting field and paid

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bounties on their trapping. Three men had been
sent out from York in January, 1772, to shoot par-
tridges for the fort. It was a mild, open winter. The
men carried provisions to last three weeks. Striking
back through the marsh land, that lies between Hayes
and Nelson Rivers, they camped for the first night
on the banks of the Nelson. The next morning,
Tuesday, the 7th of January, they were crossing the
ice of the Nelson's broad current when they suddenly
felt the rocking of the tide beneath their feet, looked
ahead, saw the frost-smoke of open water and to
their horror realized that the tidal bore had loosened
the ice and they were adrift, bearing out to sea. In
vain, dogs and men dashed back for the shore. The
ice floe had separated from the land and was rushing
seaward like a race horse. That night it snowed.
The terrified men kept watch, hoping that the high
tide would carry the ice back to some of the long,
low sandbars at Port Nelson. The tide did sway
back the third day but not near enough for a landing.
This night, they put up their leather tents and slept
drifting. When they awakened on Friday the loth,
they were driving so direct for the shore that the
three men simultaneously dashed to gain the land,
leaving packs, provisions, tent and sleighs; but in
vain. A tidal wave swept the floe off shore, and
when they set back for their camp, they were appalled

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to see camp kit, sleds, provisions, all — drive past
afloat. The ice floe had broken. They were now
adrift without food or shelter, James Ross carrying
gun, powder bag and blanket over his shoulders as
he had risen from sleep, Farrant wearing only the
beaver coat in which he had slept, Tomson bereft of
either gun or blanket.

This time, the ebb carried them far into the bay
where they passed the fourth night adrift. The
next day, wind and the crumbling of the ice added to
their terrors. As the floe went to pieces, they leaped
from float to float trying to keep together on the
largest icepan. Farrant fell through the slush to his
armpits and after being belted tightly in his beaver
coat lay down behind a wind-break of ice blocks to
die. Their only food since losing the tent kit had
been some lumps of sugar one of them had chanced to
have in his pockets. During Saturday night the nth
of January, the ice grounded and great seas began
sweeping over the floe. When Ross and Tomson
would have dragged Farrant to a higher hummock
of the ice field, they found that he was dead. On
Monday, the weather grew cold and stormy. Tom-
son's hands had swollen so that he could not move
a muscle and the man became delirious, raving of his
Orkney home as they roamed aimlessly over the
illimitable ice fields. That night, the seventh they

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had been adrift, just as the moon sank below the
sea, the Orkneyman, Tomson, breathed his last.

Ross was now alone. A great ice floe borne down
by a wash of the tide, swept away Tomson's body.
Ross scrambled upon the fresh drift and hoping
against hope, scarcely able to believe his senses,
saw that the new icepan extended to the land. Half
blinded by sun glare, hands and feet frozen stiflF,
now laughing hysterically, now crying deliriously,
the fellow managed to reach shore, but when the sun
set he lost all sense of direction and could not find
his way farther. That night, his hands were so stiflF
that he could not strike a light on his flint, but by
tramping down brushwood, made himself a bed in
the snow. Sunrise gave him his bearings again and
through his half-delirium he realized he was only
four miles from the fort. Partly walking, partly
creeping, he reached York gates at seven that night.
One of the dogs had followed him all the way, which
probably explains how he was not frozen sleeping
out uncovered for nine nights. Hands and feet had
to be amputated, but his countrymen of Orkney
took up a subscription for him and the Company
gave him a pension of £20 a year for life. The
same amount was bestowed on the widows of the
two dead men. It is not surprising that Hudson
Bay became ill-omened to Orkneymen who heard

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such tales of fur hunting as have been related of
Richmond and York.

But the Company was now on the eve of the most
momentous change in its history. Anthony Hendry
had reported how the French traders had gone up the
Saskatchewan to the tribes of equestrian Indians; and
Hendry had been cashiered for his pains. Now anew
fact influenced the Company. French power had
fallen at Quebec, in 1759. Instead of a few French
traders scattered through the West, were thousands
of wildwood rovers, half-Indian, half-French, voy-
ageurs and bush-lopers, fled from the new laws of the
new English regime to the freedom of the wilderness.
Beyond Sault Ste. Marie, the long hand of the law
could not reach. Beyond the Sault, was law of
neither God nor man. To make matters worse,
English merchants, who had flocked to Montreal
and Quebec, now outfitted these French rovers .and
personally led them to the far hunting field of the
Pqysd\(snJSaut — a, term that meant anything from
Lake Superior to the Pole. The English Adven-
turers sent more men up stream — ^up the Moose



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 21 of 50)