Agnes Christina Laut.

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

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the Hudson's Bay Post, now called Fort Alexander
— ^some three miles from the lake.

This was the lake which Kelsey, and perhaps
Radisson and Hendry and Cocking, had visited from
Hudson Bay. It was forty days straight west from
Albany, three weeks from York on the Hayes.

At this point the different brigades separated, one
going north to the Athabasca, one west up the Sas-
katchewan to the Rockies, one southwest across the
lake to Dauphin and Swan Lake and what is now
northwestern Manitoba, two or three south up Red
River destined for Pembina at the Boundary, Grand
Forks, the Mandanes on the Missouri, and the posts

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along the Assiniboine River of the middle West.
Look again to the map. What kind of an empire
do these Nor'Westers encompass? All of the great
West, all except the unknown regions of the Pacific
Coast. In size how large? The area of the Russian
Empire. No wonder Simon McTavish, founder of
the Company, wore the airs of an emperor, and it is
to be remembered that Nor'Westers ruled with the
despotism of emperors, too.

Let us follow the different brigades to their desti-
nations.

Notes to Chapter ATX/.— The contents of Chapter XXI are
drawn from the Journals of the Northwest partners as pub-
lished by Senator Masson, from Long's Voyages, from private
journals in my own collection of manuscripts, chiefly Colin Rob-
ertson's, and from the Abb^ Dijg^' inimitable store of North-
west legends in several Vokmies.' The story of the recruiting
officers and of the holy father comes chiefly from Dugas. Um-
freville's book does not give details of his voyage for the N. W. C.
to Nipigon, but he left a journal from which Masson gives facts,
and there are references to his voyage in N. W. C. petitions to
Parliament. Cameron tells his own story of Nipvgon in the
Masson Collection. The best descriptions of Fort William are
in Colin Robertson's letters (M. S.) and "Franchere's Voyage."
In following N. W. C. expansion, it was quite impossible to do
so chronoloeically. It could be done only by grouping the
actors roimd episodes. For instance, in Nipigon, Long was
there off and on in 1768, '72, '82. Cameron did not come on
the scene till '96 and did not take up residence till 1802 to 1804.
To scatter this account of Nipigon chronologically would be to
confuse it. Again, Umfreville found the Nipigon trail to the
Up Country, in 1784. Rod. MacKenzie did not find the old
Kaministiquia road till the nineties. Or again, Grand Portage
was a rendezvous till 1797 and was not entirely moved to Fort
William till 1801 and 1802. Why separate these events by the
hundred other episodes of the Company's history purely for the
sake of sequence on dates? I have tried to keep the story
grouped round the main thread of one forward movement—
the domination of the Up Country by the N. W. C.

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CHAPTER XXII

1790-1810

"the coming of the pedlars" continued-
henry's ADVENTURES AT PEMBINA — ^THE FIRST
WHITE WOMAN IN THE WEST— A STOLEN CHILD
AND A POISONER AND A SCOUT— HOW HARMON
FOUND A WIFE — ^THE STORY OF MARGUERITE
TROTHER.

STRIKING across Lake Winnipeg from Winni-
peg River, the southbound canoes ascend
the central channel of the three entrances to
Red River, passing Nettley Creek on the west, or
River au Mort, as the French called it, in memory
of the terrible massacre of Cree families by Sioux
raiders in 1780, while the women and children were
waiting here for the men to return from York Fac-
tory. South of Lake Winnipeg, the woodland banks
of the mud-colored river give place to glimpses and
patches of the plains rolling westward in seas of
billowing grass. It was August when the brigades
left Fort William. It is September now, with the
crisp nutty tang of parched grasses in the air, a
shimmer as of Indian summer across the horizon

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that turns the setting sun to a blood-red shield.
Bluest of blue are the prairie skies. Scarcely a
feathering of wind clouds, and where the marsh
lands lie — "sloughs" and "muskegs," they are
called in the West — so still is the atmosphere of the
primeval silences that the waters are glass with the
shadows of the rushes etched as by stencil. Here
and there, thin spirals of smoke rise from the far
prairie — camp fires of wandering Assiniboine and
Cree and Saulteur. The brigades fire guns to call
them to trade, or else land on the banks and light
their own signal fires. Past what is now St. Peter's
Indian Reserve, and the two Selkirk towns, and the
St. Andrew Rapids where, if water is high, canoes
need only be tracked, if low the voyageurs may step
from stone to stone; past the bare meadow where
to-day stands the last and only walled stone fort of
the fur trade. Lower Fort Garry — the brigades come
to what is now Winnipeg, the Forks of the Red and
Assiniboine.

Of the French fur traders' old post here, all that
remains are the charred ruins and cellars. Near
the flats where the two rivers overflow in spring are
the high scaffoldings of a Cree graveyard used
during the smallpox plague of the eighties. Back
from the swamp of the forks are half a dozen tents
—Hudson's Bay traders — that same Robert Good-

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

win whom Cameron tricked at Osnaburg, come up
the Albany River and across country to Manitoba —
forty days from the bay — ^with another trader,
Brown.

The Nor'West brigades pause to divide again. A
dozen canoes go up the Assiniboine for Portage la
Prairie and Dauphin, and Swan Lake, and Lake
Manitoba and Qu'Appelle, and Souris. Three or
four groups of men are detailed to camp at the
Forks (Winnipeg) and trade and keep an eye on
the doings of the Hudson's Bay — ^above all keep
them from obtaining the hunt. When not trading,
the men at the Forks are expected to lay up store of
pemmican meat for the other departments, by buflFalo
himting. Not till the winter of 1807-8 does Mac-
Donald of Garth, a wiry Highlander of military
family and military air, with a red head and a broken
arm — build a fort here for the Nor'Westers, which
he ironically calls Gibraltar because it will command
the passage of both rivers, though there was not a
rock the size of his hand in sight. Gibraltar is very
near the site of the Cree graveyard and boasts strong
palisades with storage cellars for liquors and huge
warehouses for trade. Not to be outdone, the Hud-
son's Bay look about for a site that shall also com-
mand the river, and they choose two miles farther
down Red River, where their cannon can sweep all

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incoming and outgoing canoes. When this fort is
built a few years later, it is called Fort Douglas.

Two brigades ascend the Red as far south as
Pembina south of the Boundary, one to range all
regions radiating from Grand Forks and Pembina,
the other to cross country to the Mandanes on the
Missouri.

Charles Chaboillez sends Antoine Larocque with
two clerks and two voyageurs from the Assiniboine
and the Red to the Missouri in 1804, where they
meet the American explorers, Lewis and Clarke,
with forty men on their way to the Pacific; and, to
the Nor'Westers' amazement, are also Hudson's
Bay traders. The American ofl&cers draw the Ca-
nadians' attention to the fact — this is American
territory. British flags must not be given to the
Indians and no ^' derouines^^ are to take place — a
trade term meaning that the drummers who come
to beat up trade are not to draw the Indians away
to British territory. Charbonneau, the Northwest
voyageur, ignores his debt to the Company and
deserts to become guide for Lewis and Clarke.

"I can hardly get a skin when the Hudson's Bay
trader is here," complains Larocque, "for the Eng-
lishmen speak the Mandan language." Neverthe-
less Larocque dispatches to the bourgeois Mr.
Chaboillez on the Assiniboine, six packs worth ^^40

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each. Charles MacKenzie, the clerk, remains three
years trading among the Mandans for the Nor'-
Westers, and with true trader's instinct chuckles
within himself to hear Old Serpent, the Indian Chief,
boast that if he had these forty Americans "out on
the plains, his young warriors would do for them as
for so many wolves."

Two main trails ran from the Red River to the
Missouri: one from Pembina, west; the other from
the Assiniboine, by way of Souris, south. The latter
was generally followed, and from the time that David
Thompson, the Northwest surveyor, first led the
way to the Mandans, countless perils assailed the
traveler to the Missouri. Not more than $3000
worth of furs were won a year, but the traders here
were the buffalo hunters that supplied the Northern
departments with pemmicari; and on these hunts
was the constant danger of the Sioux raiders. Eleven
days by pony travel was the distance from the Assini-
boine to the Missouri, and on the trail was terrible
scarcity of drinking water. "We had steered to a
lake," records MacKenzie of the 1804 expedition,
"but found it dry. We dug a pit. It gave a kind
of stinking liquid of which we all drank, which
seemed to increase our thirst. We passed the night
with great uneasiness. Next day, not a drop of
water was to be found on the route and our distress

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became unsupportable. Lafrance (the voyageur)
swore so much he could swear no more and gave
the country ten thousand times to the Devil. His
eyes became so dim or blurred we feared he was
nearing a crisis. All our horses became so unruly
we could not manage them. It struck me they
might have scented water and I ascended the top of
the hill where to my great joy I discovered a small
pool. I ran and drank plentifully. My horse had
plunged in before I could stop him. I beckoned
Lafrance. He seemed more dead than alive, his
face a dark hue, a thick scurf around his mouth.
He instantly plunged in the water . . . and
drank to such excess I fear the consequences."

In winter, though there was no danger of perishing
from thirst where snow could be used as water, perils
were increased a hundredfold by storm. The
ponies could not travel fast through deep drifts.
Instead of eleven days, it took a month to reach the
Assiniboine, one man leading, one bringing up the
rear of the long line of pack horses. If a snow
storm caught the travelers, it was an easy matter for
marauding Indians to stampede the horses and
plunder packs. In March, they traveled at night
to avoid snow glare. Sleeping wrapped in buflFalo
robes, the men sometimes wakened to find them-
selves buried beneath a snow bank with the horses

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crunched up half frozen m the blizzard. Four days
without food was a common experience on the Man-
dane trail.

Of all the Nor'Westers stationed at Pembina,
Henry was one of the most famous. Cheek by jowl
with the Nor'Westers was a post of Hudson's Bay
men under Thomas Miller, an Orkneyman; and
hosts of freemen — half-breed trappers and buffalo
runners — ^made this their headquarters, refusing
alliance to either company and selling their hunt
to the highest bidder. The highest bidder was the
trader who would give away the most rum, and as
traders do not give away rum for nothing, there were
free fights during the drunken brawls to plunder the
intoxicated hunters of furs. Henry commanded
some fifty -five Nor'Westers and yearly sent out from
Pembina one hundred and ten packs of furs by the
famous old Red River ox carts made all of wood,
hubs and wheels, that creaked and rumbled and
screeched their way in long procession of single file
to waiting canoes at Winnipeg.

Henry had come to the wilderness with a hard,
cynical sneer for the vices of the fur trader's life.
Within a few years, the fine edge of his scorn had
turned on himself and on all life besides, because
while he scorned savage vices he could never leave
them alone. Like the snare round the feet of a man

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who has floundered into the quicksands, they sucked
him down till his life was lost on the Columbia in a
drunken spree. One can trace Henry's degeneration
in his journals from cynic to sinner and sinner to sot,
till he has so completely lost the sense of shame,
lost the memory that other men can have higher
codes, that he unblushingly sets down in his diary
how, to-day, he broke his thumb thrashing a man
in a drunken bout; how, yesterday, he had to give
a squaw a tremendous pommelling before she would
let him steal the furs of her absent lord; how he
"had a good time last night with the H. B. C. man
playing the flute and the drum and drinking the ten-
gallon keg clean." Henry's regime at Pembina
became noted, not from his character, but from
legends of famous characters who gathered there.
One night in December, 1807, Henry came home
to his lodge and found a young Hudson's Bay clerk
waiting in great distress. The Nor'Wester asked
the visitor what was wanted. The intruder begged
that the others present should be sent from the room.
Henry complied, and turned about to discover a
young white woman disguised in man's clothes, who
threw herself on her knees and implored Henry to
take pity on her. Her lover of the Orkney Islands
had abandoned her. Dressed in man's garb, she
had joined the Hudson's Bay service and pursued him

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to the wilderness. In Henry's log cabin, her child
was bom. Henry sent mother and infant daughter
across to Mr. Haney of the Hudson's Bay Company,
who forwarded both to the recalcitrant Orkneyman
— John Scart, at Grand Forks. Before her secret
was discovered, according to legend, the woman had
been in Hudson's Bay service of Red River Depart-
ment for four years. Mother and child were sent
back to the Orkneys, where they came to destitution.
^ At Pembina, there always camped a great com-
pany of buflFalo hunters. Among these had come, in
the spring of 1806, a young bride from Three Rivers
— the wife of J. Ba'tiste Lajimoniere, one of the
most famous scouts of the Hudson's Bay Company.
J. Ba'tiste had gone down to Quebec the year before
and cut a swath of grandeur in the simple parish of
Three Rivers that captured the heart of Marie Anne
Gaboury, and she came to the wilderness as his
wife.

To the Indian wives of the Frenchmen in the free-
men's camp, Madame Lajimoniere was a marvel —
the first white woman they had ever beheld. They
waited upon her with adoration, caressed her soft
skin and hair, and handled her like some strange
toy. One, especially, under show of friendliness,
came to Marie's wigwam to cook, but J. Ba'tiste's
conscience took fright. The friendly squaw had

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been a cast-oflF favorite of his own wild days, and
from the Indians he learned that she had come to
cook for Marie in order to poison her. J. Ba'tiste
promptly struck camp, packed his belongings and
carried his wife back to the safety of the fort at
Pembina. There, on the 6th of January 1807, the
first white child of the West was bom; and they
called her name Reine, because it was the king's
birthday.

When Henry moved his fifty men from Pembina
up the Saskatchewan, in 1808, among the free traders
who went up with the brigades were the Lajimoni-
eres. Word of the white woman ran before the ad-
vancing traders by "moccasin telegram," and wher-
ever pause was made, Indians flocked in thousands
to see Marie Gaboury. Belgrade, a friend of
Ba'tiste's, thought it well to protect her by spread-
ing in advance the report — that the white woman had
the power of the evil eye; if people offended her, she
could cause their death by merely looking at them,
and the ruse served its purpose until they reached
Edmonton. This was the danger spot — the center
of fearful wars waged by Blackfeet and Cree. Ma-
rauding bands were ever on the alert to catch the
traders short-handed, and in the earliest days, when
Longmore, and Howse, and Bird, and Turner, the
astronomer, were conmianders of the Hudson's Bay

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fort, Shaw and Hughes of Nor'Westers, the dangers
from Indian attack were so great that the rival
traders built their forts so that the palisades of one
joined the stockades of the other, and gates between
gave passage so the whites could communicate with-
out exposing themselves. Towers bristling with
muskets commanded the gates, and many a time
the beleaguered chief factor, left alone with the women
while his men were hunting, let blaze a fire of mus-
ketry from one tower, then went to the other tower
and let go a cross fire, in order to give the Indians the
impression that more than one man was on guard.
This, at least, cleared the ambushed spies out of the
high grass so that the fort could have safe egress
to the river.

Here, then, came Marie Gaboury, in 1808, to live
at Edmonton for four years. Ba'tiste, as of old,
hunted as freeman, and strange to say, he was often
accompanied by his dauntless wife to the hunting
field. Once, when she was alone in her tepee on
the prairie, the tent was suddenly surrounded by a
band of Cree warriors. When the leader lifted the
tent flap, Marie was in the middle of the floor on her
knees making what she thought was her last prayer.
A white renegrade wandering with the Crees called
out to her not to be afraid — they were after Black-
feet. Ba'tiste's horror may be guessed when he came

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dashing breathless across the prairie and found his
vdfe's tent surrounded by raiders.

"Marie! Marie!" he shouted, hair streaming to
the wind, and unable to wait till he reached the
tepee, "Marie — are you alive?"

"Yes," her voice called back, "but I — am — dying
—of fright."

Ba'tiste then persuaded the Crees that white
women were not used to warriors camping so near,
and they withdrew. Then he lost no time in shifting
camp inside the palisades of Edmonton. The
Abb6 Dugas tells of another occasion when Marie
was riding a buflfalo pony — one of the horses used
as a swift runner on the chase — her baby dangling
in a moss bag from one of the saddle pommels.
Turning a bluflf, the riders came on an enormous
herd of buffalo. The sudden appearance of the
hunters startled the vast herd. With a snort that
sent clouds of dust to the air, there was a mad stam-
pede, and true to his life-long training, Marie's p)ony
took the bit in his mouth and bolted, wheeling and
nipping and kicking and cutting out the biggest of
bufifaloes for the hunt, just as if J. Ba'tiste himself
were in the saddle. Bounced so that every breath
seemed her last, Marie Gaboury hung to the baby's
moss bag with one hand, to the horse's mane with
the other, and commended her soul to God; but J.

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Ba'tiste's horse had cut athwart the race and he
rescued his wife. That night she gave birth to her
second daughter, and they jocularly called her
"Laprairie.'' Such were the adventures of the
pioneer women on the prairie. The every day epi-
sodes of a single life would fill a book, and the book
would record as great heroism as ever the Old World
knew of a Boadicea or a Joan of Arc. We are still
too close to these events of early Western life to ap-
preciate them. Two hundred years from now, when
time has canonized such courage, the Marie Ga-
boury's of pioneer days will be regarded as the
Boadiceas and Joan of Arcs of the New World.

There was constant shifting of men in the diflFerent
departments of the Northwest Company. When
Henry passed down Red River, in 1808, to go up
the Saskatchewan, half the brigades struck west-
ward from the Forks (Winnipeg), up the Assiniboine
River to Portage la Prairie and Souris, and Qu' Ap-
pelle and Dauphin and Swan Lake. Each post of
this department was worth some ;^7oo a year to the
Nor'Westers. Not very large returns when it is
considered that a keg of liquor costing the Company
less than $10 was sold to the Indians for one hun-
dred and twenty beaver valued at from $2.00 to
$3.00 a skin. "Mad" McKay, a Mr. Miller and
James Sutherland were the traders for the Hudson's

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Bay in this region, which included the modem
provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Among
the Nor'Westers, McLeod was the wintering partner
and his chief clerks were the mystic dreamers —
Harmon, that Louis Primo, who had deserted from
Matthew Cocking on the Saskatchewan, and Cuth-
bert Grant, the son of a distinguished Montreal
merchant and a Cree mother, who combined in
himself the leadership qualities of both races and
rapidly rose to be the chosen chief of the Freemen
or Half-Breed Rangers known as the Bois Brulis —
men of "the burnt or blazed woods."

The saintly Harmon had been shocked to find
his bourgeois Norman McLeod with an Indian
spouse, but to different eras are dififerent customs
and he presently records in his diary that he, too,
has taken an Indian girl for a wife — the daughter of
a powerful chief — because, Harmon explains to his
own uneasy conscience, "if I take her I am sure I
shall get all the furs of the Crees," and who shall say
that in so doing, Harmon did either better or worse
than the modem man or woman, who marries for
worldly interests? Let it be added — that, having
married her, Harmon was faithful to the daughter
of the Cree chief all his days and gave her the honor
due a white wife. In the case of the fur traders,
there was a deep, potent reason for these marriages

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between white men and Indian women. The white
trader was one among a thousand hostiles. By
marrying the daughter of a chief, he obtained the
protection of the entire tribe. Harmon was on the
very stamping ground of the fights between Cree
and Sioux. By allying himself with his neighbors,
he obtained stronger defense than a hundred pali-
saded forts.

The danger was not small, as a single instance will
show. Until May each year, Harmon spent the
time gathering the furs, which were floated down the
Assiniboine to Red River. It was while the furs
were being gathered that the Sioux raiders would
swoop from ambush in the high grasses and stam-
pede the horses, or lie in hiding at some narrow place
of the river and serenade the brigades with showers
of arrows. Women and girls, the papoose in the
moss bag, white men and red — none were spared, fOT
the Sioux who could brandish the most scalps from
his tent pole, was the bravest warrior.

Among the hunters of Pembina was a French
Canadian named Trottier married to a Cree woman.
The daughter — Marguerite, a girl of sixteen — ^was
renowned for her beauty. Indian chiefs offered for
her hand, but the father thought she would be better
cared for as the wife of a white man and gave her in
marriage to a hunter named Jutras, who left Pem-

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bina with Henry's brigades in 1808. Jutras went
up the Assiniboine. A year later, Daniel Mac-
Kenzie appointed him and five others to take the
Qu' Appelle furs down the Assiniboine to Red River.
As usual, some of • the partners accompanied the
brigades for the annual meetings at Fort William.
Daniel MacKenzie and McDonald of Garth — the
bourgeois — ^were riding along the river banks some
distances behind the canoes. Marguerite Trottier
was in the canoe with Jutras, and the French were
advancing, light of heart as usual, passing down
Qu' Appelle River toward the Assiniboine. A day's
voyage above the junction of the two rivers, the
current shoaled, and just where brushwood came
close to the water's edge, Jutras was startled by a
weird call like a Sioux signal from both sides. An-
other instant, bullets and arrows rained on the
canoes! Four of the six voyageurs tumbled back
wounded to the death. Jutras and the remaining
man lost their heads so completely they sprang to
midwaist in the water, waded ashore, and dashed in
hiding through the high grass for the nearest fort,
forgetting the girl wife. Marguerite Trottier, and a
child six months old. MacKenzie and McDonald



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 26 of 50)