Agnes Christina Laut.

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

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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 buffalo 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 oflFended 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 commanders 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 conmianded 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
wife'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 buffalo 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 bluff, 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 pony
took the bit in his mouth and bolted, wheeling and
nipping and kicking and cutting out the biggest of
buffaloes 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 £700 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 Bridis —
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 different 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, for
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
of Garth sent scouts to rally help from Qu' Appelle
to recover the furs. When the rescue party reached
the place of plunder — not very far from the modem

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Whitewood — they found the four voyageurs lying on
the sand, the girl wife in the bottom of the canoe.
All had been stripped naked, scalped and horribly
mutilated. Two of the men still lived. MacKenzie
had advanced to remove the girFs body from the
canoe when faint with horror at the sight — ^hands
hacked, an eye torn out, the scalp gone — the old
wintering partner was rooted to the ground with
amazement to hear her voice asking for her child
and refusing to be appeased till they sought it. Some
distance on the prairie in the deep grass below a tree
they found it — still breathing. The English mind
cannot contemplate the cruelties of such tortures as
the child had suflFered. Such horrors mock the soft
philosophies of the life natural, being more or less of a
beneficent aflfair. They stagger theology, and are
only explainable by one creed — ^the creed of Strength;
the creed that the Powers for Good must be stronger
than the Powers for Evil — stronger physically as well
as stronger spiritually, and until they are, such
horrors will stalk the earth rampant. The child
had been scalped, of course! The Sioux warrior
must have his trophy of courage, just as the modem
grinder of child labor must have his dividend. It
had then been suspended from a tree as a target
for the arrows of the braves. Hardened old rouS as
MacKenzie was — it was too much for his blackened

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heart. He fell on his trembling knees and according
to the rites of his Catholic faith, ensured the child's
entrance to Paradise by baptism before death. It
might die before he could bring water from the river.
The rough old man baptized the dying infant with
the blood drops from its wounds and with his own
tears.

Returning to the mother, he gently told her that
the child had been killed. Swathing her body in
cotton, these rough voyageurs bathed her wounds,
put the hacked hands in splinters, and in all proba-
bility saved her life by binding up the loose skin to
the scalp by a clean, fresh bladder. That night
voyageurs and partners sat round the wounded where
they lay, each man with back to a tree and musket
across his knees. In the morning the wounded were
laid in the bottom of the canoes. Scouts were ap-
pointed to ride on both sides of the river and keep
guard. In this way, the brigade advanced all day
and part of the following night, "the poor woman
and men moaning all the time," records McDonald
of Garth. Coming down the Assiniboine to Souris,
where the Hudson's Bay had a fort under Mr.
Pritchard, the Nor'Westers under Pierre Falcon,
the rhyming minstrel of the prairie — the wounded
were left here. Almost impossible to believe. Mar-
guerite Trottier recovered sufficiently in a month

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

to join the next brigade bound to Gibraltar (Winni-
peg). Here she met her father and went home with
him to Pembina. Jutras — the poltroon husband —
who had left her to the raiders, she abandoned with
all the burning scorn of her Indian blood. It seems
after the Sioux had wreaked their worst cruelty, she
simulated death, then crawled to hiding under the
oilcloth of the canoe, where, lying in terror of more
tortures, she vowed to the God of the white men that
if her life were spared she would become a Christian.
This vow she fulfilled at Pembina, and afterward
married one of the prominent family of Gingras, so
becoming the mother of a distinguished race. She
lived to the good old age of almost a hundred.

Another character almost as famous in Indian
legend as Marguerite had been with Henry at Pem-
bina and come north to Harmon on the Assiniboine.
This was the scout, John Tanner, stolen by Shawnees
from the family of the Rev. John Tanner on the
Ohio. The boy had been picking walnuts in the
woods when he was kidnapped by a marauding
party, who traded him to the Ottawas of the Up
Country. Tanner fell in good hands. His foster
mother was chief of the Mackinaw Indians and
quite capable of exercising her authority in terms of
the physical. Chaboillez, the wintering partner,
saw the boy at the Sault and inquiries as to who he

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was put the foster mother in such k fright of losing
him that she hid him in the Sault cellars. Among
the hunters of Pembina were Tanner and his Indian
mother, and later — his Indian wife. He will come
into this story at a later stage with J. Ba'tiste Laji-
moniere.

Notes to Chapter XXII, — I have purposely hting this chapter
round Henry as a -oog, because his adventures at Pembina,
whence jbumeys raoiated to the Missouri and the Assiniboine,
meree into his ufe on the Saskatchewan and so across the Rockies
to the Columbia — giving a record of all the N. W. C.'s depart-
ments, as if one traveled across on a modem railroad.

Henry's Adventures are to be found in his Journals edited
by Dr. Coues and published by Francis P. Harper. Several
reprints of Harmon's Journals have recently appeared. Harmon
was originally from Vermont and one oi his daughters, until
recently was prominent in Ottawa, Canada, as the head of a
fashionable school. I can imagine how one of the recent re-
prints would anger Harmon's family, where the introduction
speaks gUbly of Harmon having taken a ** native wife ad in-
terimy What those words *'ad inierim** mean, I doubt if the
writer, himself, knows — unless his own unsavory thought, for
of all fur traders Harmon was one of the most saintly, clean,
honorable, and gentle, true to his wife as to the fittest white
woman.

I have referred to Daniel MacKenzie as an old roui. The
reasons for this will appear in a subsequent chapter on doings
at Fort William.

The adventures of Tanner will be found in James' life of him,
in Major Long's travels, in Harmon, and in the footnotes of
Coufes's Henry, also by Eh*. Brvce in the Manitoba History Coll., .
most important of all in the Minnesota Hist. Collections, where
the true story of his death is recorded.

' The adventures of Marguerite Trottier are taken from two
isblirces: from McDonald of Garth's Journal (Masson Toumals)
and from the Abb^ Dugas' Legends. I hesitated whether to
give this shocking and terrible story, for the most thoughtless
reader will find between the lines (and it is intended) more than
is told. What determined me to give the story was this : Again
and again in the drawing rooms of London and New York, I have

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heard society — men and women, who hold high place in social
life — refer to those early marriages of the fur traders to native
women as something sub rosa, disreputable, best hidden bdiind
a lie or a fig leaf. They never expressed those delicate senti-
ments to me till they had ascertained that tho' I had lived all
my life in the West, I had neither native blood in mv veins nor
a relationship of any sort to the pioneer — ^not one of tnem. Then
some such expressions as this would come out apologetically
with mock modest Pharisaic blush — " Is it true that So and So
married a native woman?*' or **Of course I know they were aU
wicked men, for look how they married — Squaws!" I confess
it took me some time to get the Eastern view on this subject
into my head, and when 1 did, I felt as if I had passed one of
those sewer holes they have in civilized cities. Of course, it is
the natural point of view for people who guzzle on problem plays
and sex novels, but what — I wondered — ^would those good
people think if they realized that "the squaws" of whom they
spoke so scornfully were to Northwest life what a Boadicea was
to English life — ^tne personification of Purity that was Strength
and Strength that was Purity — a womanhood that the vilest
cruelties could not defile. Tnen, to speak of fur traders who
married native women as '*all wicked" is a joke. Think of the
religious mystic, Harmon, teaching his wife the English language
with the Bible, and Alexander MacKenzie, who had married a
native woman before he had married his own cousin, and the
saintly patriot. Dr. McLoughlin — ^think of them if you can as
"wicked." I can't! I only wish civilized men and women had
as good records.

In this chapter I wished very much to give a detailed ac-
count of each N. W. C. department with notes on the chief
actors, who were in those departments what the feudal barons
were to the countries of Europe, but space forbids. It is as im-
possible to do that as it would be to cram a record of all the
countries of Europe into one volume.

I have throughout referred to the waters as Hudson Bay; to
the company as Hudson's. This is the ruling of the Geograph-
ical societies and is, I think, correct, as the charter cafls the
company "Hudson's Bay." The N. W. C. were sometimes
referred to as "the French."

Charles MacKenzie and Larocque in their Journals (Masson
Coll.) give the details of the Mandane trade. Henry also touches
on it.



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CHAPTER XXIII

1780-1810

"the coming of the pedlars" continued-
thirty YEARS OF exploration — ^THE ADVANCE
UP THE SASKATCHEWAN TO BOW RIVER AND
HOWSE PASS — ^THE BUILDING OF EDMONTON —
HOW MACKENZIE CROSSED TO THE PACIFIC,

WHII^E fifty or a hundred men yearly as-
cended Red River as far as Grand Forks,
and the Assiniboine as far as Qu* Appelle,
the main forces of the Nor'Westers — the great army
of wood-rovers and plain rangers and swelling, blus-
tering bullies and crafty old wolves of the North,
and quiet-spoken wintering partners of iron will, who
said little and worked like demons — ^were destined
for the valley of the Saskatchewan that led to the
Rockies.

Like a great artery with branches south leading
over the height of land to the Missouri ar>d branches
north giving canoe passage over the height of land
to the Arctic, the Saskatchewan flowed for twelve
hundred miles through the fur traders* stamping
ground, freighted with the argosies of a thousand

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canoes. From the time that the ice broke up in May,
canoes were going and coming; canoes with blankets
hoisted on a tent pole for sail; canoes of birch bark
and cedar dugouts; canoes made of dried buflfalo
skin stitched and oiled round willow withes the shape
of a tub, and propelled across stream by lapping the
hand over the side of the frail gun'els. Indians
squatted flat in the bottom of the canoes, dipping
paddles in short stroke with an ease bom of lifelong
practice. White men sat erect on the thwarts with
the long, vigorous paddle-sweep of the English oars-
man and shot up and down the swift-flowing waters
like birds on wing. The boats of the English traders
from Hudson Bay were ponderously clumsy, almost
as large as the Mackinaws, which the Company still
uses, with a tree or rail plied as rudder to half-punt,
half -scull; rows of oarsmen down each side, who
stood to the oar where the current was stiff, and a
big mast pole for sails when there was wind, for the
tracking rope when it was necessary to pull against
rapids. Where rapids were too turbulent for track-
ing, these boats were trundled ashore and rolled
across logs. Little wonder the Nor'Westers with
their light birch canoes built narrow for speed, light
enough to be carried over the longest portage by
two men, outraced with a whoop the Hudson's Bay
boats whenever they encountered each other on the

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Saskatchewan! Did the rival crews camp for the
night together, French bullies would chaUenge the
Orkneymen of the Hudson's Bay to come out and
fight. The defeated side must treat the conquerors
or suffer a ducking.

Crossing the north end of Lake Winnipeg, canoes
bound inland passed Horse Island and ascended the
Saskatchewan. Only one interruption broke navi-
gation for one thousand miles — Grand Rapids at the
entrance of the river, three miles of which could be
tracked, three must be portaged — in all a trail of
about nine miles on the north shore where the English
had laid a corduroy road of log rollers. The ruins
of old Fort Bourbon and Basquia or Pas, where
Hendry had seen the French in '54, were first passed.



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 29 of 50)