Alexander Henry.

Alexander Henry's Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776, ed. with historical introduction and notes by Milo Milton Quaife online

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and over the Indians, in their navigation and

This island lies no farther from the main
than the distance of five hundred yards. On
the opposite beach I found several pieces of
virgin copper, of which many were remarkable
for their form, some resembling leaves of
vegetables and others, animals. Their weight
was from an ounce to three pounds.

From the island to my proposed wintering
ground the voyage was about ten leagues. The
lake is here bordered by a rugged and elevated
country, consisting in mountains of which for
the most part the feet are in the water and the
heads in the clouds. The river which falls into
the bay is a large one but has a bar at its en-
trance over which there is no more than four
feet water.

On reaching the trading post, which was an
old one of French establishment, I found ten
lodges of Indians. These were Gens de
Terres, or O'pimittish Ininiwac, of which


^leranljcr l^cnrp

nation I have already had occasion to speak. ^'
It is scattered over all the country between the
Gulf of St. Lawrence and Lake Arabuthcow/*
and between Lake Superior and Hudson's
Bay. Its language is a mixture of those of its
neighbors, the Chippewa and Christinaux.^-''
The men and women wear their hair in the same
fashion, and are otherwise so much dressed
aUke that it is often difl&cult to distinguish
their sexes. Their lodges, on the insufficiency of
which I have before remarked, have no cover-
ing except the branches of the spruce fir and
these habitations, as well as the clothes and
persons of the inhabitants, are full of dirt
and vermin. Such is the inhospitality of the
country over which they wander that only a
single family can live together in the winter
season, and this sometimes seeks subsistence
in vain on an area of five hundred square miles.
They can stay in one place only till they have
destroyed all its hares, and when these fail
they have no resource but in the leaves and
shoots of trees, or in defect of these in canni-
balism. Most of these particulars, however,

" See Part One, chapter 6. They are also called Tfites
de Boule. — Author.

The descendants of the Tetes de Boule (round-
heads) now dwell in the province of Quebec. Alone of
all the tribes of eastern Canada, they still refuse to
devote themselves to agriculture. — Editor.

1* Modern Lake Athabasca. — Editor.

" The same with Kristinaux, Killistinoes, Criqs,
Cris, Crees, etc., etc., etc. — Author.


are to be regarded as strong traits by which the
sorrows and calamities of the country admit
of being characterized, rather than as parts of
an accurate delineation of its more ordinary

Among such of these Indians as I knew, one
of them was married to his own daughter, who
had brought him several children; and I was
told by his companions that it was common
among them for a man to have at the same
time both a mother and her daughter for

To the ten lodges I advanced goods to a large
amount, allowing every man credit for a hun-
dred beaver-skins, and every woman for thirty.
In this I went beyond what I had done for the
Chippewa, a proceeding to which I was em-
boldened by the high character for honesty
which is supported by this otherwise abject
people. Within a few days after their depar-
ture, others arrived; and by the fifteenth of
October I had seen, or so I was informed, all
the Indians of this quarter, and which belong
to a thousand square miles. They were com-
prised in no more than eighteen families; and
even these, in summer, could not find food in
the country were it not for the fish in the
streams and lakes.

The country immediately contiguous to my

wintering ground was mountainous in every

direction, and the mountains were separated

from each other rather by lakes than valleys,


^Icranticr l^enrp

the quantity of water everywhere exceeding
that of the land. On the summits of some of
the mountains there were sugar-maple trees;
but with these exceptions, the uplands had
no other growth than spruce-firs and pines,
nor the lowlands than birch and poplar.
Occasionally, I saw a few cariboux, and hares
and partridges supplied my Sunday dinners.
By Christmas day the lake was covered with


Ci&aptcr 5


IN the beginning of April I prepared to make
maple sugar, building for this purpose a
house in a hollow dug out of the snow. The
house was seven feet high but yet was lower
than the snow.

On the twenty-fourth I began my manu-
facture. On the twenty-eighth the lands below
were covered with a thick fog. All was calm,
and from the top of the mountain not a cloud
was to be discovered in the horizon. Descend-
ing the next day, I found half a foot of new-
fallen snow and learned that it had blown hard
in the valleys the day before; so that I per-
ceived I had been making sugar in a region
above the clouds.

Sugar-making continued till the twelfth of
May. On the mountain we eat nothing but our
sugar during the whole period. Each man
consumed a pound a day, desired no other food,
and was visibly nourished by it.

After returning to the banks of the river,
wild fowl appeared in such abundance that a
day's subsistence for fifty men could without
difficulty be shot daily by one; but all this was
the affair of less than a week, before the end of
which the water which had been covered was


^leranticr l^enrp

left naked, and the birds had fled away to the

On the twentieth day of the month the first
party of Indians came in from their winter's
hunt. During the season some of them had
visited one of the factories' of the Hudson's
Bay Company. Within a few days following
I had the satisfaction of seeing all those to
whom I had advanced goods return. Out of
two thousand skins, which was the amount of
my outstanding debts, not thirty remained un-
paid; and even the trivial loss which I did
suffer was occasioned by the death of one of the
Indians, for whom his family brought, as they
said, all the skins of which he died possessed,
and offered to pay the rest from among them-
selves; his manes, they observed, would not
be able to enjoy peace, while his name re-
mained in my books and his debts were left

In the spring, at MichiHmackinac, I met
with a Mr. Alexander Baxter, recently arrived
from England on report of the ores existing in
this country. To this gentleman, I commu-
nicated my mineralogical observations and
specimens, collected both on my voyages and
at my wintering ground ; and I was dius intro-
duced into a partnership which was soon after-
ward formed for working the mines of Lake

Meanwhile, I prepared to pass a second
winter at Michipicoten, which I reached at the

CrabcliGf anti ^Dbcntuteief

usual season. In the month of October, all the
Indians being supplied and at the chase, I
resolved on indulging myself in a voyage to the
Sault de Ste. Marie, and took with me three
Canadians and a young Indian woman, who
wished to see her relations there. As the dis-
tance was short and we were to fish by the way,
we took no other provision than a quart of
maize for each person.

On the first night we encamped on the island
of Nanibojou and set our net. We certainly
neglected the customary offerings, and an
Indian would not fail to attribute it to this
cause that in the night there arose a violent
storm which continued for three days, in which
it was impossible for us to visit our net. In
consequence we subsisted ourselves on our
maize, the whole of which we nearly finished.
On the evening of the third day the storm
abated and we hastened to examine the net.
It was gone. To return to Michipicoten was
impossible, the wind being ahead; and we
steered, therefore, for the Sault. But in the
evening the wind came round and blew a gale
all that night and for the nine following days.
During all this time the waves were so high and
broke so violently on the beach that a canoe
could not be put into the water.

When we first disembarked we had not
enough maize to afford a single day's provision
for our party, consisting as it did of five per-
sons. What there was we consumed on the

^lejcantier i^cnrp

first evening, reckoning upon a prosperous
voyage the next morning. On the first and
second days I went out to hunt, but after
ranging for many miles among the mountains
I returned in both instances without success.
On the third day I found myself too weak to
walk many yards without stopping to rest my-
self; and I returned in the evening with no more
than two snowbirds. ^^

On my arrival one of my men informed me
that the other two had proposed to kill and
feed upon the young woman; and on my
examining them as to the truth of this accusa-
tion they freely avowed it, and seemed to be
much dissatisfied at my opposition to their

The next morning I ascended a lofty moun-
tain, on the top of which I found a very high
rock and this covered with a lichen which the
Chippewas call waac, and the Canadians
tripe de rocheP I had previously been informed
, that on occasions of famine this vegetable has

^^ Emberiza hyemalis. — Author.

^' This is an edible lichen often mentioned by early
explorers. Father Menard and his companions, winter-
ing at Keweenaw Bay in 1 660-61, used it to preserve
their lives through the winter. "They would put a
handful of it into their kettle, which would thicken
the water ever so little, forming a kind of foam or slime
like that of snails, and feeding their imagination more
than their bodies." Father Andre records that "It
is necessary to close one's eyes when one begins to eat
it." Wis. Hist. Colls., XVI, 24.— Editor.

€rabri^ anb ^tJbentureiSf

often been resorted to for food. No sooner,
therefore, had I discovered it than I began to
descend the mountain to fetch the men and the
Indian woman. The woman was well acquainted
with the mode of preparing the lichen for
the stomach, which is done by boiling it down
into a mucilage, as thick as the white of an egg.
In a short time we obtained a hearty meal, for
though our food was of a bitter and disagreeable
taste, we felt too much joy in finding it and too
much relief in eating it not to partake of it
with much appetite and pleasure. As to the
rest, it saved the Hfe of the poor wpman; for
the men who had projected to kill her would
unquestionably have accomplished their pur-
pose. One of them gave me to understand that
he was not absolutely a novice in such an
affair; that he had wintered in the Northwest,
and had been obhged to eat human flesh.

On the evening of the ninth day the wind
fell and our canoe was launched, though not
without difificulty from the weakly state of the
crew. We paddled all night, but continually
fell asleep, and whenever my own eyes were
closed I dreamed of tempting food.

The next morning we discovered two canoes
of Indians on their way from the Sault. On
informing them of our condition they suppHed
us with as many fish as we were wilHng to
accept; and no sooner were we possessed of this
treasure than we put ashore, made a fire, and
refreshed ourselves with a plentiful breakfast.

^icrantJct i^cnrp

At night we reached the Sault. Our change
of diet had very serious effects upon our health,
so that for myself I had nearly fallen a victim;
but after a few days we recovered, and re-
turned safely to Michipicoten.


chapter e


IN the spring of 1 769 as soon as the lake was
cleared of ice I embarked with two Indians
to visit the Island of Michipicoten, or
He de Maurepas, distant ten leagues. As we
approached it, it appeared large and moun-
tainous. The Indians had informed me that it
contained shining rocks and stones of rare
description. I found it one solid rock, thinly
covered with soil except in the valleys, but
generally well wooded. Its circumference is
twelve leagues. On examining the surface I
saw nothing remarkable, except large veins of
transparent spar, and a mass of rock at the
south end of the island which appeared to be
composed of iron ore.

Disappointed in my expectations here, my
curiosity was raised anew by the account given
me by my companions of another island almost
as large as that on which I was, and lying a
little farther to the southward. This they
described as covered with a heavy yellow sand
which I was credulous enough to fancy must be
gold. All they knew, however, of the island
and its heavy yellow sand was from the report
of some of their ancestors, concerning whom a
tradition had come down to them that being

^lejtrantiet: i^cnrp

blown upon the former by a storm, they had
escaped with difficulty from the enormous
snakes by which it is irihabited, and which are
the guardians of the yellow sand.^^ I was eager
to visit so remarkable a spot, and being told
that in clear weather it was visible from the
southward of the He de Maurepas, I waited
there two days; but the weather continuing
hazy, I returned unsatisfied to my post.

'* Captain Carver, who visited Lake Superior about
the year 1766, learned something of the fables of the
yellow sand, though he places the treasure upon the lie
de Maurepas, and falls into other errors. His observa-
tions are as follows: "There are many islands in this
lake, two of which are very large; and if the land of
them is proper for cultivation, there appears to be
sufficient to form on each a considerable province;
especially on He Royale, which cannot be less than a
hundred miles long and in many places forty broad.
But there is no way at present of ascertaining the
exact length or breadth of either. Even the French,
who always kept a small schooner on this lake whilst
they were in possession of Canada, by which they
could have made this discovery, have only acquired a
slight knowledge of the external parts of these islands;
at least, they have never published any account of the
internal parts of them that I could get intelligence of.

"Nor was I able to discover, from any of the con-
versations which I had with the neighboring Indians,
that they had ever made any settlements on them, or
even landed there on their hunting excursions, from
what I could gather by their discourse, they suppose
them to have been, from the first formation, the
residence of the Great Spirit; and relate many magical
tricks that had been experienced by such as were
obliged through stress of weather to take shelter on


This year I attempted to cultivate culinary
vegetables at Michipicoten but without suc-
cess. It was not at this time believed that the
potato could thrive at Michilimackinac. At
Michipicoten the small quantity of this root
which I raised was destroyed by the frost, in
the ensuing winter.

In 1770 Mr. Baxter, who had sailed for
England, returned bringing with him papers by
which, with Mr. Bostwick and himself I was
constituted a joint agent and partner in and for
a company of adventurers for working the mines
of Lake Superior. We passed the winter to-
gether at the Sault de Ste. Marie and built a
barge fit for the navigation of the lake, at the

"One of the Chipeways told me that some of their
people were once driven on the Island de Maurepas,
which lies to the northeast part of the lake, and found
on it large quantities of heavy, shining yellow sand,
that from their description must have been gold dust.
Being struck with the beautiful appearance of it, in the
morning when they re-entered their canoe they attempt-
ed to bring some away; but a spirit of amazing size,
according to their account sixty feet in height, strode
into the water after them, and commanded them to de-
liver back what they had taken away. Terrified at his
gigantic stature, and seeing that he had nearly over-
taken them, they were glad to restore their shining
treasure; on which they were suffered to depart without
further molestation. Since this incident, no Indian
that has ever heard of it will venture near the same
haunted coast. Besides this, they recounted to me
many other stories of these islands, equally fabulous. "
— Three Years' Travels through (he Interior Parts of
North America, etc. By Captain Jonathan Carver, of
the Provincial Troops, etc. — Author.


^Icjcanlier l^enrp

same time laying the keel of a sloop of forty
tons. Early in May, 1771, the lake becoming
navigable, we departed from Point aux Pins,
our shipyard, at which there is a safe harbor
and of which the distance from the Sault is
three leagues. We sailed for the Island of
Yellow Sands, promising ourselves to make
our fortunes in defiance of its serpents.


Cl^apter 7


/iFTER a search of two days we discovered

r\ the island with our glass; and on the

third morning, the weather being fair,

steered for it at an early hour. At two o'clock

in the afternoon we disembarked upon the


I was the first to land, carrying with me my
loaded gun and resolved to meet with courage
the guardians of the gold. But as we had not
happened to run our barge upon the yellow
sands in the first instance, so no immediate
attack was to be feared. A wood was before us
at some little distance from the water's edge;
and I presently discovered the tracks of

Soon after I entered the woods three of these
animals discovered themselves and, turning
round, gazed at me with much apparent sur-
prise. I fired at one of them and killed it; and
at a mile farther I killed a second. Their size
was equal to that of a three-year-old heifer.
The day following I killed three.

The island is much smaller than I had been
led to suppose it, its circumference not exceed-
ing twelve miles. It is very low and contains
many small lakes. These latter I conjecture to

^Jcjcanticr l^enrp

have been produced by the damming up of the
streams by beaver, though those animals must
have left the island or perished after destroying
the wood. The only high land is toward the

A stay of three days did not enable us to find
gold nor even the yellow sands. At the same
time no serpents appeared to terrify us; not
even the smallest and most harmless snake.
But to support the romance, it might be in-
ferred that the same agency which hid the one
had changed the other; and why should not the
magic of the place display itself in a thousand
varied exhibitions ? Why should not the ser-
pents have been transformed into hawks ?
And why should not the demons delight in
belying every succeeding visitor by never
showing the same objects twice? Sure I am,
that the hawks abounded when we were there.
They hovered around us, and appeared even
angry at our intrusion, pecking at us and
keeping us in continual alarm for our faces.
One of them actually took my cap from off
my head.

On one of the lakes we saw geese; and there
were a few pigeons. The only four-footed
animal was the caribou and this, it is probable,
was first conveyed to the island on some mass
of drifting ice. It was, however, no new in-
habitant; for in numerous instances I found
the bones of cariboux, apparently in entire
skeletons, with only the tops of their horns

Crabclj^ anU SLUticnturcje^

projecting from the surface, while moss or
vegetable earth concealed the rest. Skeletons
were so frequent as to suggest a belief that
want of food in this confined situation had
been the destruction of many; nor is anything
more probable; and yet the absence of beasts of
prey might be the real cause. In forests more
ordinarily circumstanced the graminivorous
animals must usually fall a prey to the car-
nivorous long before the arrival of old age;
but in an asylum such as this, they may await
the decay of nature.

The alarm of these animals during our stay
was manifested in the strongest manner. At
our first arrival they discovered mere surprise,
running off to a distance and then return-
ing as if out of curiosity to examine the
strangers. Soon, however, they discovered
us to be dangerous visitors, and then took
to running from one place to another in con-,
fusion. In the three days of our stay we killed

The island is distant sixty miles from the
north shore of Lake Superior. There is no land
visible to the south of it except a small island
on which we landed.^^

On the fourth day, after drying our cariboux-
meat, we sailed for Nanibojou which we

^' The reader is not to look into any gazetteer for the
Island of Yellow Sands. It is perhaps that which the
French denominated the lie de Pontchartrain. — Author.

The island, now called Caribou, may be found on
modern maps about twenty-five miles due south of

^Icranticr J^enrp

reached in eighteen hours, with a fair breeze.
On the next day the miners examined the coast
of Nanibojou and found several veins of copper
and lead; and after this returned to Point aux
Pins, where we erected an air-furnace. The
assayer made a report on the ores which we had
collected, stating that the lead-ore contained
silver in the proportion of forty ounces to a
ton; but the copper-ore only in very small pro-
portion indeed.

From Point aux Pins we crossed to the south
side of the lake and encamped on Point aux

Mr. Norburg,^" a Russian gentleman ac-
quainted with metals and holding a commis-
sion in the Sixtieth Regiment, and then in
garrison at Michilimackinac, accompanied us
on this latter expedition. As we rambled,
examining the shods or loose stones in search of
minerals, Mr. Norburg chanced to meet with
one of eight pounds weight, of a blue color
and semi-transparent. This he carried to
England, where it produced in the proportion
of sixty pounds of silver to a hundred weight of
ore. It was reposited in the British Museum.
Michipicoten Island. — Editor.

^^ John Nordberg became lieutenant in the Sixtieth
Regiment in 1758 and captain in 1773. At the opening
of the Revolution he was commandant at Fort George
on Lake George, and surrendered this post to the Colo-
nists in April. 1775. After several months imprisonment
he was permitted, on account of ill-health, to return
to England. — Editor.

€rabcl^ anti ^DbcntureiBf

The same Mr. Norburg was shortly afterward
appointed to the government of Lake George
in the province of New York.

Hence we coasted westward, but found
nothing till we reached the Ontonogan, where,
besides the detached masses of copper formerly
mentioned, we saw much of the same metal
bedded in stone. Proposing to ourselves to
make a trial on the hill till we were better able
to work upon the solid rock, we built a house
and sent to the Sault de Ste. Marie for provi-
sions. At the spot pitched upon for the com-
mencement of our preparations a green-colored
water, which tinged iron of a copper color,
issued from the hill; and this the miners
called a leader. In digging they found frequent
masses of copper, some of which were of three
pounds weight. Having arranged everything
for the accommodation of the miners during the
winter, we returned to the Sault.

Early in the spring of 1772 we sent a boat-
load of provisions, but it came back on the
twentieth day of June, bringing with it, to
our surprise, the whole establishment of
miners. They reported that in the course of
the winter they had penetrated forty feet into
the hill; but that on the arrival of the thaw, the
clay, on which on account of its stiflFness they
had relied and neglected to secure it by sup-
porters, had fallen in; that to recommence their
search would be attended with much labor and
cost; that from the detached masses of metal,

aieranticr l^cnrp

which to the last had daily presented them-
selves, they supposed there might be ultimately
reached some body of the same, but could form
no conjecture of its distance, except that it was
probably so far ofif as not to be pursued with-
out sinking an airshaft: and lastly, that this
work would require the hands of more men
than could be fed in the actual situation of the

Here our operations in this quarter ended.
The metal was probably within our reach;
but if we had found it the expense of carrying
it to Montreal must have exceeded its market-
able value. It was never for the exportation
of copper that our company was formed; but
always with a view to the silver which it was
hoped the ores, whether of copper or lead,
might in sufficient quantity contain. The
copper ores of Lake Superior can never be
profitably sought for but for local consump-
tion. The country must be cultivated and
peopled before they can deserve notice.^^

^^ The copper mines of Lake Superior have been more

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Online LibraryAlexander HenryAlexander Henry's Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776, ed. with historical introduction and notes by Milo Milton Quaife → online text (page 13 of 20)