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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waging war with certain animals, which are in
abundance on their persons and which, as they
catch, they eat. To frequent inquiries as to
the motive for eating them I was always
answered that they afforded a medicinal food
and great preventive of diseases.

Such are the exterior beauties of the female
Cristinaux; and not content with the power
belonging to these attractions they conde-
scend to beguile with gentle looks the hearts of
passing strangers. The men, too, unlike the
Chippewa (who are of a jealous temper)
eagerly encourage them in this design. One
of the chiefs assured me that the children
borne by their women to Europeans were
bolder warriors and better hunters than them-

The Cristinaux have usually two wives each,
and often three; and make no difficulty in
lending one of them, for a length of time to a
friend. Some of my men entered into agree-
ments with the respective husbands in virtue
of which they embarked the women in their
canoes, promising to return them the next
year. The women so selected consider them-
selves as honored, and the husband who should
refuse to lend his wife would fall under the
condemnation of the sex in general.

The language of the Cristinaux is a dialect
of the Algonquin, and therefore bears some
afl&nity to that of the Chippewa, which is

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another dialect of the same. In the Northwest
it is commonly called Cree or Cris.


Cl^apter 9


THE Cristinaux made me the usual pres-
ents of wild rice and dried meat, and
accompanied them with the usual for-
maUties. I remained at their village two days
repairing my canoes; and though they were
drunk the whole time they behaved very peace-
ably and gave me no annoyance. I observed
that two men constantly attended us, and that
these individuals could not be prevailed upon
to taste liquor. They had been assigned us for
a guard, and they would not allow any drunken
Indian to approach our camp.

On the eighteenth of August I left these
amicable people, among whom an intercourse
with Europeans appeared to have occasioned
less deviation from their primitive manners
than in any instance which I had previously
discovered. I kept the north side of the lake,
and had not proceeded far before I was joined
by Mr. Pond, a trader of some celebrity in the
Northwest.*^ Next day we encountered a
'8 Peter Pond was a native of Milford, Connecticut,
born in 1740. He enlisted for the Seven Years' War,
and at its conclusion, turned his attention to the sea.
Before long, however, he engaged in the Indian trade at
Detroit and other points, and in 1773 came out to
Wisconsin and Minnesota on a new venture. In 1 775 he


^leranticr i^ntrp

severe gale, from the dangers of which we
escaped by making the island called the Buf-
falo's Head; but not without the loss of a
canoe and four men. The shores from the
entrance of this lake to the island with excep-
tion of the points are rocky and lofty; the
points are rocky, but low. The wood is pine
and fir. We took pouts, cat-fish, or catheads, of
six pounds weight.

On the twenty-first we crossed to the south
shore and reached Oak Point, so called from a
few scrub oaks which here begin to diversify
the forest of pine and fir. The pelicans, which
we everywhere saw, appeared to be impatient
of the long stay we made in fishing. Leaving
the island, we found the lands along the shore

went into the Lake Winnipeg region for the first time,
where he encountered Henry. Three years later all the
traders of this district, including Pond, met at Sturgeon
Lake and agreed to pool their interests. This was the
beginning of the famous North West Company. Pond
was a man of pugnacious disposition. In the Detroit
period of his trading career he fought a duel in which
his opponent fell, and which caused Pond to leave the
country. In 1782 he shot and killed a trader named
Wadin, with whom he had had a quarrel. Wadin's
widow applied for a trial and Pond was sent to Quebec
to stand trial, but was acquitted for lack of jurisdiction.
Returning to the Northwest, he killed John Ross, a well-
known trader, in a duel fought at Great Slave Lake in
1787. The next year he sold his interest in the North
West Company and retired to the United States, dying
at his native Milford in 1807. Pond's journal of his
earlier years in the army and the fur trade is printed in
Wis. Hist. Colls., XVIII, 314-54.— Editor.


low and wooded with birch and marsh maple
intermixed with spruce-fir. The beach is
gravelly, and the points rocky.

To the westward of Pike River, which we
passed on the first of September, is a rock of
great length, called the Roche Rouge, and
entirely composed of a pihre a calumet, or
stone used by the Indians for making tobacco-
pipe bowls. It is of a light red color, inter-
spersed with veins of brown, and yields very
readily to the knife.

On the seventh of September we were over-
taken by Messrs. Joseph and Thomas Fro-
bisher^^ and Mr. Patterson.^" On the twentieth
we crossed the bay together, composing a fleet
of thirty canoes and a hundred and thirty men.
We were short of provisions.

On the twenty-first it blew hard and snow
began to fall. The storm continued till the

3' The brothers Frobisher, Joseph, Thomas, and
Benjamin, were among the early British traders to
come into the Northwest. Joseph and Thomas founded
the firm of Frobisher Brothers, but in 1778 Thomas
retired and Benjamin succeeded him. Joseph and
Benjamin were active in the formation of the North
West Company. Joseph was a noted explorer of western
Canada, tie retired from the fur trade in 1 798, living
thereafter at Montreal. — Editor.

^'^ Charles Patterson was another early British trader
in the Northwest, and one of the founders of the North
West Company. In 1788 he was drowned with his
entire crew in Lake Michigan near a place still known
as Patterson's Point, in western Mackinac County,
Michigan. — Editor.


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twenty-fifth, by which time the small lakes
were frozen over and two feet of snow lay on
level ground in the woods. This early severity
of the season filled us with serious alarm, for
the country was uninhabited for two hundred
miles on every side of us and if detained by
winter our destruction was certain. In this
state of peril we continued our voyage day
and night. The fears of our men were a suffi-
cient motive for their exertions.

On the first of October we gained the
mouth of the River de Bourbon, Pasquayah, or
Sascatchiwaine ^^ and proceeded to ascend its
stream. The Bourbon is a large river and has
its sources to the westward.^ The lands which
we passed after the twenty-first of September
are more hilly and rocky than those described
before. The trees are poplar and spruce. The
rocks are chiefly of Hmestone. Our course from
the entrance of Lake Winipegon was north-
west northerly. The lake contains sturgeon,
but we were not able to take any. At four
leagues above the mouth of the river is the
Grand Rapide, two leagues in length, up which
the canoes are dragged with ropes. At the end
of this is a carrying-place of two miles, through

^^ The lower part of the Sascatchiwaine was once
called the River de Bourbon. Pasquayah is the name
of an upper portion of the Sascatchiwaine. — Author.

^ The river is the modern Saskatchewan, which
gives name to a province of Canada and drains a vast
area between the Rocky Mountains and Lake Winni-
peg. — Editor.


a forest almost uniformly of pine trees. Here
we met with Indians fishing for sturgeon.
Their practice is to watch behind the points
where the current forms an eddy, in which the
sturgeon, coming to rest themselves, are
easily speared. The soil is light and sandy.
A vessel of any burden might safely navigate
Lake Winipegon from its southwest corner to
the Grand Rapide.

Lake Winipegon, or Winipic, or the Lake
of the KiUistinons, or Cristinaux, empties itself
into Hudson's Bay at Fort York by a river
sometimes called Fort Nelson River. Its
length is said to be one hundred and twenty
leagues. Its breadth is unknown. I saw no
land in any direction after leaving Oak Point.

On the second we continued our voyage
against the current of the Bourbon, which was
strong and interrupted by several rapids. On
the third we entered Lake de Bourbon, called
by the EngHsh after the Indians Cedar Lake.
This name is derived from the cedar tree
{thuya) which covers its banks, and which is
not found to the northward of this region.

On the fourth we reached the opposite ex-
tremity of Lake de Bourbon. This lake is
eighteen leagues in length and has many deep
bays receding to the northward. The land by
which they are bordered is in almost all in-
stances out of sight. Several islands, some of
which are large, are also in this lake. The
shores are generally rocky. At the north end


^IcjcanDer J^mrp

there was in the French time a fort, or trading-
house, called Fort de Bourbon and built by
M. de Saint Pierre, a French ofl&cer, who was
the first adventurer into these parts of the

At and adjacent to this fort are several of
the mouths of the river Sascatchiwaine. Here
we took several sturgeon, using a seine the
meshes of which were large enough to admit the
fish's head and which we made fast to two canoes.

On the sixth we ascended the Sascatchiwaine,
the current of which was here only moderately
strong; but the banks were marshy and over-
flowed so that it was with difficulty we found
a dry space large enough to encamp upon.
Beaver lodges were numerous, and the river
was everywhere covered with geese, ducks, and
other wild fowl. No rising ground was to be
seen and the wood, which was chiefly willow,
nowhere exceeded a man's wrist in thickness.

On the eighth we resumed our voyage before
daylight, making all speed to reach a fishing-
place, since winter was very fast approaching.
Meeting two canoes of Indians, we engaged
them to accompany us as hunters. The num-
ber of ducks and geese which they killed was
absolutely prodigious.

^ In 1766 Carver calls Lake de Bourbon " the most
northward of those yet discovered." — Author.

Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Vrendrye,
notable explorer of the Canadian Northwest, estab-
lished Fort Bourbon herein 1749. The Lake is now
known as Cedar Lake. — Editor.


€rai3clj0? and ^Dbenturejef

At eighty leagues above Fort de Bourbon, at
the head of a stream which falls into the Sas-
catchiwaine and into which we had turned, we
found the Pasquayah village.*^ It consisted of
thirty famihes, lodged in tents of a circular
form and composed of dressed ox-skins,
stretched upon poles twelve feet in length, and
leaning against a stake driven into the ground
in the center.

On our arrival the chief, named Chatique, or
the PeHcan, came down upon the beach attend-
ed by thirty followers, all armed with bows
and arrows and with spears. Chatique was a
man of more than six feet in height, somewhat
corpulent and of a very doubtful physiognomy.
He invited us to his tent, and we observed that
he was particularly anxious to bestow his
hospitalities on those who were the owners
of the goods. We suspected an evil design but
judged it better to lend ourselves to the
treachery than to discover fear. We entered
the lodge accordingly, and soon perceived that
we were surrounded by armed men.

Chatique presently rose up and told us that
he was glad to see us arrive; that the young
men of the village as well as himself had long
been in want of many things of which we were
possessed in abundance; that we must be well
aware of his power to prevent our going farther;

" At the junction of the Pasquia River with the
Saskatchewan. Here the French built Fort Paskoyac
before 1755. It is the site of modern Pas Mission or
Cumberland Station. — Editor.

^kjcantiet i^enrp

that if we passed now he could put us all to
death on our return; and that under these cir-
cumstances he expected us to be exceedingly-
liberal in our presents: adding, that to avoid
misunderstanding he would inform us of what
it was that he must have. It consisted in
three casks of gunpowder, four bags of shot and
ball, two bales of tobacco, three kegs of rum,
and three guns, together with knives, flints,
and some smaller articles. He went on to say
that he had before now been acquainted with
white men and knew that they promised more
than they performed; that with the number of
men which he had, he could take the whole of
our property without our consent; and that,
therefore, his demands ought to be regarded as
very reasonable: that he was a peaceable man
and one that contented himself with moderate
views, in order to avoid quarrels; finally, that
he desired us to signify our assent to his proposi-
tion before we quitted our places.

The men in the canoes exceeded the Indians
in number, but they were unarmed and with-
out a leader; our consultation was, therefore,
short, and we promised to comply. This done,
the pipe was handed round as usual and the
omission of this ceremony on our entrance had
sufficiently marked the intentions of Chatique.
The pipe dismissed, we obtained permission
to depart, for the purpose of assorting the
presents; and these bestowed, or rather yielded
up, we hastened away from the plunderers.


We had supposed the aflFair finished, but
before we had proceeded two miles we saw a
canoe behind us. On this we dropped astern to
give the canoes that were following us an
opportunity of joining, lest, being alone, they
should be insulted. Presently, however, Cha-
tique in a soHtary canoe rushed into the midst
of our squadron and boarded one of our canoes,
spear in hand, demanding a keg of rum and
threatening to put to death the first that op-
posed him. We saw that our only alternative
was to kill this daring robber or to submit
to his exaction. The former part would have
been attended with very mischievous conse-
quences, and we therefore curbed our indigna-
tion and chose the latter. On receiving the rum,
he saluted us with the Indian cry, and departed.

Every day we were on the water before dawn
and paddled along till dark. The nights were
frosty and no provisions, excepting a few wild
fowl, were to be procured. We were in daily fear
that our progress would be arrested by the ice.

On the twenty-sixth we reached Cumberland
House, one of the factories of the Hudson's
Bay Company, seated on Sturgeon Lake in
about 54° north latitude and 102° longitude
west from Greenwich. This house had been
built the year before by Mr. Hearne, who was
now absent on his well-known journey of
discovery.'*^ We found it garrisoned by High-

*^ Samuel Hearne made his notable voyages of
exploration from Prince of Wales Fort to the Arctic


^llcxantJcr l^enrp

landers from the Orkney Islands, and under
the command of a Mr. Cockings,^^ by whom,
though unwelcome guests,^^ we were treated
with much civiUty. The design in building
this house, was to prevent the Indians from
dealing with the Canadian merchants, and
to induce them to go to Hudson's Bay. It is

Ocean in the j^ears 1769-72. He established Cumber-
land House, as Henry states, but this was two years
after, rather than before his famous exploration to the
Arctic. Cumberland House, says Elliott Coues, was at
"the focus of a vast network of waters whose strands
radiate in every direction. A canoe could start from
this house, and with no portage of more than a day's
length could be launched on the Arctic Ocean, Hud-
son's Bay, Gulf of St. Lawrence, or Gulf of Mexico;
and without much greater interruption could be floated
on to the Pacific Ocean." — Editor.

■•^ Matthew Cocking was a trader of the Hudson's Bay
Company who in 1 772-73 had conducted an exploration
from York Factory southwestward into the country of
the Blackfeet. The discoveries made on this journey
determined the Company to establish Cumberland
House the following j'ear, and Cocking was placed in
command. His journal of his journey of 1772-7315
printed in Royal Society of Canada, Proceedings and
Transactions, Third Series, Vol. II, 91-121. — Editor.

■" Cumberland House was a post of the Hudson's
Bay Company, by whom Henry and the other Canadian
traders were regarded as interlopers. The North West
Company, which these traders were shortly to create,
conducted, throughout its entire history, a fierce trade
rivalry with the older firm, which reached the height,
finally, of open warfare between the partisans of the
two. This was terminated by the amalgamation of the
North West with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821.
— Editor.


distant one hundred leagues from Chatique 's
village, and of this space the first fifty leagues
comprise lands nearly level with the water; but
in the latter the surface is more lofty, rising a
hundred feet above the river, and increasing
in height as we advanced. The soil is a white clay,
mixed with sand. The wood is small and scanty.

At Cumberland House the canoes separated,
M. Cadotte going with four to Fort des Prai-
ries, Mr. Pond with two to Fort Dauphin,
and others proceeding on still different routes.
Messrs. Frobisher retained six and myself four,
and we resolved on joining our stock and winter-
ing together. We steered for the river Church-
ill, or Missinipi, to the east of Beaver Pake, or
Lake aux Castors.

Sturgeon Lake,*^ which we now crossed, is
twenty leagues in length. On the east are high
lands, and on the west low islands. The river
Maligne *^ falls into it. This we ascended, but
not without much labor from the numerous
rapids, on account of which the Canadians in
their vexation have given it the name it bears.

We crossed Beaver Lake *" on the first day
of November, and the very next morning it

*^ Now known as Cumberland Lake. Its principal
northeastern offset, known as Namew Lake, is the
initial one of the great chain of lakes which, says Coues,
"offer a practicable thoroughfare" to Hudson Bay
and the Arctic Ocean. — Editor.

" Modern Sturgeon Weir River. — Editor.

^" Now called Amisk Lake, in eastern Saskatchewan.
— Editor.


9llej:antier i^enrp

was frozen over. Happily we were now at a
place abounding with fish, and here, therefore,
we resolved on wintering.

Our first object was to procure food. We
had only three days' stock remaining and we
were forty-three persons in number. Our forty
men were divided into three parties, of which
two were detached to the River aux Castors,^^
on which the ice was strong enough to allow of
setting the nets, in the manner heretofore
described. The third party was employed in
building our house, or fort; and in this within
ten days we saw ourselves commodiously
lodged. Indeed, we had almost built a village;
or, in soberer terms, we had raised buildings
round a quadrangle such as really assumed in
the wilds which encompassed it a formidable
appearance. In front was the house designed
for Messrs. Frobisher and myself; and the men
had four houses, of which one was placed on
each side and two in the rear.

Our canoes were disposed of on scaffolds,
for the ground being frozen we could not bury
them, as is the usual practice, and which is
done to protect them from that severity of cold
which occasions the bark to contract and split.

The houses being finished, we divided the
men anew, making four parties of nine each.

" Still known by the English equivalent of Beaver
River. It was early an important trade route, since by
its headwaters there is an easy portage to Lac la Biche,
which drains into the Athabasca River. — Editor.


Four were retained as wood cutters; and each
party was to provide for its own subsistence.

Our fishing was very successful. We took
trout of the weight of from ten to fifty pounds,
whitefish of five pounds, and pike of the usual
size. There were also pickerel, called poissons
dores (gilt fish) and sturgeon, but of the last
we caught only one. The Indians soon after
our arrival killed two elks, otherwise called
moose-deer. ^2

Lake aux Castors, or Beaver Lake, is seven
leagues in length and from three to five in
breadth. It has several islands, of which the
largest does not exceed a mile in circumference.
The lands on either shore are mountainous and

Messrs. Frobisher and myself were con-
tinually employed in fishing. We made holes
in the ice and took trout with the line in twenty
and thirty fathoms water, using whitefish of a
pound weight for our bait, which we sunk to
the bottom, or very near it.

In this manner I have at times caught more
than twenty large trout a day, but my more
usual mode was that of spearing. By one
means or other fish was plenty with us, but we
suffered severely from the cold in fishing. On
the twenty-fifth the frost was so excessive that
we had nearly perished. Fahrenheit's ther-
mometer was at 32° below in the shade; the

^- Cerviis alces. — Author.

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mercury contracted one-eighth, and for four
days did not rise into the tube.

Several Indians brought beaver and bears'
meat, and some skins for sale. Their practice
was to remain with us one night and leave us
in the morning.


Cl^apter lo


THE plains, or as the French denominate
them the prairies, or meadows, compose
an extensive tract of country which is
watered by the Elk or Athabasca, the Sascat-
chiwaine, the Red River and others, and runs
southward to the Gulf of Mexico. On my first
setting out for the Northwest I promised my-
self to visit this region, and I now prepared
to accomplish the undertaking. Long journeys
on the snow are thought of but as trifles in
this part of the world.

On the first day of January, 1776, 1 left our
fort on Beaver Lake, attended by two men and
provided with dried meat, frozen fish, and a
small quantity of prahne, made of roasted
maize rendered palatable with sugar, and which
I had brought from the Sault de Ste. Marie for
this express occasion. The kind and friendly
disposition of Mr. Joseph Frobisher induced
him to bear me company as far as Cumberland
House, a journey of a hundred and twenty
miles. Mr. Frobisher was attended by one

Our provisions were drawn by the men upon
sledges made of thin boards, a foot in breadth
and curved upward in front after the Indian


^lerantier l^cnrp

fashion. Our clothing for night and day was
nearly the same; and the cold was so intense
that, exclusively of warm woolen clothes, we
were obliged to wrap ourselves continually in
beaver blankets, or at least in ox skins, which
the traders call bufalo robes. At night we made
our first encampment at the head of the Ma-
ligne, where one of our parties was fishing with
but very indifferent success.

On the following evening we encamped at
the mouth of the same river. The snow was
four feet deep, and we found it impossible
to keep ourselves warm even with the aid of a
large fire.

On the fourth day as well of the month as
of our journey, we arrived at Cumberland
House. Mr. Cockings received us with much
hospitality, making us partake of all he had,
which however was but little. Himself and his
men subsisted wholly upon fish, in which stur-
geon bore the largest proportion, and this was
caught near the house. The next morning I
took leave of Mr. Frobisher, who is certainly
the first man that ever went the same distance
in such a cHmate and upon snowshoes to con-
voy a friend.

From Cumberland House I pursued a west-
erly course on the ice, following the southern
bank of Sturgeon Lake till I crossed the neck of
land by which alone it is separated from the
great river Pasquayah, or Sascatchiwaine. In
the evening I encamped on the north bank of


this river at the distance of ten leagues from
Cumberland House.

The depth of the snow and the intenseness
of the cold rendered my progress so much
slower than I had reckoned upon that I soon
began to fear the want of provisions. The sun
did not rise till half past nine o'clock in the
morning and it set at half past two in the after-
noon; it is, however, at no time wholly dark
in these cHmates, the northern hghts and the
reflection of the snow affording always suffi-
cient Ught for the traveler. Add to this that
the river, the course of which I was ascending,
waa a guide with the aid of which I could not
lose my way. Every day's journey was com-
menced at three o'clock in the morning.

I was not far advanced before the country
betrayed some approaches to the characteristic

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