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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nakedness of the plains. The wood dwindled
away both in size and quantit} , so that it was
with difl&culty that we could collect sufficient
for making a fire, and without fire we could
not drink, for melted snow was our only re-
source, the ice on the river being too thick
to be penetrated by the axe.

On the evening of the sixth, the weather
continuing severely cold, I made my two men
sleep on the same skin with myself, one on
each side; and though this arrangement was
particularly beneficial to myself, it increased
the comfort of all. At the usual hour in the
morning we attempted to rise, but found that


^leranticr J^cnrp

a foot of snow had fallen upon our bed, as well
as extinguished and covered our fire. In this
situation we remained till daybreak, when with
much exertion we collected fresh fuel. Pro-
ceeding on our journey, we found that the use
of our sledges had become impracticable
through the quantity of newly fallen snow, and
were now constrained to carry our provisions
on our backs. Unfortunately, they were a
diminished burden.

For the two days succeeding the depth of the
snow and the violence of the winds greatly
retarded our journey; but from the ninth to
the twelfth the elements were less hostile, and
we traveled rapidly. No trace of anything
human presented itself on our road, except
that we saw the old wintering-ground of
Mr. Finlay,^^ who had left it some years before
and was now stationed at Fort des Prairies.
This fort was the stage we had to make before
we could enter the prairies, or plains; and on
examining our provisions we found only suf-
ficient for five days, while even at the swiftest
rate we had traveled, a journey of twelve days
was before us. My men began to fear being
starved, as seeing no prospect of relief; but
I endeavored to maintain their courage by
'' James Finlay, one of the earliest English traders to
penetrate to this portion of Canada. Matthew Cock-
ing's journal shows that he was here as early as 1767.
He later retired to Montreal, where he became a
prominent citizen. Finlay River is named for his son
James, who entered the fur trade in 1785. — Editor.


€rab0i^ and ^Dbeiiturcja?

representing that I should certainly kill red
deer and elk, of which the tracks were visible
along the banks of the river and on the sides of
the hills. What I hoped for in this respect it
was not easy to accomplish, for the animals
kept within the shelter of the woods and the
snow was too deep to let me seek them there.

On the fifteenth our situation was rendered
still more alarming by the commencement of a
fresh fall of snow, which added nearly two feet
to the depth of that which was on the ground
before. At the same time, we were scarcely able
to collect enough wood for making a fire to
melt the snow. The only trees around us were
starveling willows, and the hills which dis-
covered themselves at a small distance were
bare of every vegetable production, such as
could rear itself above the snow. Their ap-
pearance was rather that of lofty snow-banks,
than of hills. We were now on the borders of
the plains.

On the twentieth the last remains of our
provisions were expended, but I had taken the
precaution to conceal a cake of chocolate in
reserve for an occasion Hke that which was
now arrived. Toward evening my men, after
walking the whole day, began to lose their
strength, but we nevertheless kept on our feet
till it was late; and when we encamped I in-
formed them of the treasure which was still in
store. I desired them to fill the kettle with
snow, and argued with them the while that the


9lleranlier l^enrp

chocolate would keep us alive for five days at
least, an interval in which we should surely
meet "v^dth some Indian at the chase. Their
spirits revived at the suggestion, and the kettle
being filled with two gallons of water, I put
into it one square of chocolate. The quantity
was scarcely sufl5cient to alter the color of the
water; but each of us drank half a gallon of the
warm liquor, by which we were much refreshed,
and in its enjoyment felt no more the fa-
tigues of the day. In the morning we allowed
ourselves a similar repast, after finishing which
we marched vigorously for six hours. But now
the spirits of my companions again deserted
them and they declared that they neither
would nor could proceed any farther. For my-
self, they advised me to leave them and accom-
plish the journey as I could, but for them-
selves they said that they must die soon and
might as well die where they were as anywhere

While things were in this melancholy posture
I filled the kettle and boiled another square of
chocolate. When prepared, I prevailed upon
my desponding companions to return to their
warm beverage. On taking it they recovered
inconceivably, and after smoking a pipe con-
sented to go forward. While their stomachs
were comforted by the warm water they
walked well; but as evening approached,
fatigue overcame them and they relapsed into
their former condition; and the chocolate now


€xaM^ ant! SlDbcnturc^

being almost entirely consumed I began to fear
that I must really abandon them; for I was
able to endure more hardship than they; and
had it not been for keeping company wdth them
I could have advanced double the distance
within the time which had been spent. To
my great joy, however, the usual quantity of
warm water revived them.

For breakfast the next morning I put the
last square of chocolate into the kettle, and
our meal finished, we began our march in but
very indifferent spirits. We were surrounded
by large herds of wolves, which sometimes
came close upon us, and who knew, as we were
prone to think, the extremity in which we were
and marked us for their prey ; but I carried a gun
and this was our protection. I fired several
times but unfortunately missed at each, for a
morsel of wolf 's flesh would have afforded us
a banquet.

Our misery, nevertheless, was still nearer its
end than we imagined, and the event was such
as to give one of the innumerable proofs that
despair is not made for man. Before sunset we
discovered on the ice some remains of the bones
of an elk, left there by the wolves. Having
instantly gathered them, we encamped, and
fiUing our kettle, prepared ourselves a meal of
strong and excellent soup. The greater part of
the night was passed in boiUng and regaling on
our booty, and early in the morning we felt
ourselves strong enough to proceed.

^lejcanbcr l^cnrp

This day, the twenty-fifth, we found the
borders of the plains reaching to the very
banks of the river, which were two hundred
feet above the level of the ice. Water marks
presented themselves at twenty feet above the
actual level.

Want had lost its dominion over us. At noon
we saw the horns of a red deer standing in the
snow on the river. On examination we found
that the whole carcass was with them, the
animal having broken through the ice in the
beginning of the winter in attempting to cross
the river too early in the season; while his
horns, fastening themselves in the ice, had
prevented him from sinking. By cutting away
the ice we were enabled to lay bare a part of
the back and shoulders and thus procure a
stock of food amply sufficient for the rest of
our journey. We accordingly encamped and
employed our kettle to good purpose, forgot
all our misfortunes, and prepared to walk with
cheerfulness the twenty leagues which, as we
reckoned, still lay between ourselves and Fort
des Prairies.

Though the deer must have been in this
situation ever since the month of November,
yet its flesh was perfectly good. Its horns alone
were five feet high or more; and it will there-
fore not appear extraordinary that they should
be seen above the snow.

On the twenty-seventh, in the morning, we
discovered the print of snowshoes, demon-

Crabcli^ and ^tibcnturc-^

strating that several persons had passed that
way the day before. These were the first marks
of other human feet than our own which we
had seen since our leaving Cumberland House;
and it was much to feel that we had fellow-
creatures in the wide waste surrounding us.
In the evening we reached the fort.^

At Fort des Prairies I remained several days,
hospitably entertained by my friends, who
covered their table with the tongues and mar-
row of wild bulls. The quantity of provisions
which I found collected here exceeded every-
thing of which I had previously formed a
notion. In one heap I saw fifty tons of beef,
so fat that the men could scarcely find a sufi&-
ciency of lean.

I had come to see the plains, and I had yet a
serious journey to perform in order to gratify
my curiosity. Their southern boundary I
have already named; and I understood that
they stretched northward to the sixtieth degree
of north latitude and westward to the feet of
the Rocky Mountains, or Northern Andes, of
which the great chain pursues a northwesterly
direction. The mountains seen in high latitudes
were regarded as part of this chain, and said to
be inhabited by numerous bands of Indians.

" This fort was "about twelve miles in an air line"
below the forks of the Saskatchewan, on the site of an
older fort established by the French in 1753. Here a
century later the Hudson's Bay Company had Fort a la
Corne, named in honor of the builder of the original
French fort, M , de la Corne. — Editor.


^Icxanticr l^cnrp

The Plains cross the River Pasquayah, Kejee-
chewon, Sascatchiwaine, or Shascatchiwan, a
little above Fort des Prairies.

The Jndians who inhabit them immediately
to the southward are called Osinipoilles or
Assiniboins.^^ At the fort I met with a woman
who was a slave among the Osinipoilles, taken
far to the westward of the mountains in a
country which the latter incessantly ravage.
She informed me that the men of the country
never suffer themselves to be taken, but always
die in the field rather than fall into captivity.
The women and children are made slaves, but
are not put to death nor tormented. ^^ Her
nation Hved on a great river running to the
southwest, and cultivated beans, squashes,
maize, and tobacco. The lands were generally
mountainous and covered with pine and fir.
She had heard of men who wear their beards.
She had been taken in one of the incursions
of the Osinipoilles. Of the men who were in
the village, the greater part were killed, but a
few escaped by s\\dmming across the river.

^^ The Assiniboin tribe is closely related to the Sioux,
having seceded from the latter in the seventeenth
century, according to Perrot. — Editor.

"^ The Five Nations, and others, are known to have
treated their prisoners with great cruelty; but there is
too much reason to believe that the exercise of this
cruelty has been often encouraged, and its malignity
often increased, by European instigators and assistants.
— Author.


The woman belonged to a numerous band of
Osinipoilles which was at the fort seUing its
meat and skins. I resolved on traveling with
these people to their village, and accordingly
set out on the fifth of February, accompanied
by Messrs. Patterson and Holmes," and at-
tended by my two Canadians.

^' William Holmes, a prominent Northwestern trader,
and one of the stockholders in the North West Company.
A partner of Holmes, James Grant, was also active in
the fur trade of the interior. Grant River and County
in southwestern Wisconsin are probably named after
this man. — Editor.



WE departed at an early hour and after a
march of about two miles ascended the
table land which Hes above the river,
and of which the level is two hundred feet
higher than that of the land on which the fort
is built. From the low ground upward the soil
is covered with poplar of a large growth, but
the summit of the ridge is no sooner gained than
the wood is found to be smaller and so thinly
scattered that a wheel carriage might pass in
any direction. At noon we crossed a small river
called Moose River, flowing at the feet of very
lofty banks. Moose River is said to fall into
Lake Dauphin.

Beyond this stream the wood grows still
more scanty and the land more and more level.
Our course was southerly. The snow lay four
feet deep. The Indians traveled swiftly, and
in keeping pace with them my companions
and myself had too much exercise to suffer
from the coldness of the atmosphere; but our
snowshoes being of a broader make than those
of the Indians, we had much fatigue in follow-
ing their track. The women led and we
marched till sunset when we reached a small
coppice of wood, under the protection of which


we encamped. The baggage of the Indians was
drawn by dogs, who kept pace with the women
and appeared to be under their command. As
soon as we halted the women set up the tents,
which were constructed and covered Hke those
of the Christinaux.

The tent in which I slept contained fourteen
persons, each of whom lay with his feet to the
fire, which was in the middle; but the night was
so cold that even this precaution, with the as-
sistance of our buffalo robes, was insufficient
to keep us warm. Our supper was made on the
tongues of the wild ox, or buffalo, boiled in my
kettle, which was the only one in the camp.

At break of day, or rather before that time,
we left our encampment, the women still
preceding us. On our march we saw but httle
wood, and that only here and there and at
great distances. We crossed two rivulets steal-
ing along the bottom of very deep channels,
which, no doubt, are better filled in the season
of the melting of the snow. The banks here as
on the Pasquayah or Sascatchiwaine are com-
posed of a whitish clay, mingled with sand.

On the sixth of February we had a fine clear
sky," but the air was exceedingly cold and bleak,
no shelter from woods being afforded us on
either side. There was but little wind, and
yet at times enough to cause a slight drift of
snow. In the evening we encamped in a small
wood, of which the largest trees did not exceed
a man's wrist in thickness. On the seventh we

^Icjcantier ipenrp

left our encampment at an early hour. Tracks
of large herds of animals presented themselves,
which the Indians said were those of red deer.
Our course was southwest and the weather
very cold. The country was one uninterrupted
plain, in many parts of which no wood, not even
the smallest shrub, was to be seen; a continued
level without a single eminence; a frozen
sea, of which the Httle coppices were the islands.
That behind which we had encamped the night
before soon sunk in the horizon, and the eye
had nothing left, save only the sky and snow.
The latter was still four feet in depth.

At noon we discovered, and presently
passed by, a diminutive wood, or island. At
four in the afternoon another was in sight.
When I could see none I was ahve to the dan-
ger to be feared from a storm of wind, which
would have driven the snow upon us. The
Indians related that whole famihes often perish
in this manner.

It was dark before we reached the wood.
A fire, of which we had much need, was soon
kindled by the women. Axes were useless
here, for the largest tree yielded easily to the
hand. It was not only small, but in a state
of decay, and easily extracted from the loose
soil in which it grew. We supped on wild beef
and snow-water. In the night the wind changed
to the southward and the weather became
milder. I was still asleep, when the women
began their noisy preparations for our march.


Crabdi^ and ^tibenturc^

The striking of the tents, the tongues of the
women, and the cries of the dogs were all
heard at once. At the first dawn of day we
recommenced our journey. Nothing was
visible but the snow and sky; and the snow was
drifted into ridges resembling waves.

Soon after sunrise we descried a herd of
oxen, extending a mile and a half in length and
too numerous to be counted. They traveled,
not one after another, as in the snow other
animals usually do, but in a broad phalanx,
slowly, and sometimes stopping to feed. We
did not disturb them, because to have attacked
them would have occasioned much delay to our
progress; and because the dogs were already
sufficiently burdened not to need the addition
of the spoil.

At two o'clock we reached a small lake sur-
rounded with wood, and where the trees were
of a size somewhat larger than those behind.
There were birch trees among the rest. I
observed that wherever there was water there
was wood. All the snow upon the lake was
trodden down by the feet of wild oxen. When
this was the case on the land an abundance of
coarse grass discovered itself beneath. We
were unable to penetrate to the water in the
lake, though we cut a hole in the ice to the
depth of three feet. Where we cleared the ground
for our encampments no stones were to be seen.

This evening we had scarcely encamped
when there arrived two Osinipoilles, sent by


^llcxranticr l^enrp

the great chief of the nation, whose name was
the Great Road, to meet the troop. The chief
had been induced to send them through his anx-
iety, occasioned by their longer absence than
had been expected. The messengers expressed
themselves much pleased at finding strangers
with their friends, and told us that we were
within one day's march of their village, and
that the great chief would be highly gratified
in learning the long journey which we had per-
formed to visit him. They added that in
consequence of finding us they must themselves
return immediately, to apprise him of our
coming and enable him to prepare for our

Fortunately they had not been able to take
any refreshment before a storm of wind and
snow commenced which prevented their de-
parture, and in which they must have been
lost, had it happened later. The storm con-
tinued all the night and part of the next day.
Clouds of snow, raised by the wind, fell on the
encampment and almost buried it. I had no
resource but in my buffalo robe.

In the morning we were alarmed by the
approach of a herd of oxen, who came from the
open ground to shelter themselves in the wood.
Their numbers were so great that we dreaded
lest they should fairly trample down the camp;
nor could it have happened otherwise but for
the dogs, almost as numerous as they, who
were able to keep them in check. The Indians


killed several when close upon their tents; but
neither the fire of the Indians nor the noise of
the dogs could soon drive them away. What-
ever were the terrors which filled the wood, they
had no other escape from the terrors of the

In the night of the tenth the wind fell. The
interval had been passed in feasting on the
tongues of the oxen. On the morning of the
eleventh the messengers left us before day-
light. We had already charged them with a
present for the chief, consisting in tobacco and
vermilion. Of these articles, the former
exceeds all others in estimation; for the Indians
are universally great smokers, men, women and
children, and no affair can be transacted, civil
or religious, without the pipe.

Our march was performed at a quick pace
in the track of the messengers. All the fore
part of the day escaped without discovering to
us a single wood, or even a single twig, with
the exception of a very small island, lying on
our right; but at four o'clock in the afternoon
we reached a little scrub, or bushy tract, on
which we encamped. We were at no great
distance from the village; but the Indians, as
is their custom, delayed their entry till the

On the twelfth at ten o'clock in the forenoon

we were in sight of a wood, or island, as the

term not unnaturally is, as well with the

Indians as others; it appeared to be about a


^lejcanDcr l^cnrp

mile and a half long. Shortly after, we observed
smoke arising from it, and were informed that
it was the smoke of the village. The morning
was clear and the sun shining.

At eleven o'clock two fresh messengers came
from the village, by whom the strangers were
formally welcomed on the part of the chief.
They told us that they were directed to con-
duct us and our servants to a lodge, which had
been prepared for our reception.

At the entrance of the wood we were met by
a large band of Indians, having the appearance
of a guard, each man being armed with his bow
and spear and having his quiver filled with
arrows. In this, as in much that followed, there
was more of order and discipline than in any-
thing which I had before witnessed among
Indians. The power of these guards appeared
to be great, for they treated very roughly some
of the people who, in their opinion, approached
us too closely. Forming themselves in regu-
lar file on either side of us, they escorted
us to the lodge, or tent, which was assigned us.
It was of a circular form, covered with leather,
and not less than twenty feet in diameter. On
the ground within, ox-skins were spread for
beds and seats.



ONE-HALF of the tent was appropriated
to our use. Several women waited upon
us to make a fire and bring water, which
latter they fetched from a neighboring tent.
Shortly after our arrival these women brought
us water, unasked for, saying that it was for
washing. The refreshment was exceedingly
acceptable, for on our march we had become so
dirty that our complexions were not very dis-
tinguishable from those of the Indians them-

The same women presently borrowed our
kettle, telHng us that they wanted to boil
something for us to eat. Soon after we heard
the voice of a man passing through the village
and making a speech as he went. Our inter-
preter informed us that his speech contained an
invitation to a feast, accompanied by a proc-
lamation in which the people were required to
behave with decorum toward the strangers,
and apprised that the soldiers had orders to
punish those who should do otherwise.

While we were procuring this explanation an
Indian, who appeared to be a chief, came into
our tent and invited us to the feast, adding
that he would himself show us the way. We


^icxantier l^cnrp

followed him accordingly, and he carried us to
the tent of the great chief, which we found
neither more ornamented nor better furnished
than the rest.

At our entrance the chief arose from his seat,
saluted us in the Indian manner by shaking
hands, and addressed us in a few words, in
which he offered his thanks for the confidence
which we had reposed in him in trusting our-
selves so far from our own country. After we
were seated, which was on bear skins spread
on the ground, the pipe, as usual, was intro-
duced and presented in succession to each per-
son present. Each took his whiff and then let it
pass to his neighbor. The stem, which was
four feet in length, was held by aij officer
attendant on the chief. The bowl was of red
marble or pipestone.

When the pipe had gone its round the chief,
without rising from his seat, dehvered a speech
of some length, but of which the general pur-
port was of the nature already described in
speaking of the Indians of the Lake of the
Woods. ^* The speech ended, several of the
Indians began to weep, and they were soon
joined by the whole party. Had I not pre-
viously been witness to a weeping-scene of this
description I should certainly have been ap-
prehensive of some disastrous catastrophe; but
as it was I Hstened to it with tranquilHty. It
lasted for about ten minutes, after which all

^8 See Part Two, chapter 8. — Author.

€raiicl^ and ^Dbcnturc^

tears were dried away, and the honors of the
feast were performed by the attending chiefs.
This consisted in giving to every guest a dish
containing a boiled wild ox's tongue, for pre-
paring which my kettle had been borrowed.
The repast finished, the great chief dismissed
us by shaking hands, and we returned to our

Having inquired among these people why
they always weep at their feasts, and some-
times at their councils, I was answered that
their tears flowed to the memory of those de-
ceased relations who formerly assisted both at
the one and the other; that their absence on
these occasions necessarily brought them fresh
into their minds, and at the same time led
them to reflect on their own brief and uncer-
tain continuance.^*

The chief to whose kindly reception we were
so much indebted was about five feet ten inches
high, and of a complexion rather darker than

*' The Ossinipoiles are the Issati of the older travel-
ers, and have sometimes been called the Weepers.

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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 16 of 20)