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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women suffer their hair to grov/ at random,
and even hang over their eyes. All the sex is
fond of garnishing the lower edge of the dress
with small bells, deer hoofs, pieces of metal, or
anything capable of making a noise. When
they move the sounds keep time, and make a
fantastic harmony.

The Osinipoilles treat with great cruelty
their slaves. As an example, one of the


^Icrantier i^enrp

principal chiefs, whose tent was near that which
we occupied, had a female slave of about
twenty years of age. I saw her always on the
outside of the door of the tent, exposed to
the severest cold; and having asked the
reason, I was told that she was a slave. The
information induced me to speak to her master
in the hope of procuring some mitigation of the
hardships she underwent; but he gave me for
answer that he had taken her on the other side
of the western mountains; that at the same
time he had lost a brother and a son in battle;
and that the enterprise had taken place in
order to release one of his own nation who had
been a slave in her's, and who had been used
with much greater severity than that which
she experienced. The reality of the last of
these facts appeared to me to be impossible.
The wretched woman fed and slept with the
dogs, scrambling with them for the bones
which were thrown out of the tent. When her
master was within she was never permitted to
enter; at all seasons the children amused
themselves with impunity in tormenting her,
thrusting lighted sticks into her face, and if
she succeeded in warding ofif these outrages
she was violently beaten. I was not successful
in procuring any diminution of her sufferings,
but I drew some relief from the idea that their
duration could not be long. They were too
heavy to be sustained.
It is known that some slaves have the good


€rabe!^ anti ^libcnturc^

fortune to be adopted into Indian families,
and are afterward allowed to marry in them,
but among the Osinipoilles this seldom hap-
pens; and even among the Chippewa, where
a female slave is so adopted and married I
never knew her to lose the degrading appella-
tion of wakan, a slave.^^

^^ This word wakan, which in the Algonquin language
signifies a slave, is not to be confounded with wakan or
wakon, which in the language of the Nadowessies and
Osinipoilles signifies a spirit or manito. — Author.


chapter m


ON the nineteenth of February the chief
apprised us that it was his design to de-
part the next morning for the fort. In
consequence we collected our baggage, which,
however, was but small, consisting in a
buffalo robe for each person, an axe, and a
kettle. The last was reluctantly parted with
by our friends, who had none left to supply its

At daybreak on the twentieth all was noise
and confusion in the camp, the women beat-
ing and loading the dogs, and the dogs howl-
ing and crying. The tents were speedily struck,
and the coverings and poles packed up to be
drawn by the dogs.

Soon after sunrise the march began. In the
van were twenty-five soldiers, who were to
beat the path so that the dogs might walk.
They were followed by about twenty men,
apparently in readiness for contingent services;
and after these went the women, each driving
one or two, and some five, loaded dogs. The
number of these animals actually drawing
loads exceeded five hundred. After the baggage
marched the main body of the men, carrying
only their arms. The rear was guarded by


€rabrij6f and ^tibenturc^

about forty soldiers. The line of march cer-
tainly exceeded three miles in length.

The morning was clear and calm. Our road
was a different one from that by which we had
reached the camp. We passed several herds
of wild oxen, which betrayed some alarm at
the noise of the dogs and women resounding
on every side.

Our march was pursued till sunset, when we
reached a small wood, the first that we had seen
all day. The great chief desired Mr. Patter-
son and myself to lodge in his own tent, and we
accordingly became part of his family. We
saw that his entire and numerous household
was composed of relations. The chief, after
smoking his pipe, determined the line of march
for the next day; and his dispositions in this
regard were immediately published through the

At daybreak our tents were again struck, and
we proceeded on our march in the same order
as the day before. Today (to follow the phrase-
ology of the plains) we had once laiid in sight,
consisting in two small islands, lying at a great
distance from our road. On our march the
chief informed us that he proposed reaching
another camp of his people that evening, and
would take it with him to the fort. Accordingly,
at about four o'clock in the afternoon we dis-
covered a wood and presently afterward saw
smoke rising from it. At sunset we encamped
near the wood, where we found a hundred

^leranlier ipenrp

tents. We were not long arrived before the
chiefs of this second camp paid a visit to the
Great Road, who informed them of his inten-
tion to visit the fort and recommended to
them to join his march. They consented,
and orders were given as usual by a pubHc

The night afforded me but Httle sleep, so
great was the disturbance from noises of all
kinds; feasting and dancing; the women chas-
tising the dogs; the dogs of the two camps
meeting and maintaining against each other
the whole night long a universal war.

In the morning the two camps united in one
line of march, which was now so far extended
that those in the rear could not descry the
front. At noon we passed a small wood, where
we saw horses feeding. The Indians informed
me that they belonged to one of their camps,
or villages; and that it was their uniform cus-
tom to leave their horses in the beginning of
the winter at the first wood where they were
when the snow fell, at which the horses always
remain through the season, and where their
masters are sure to find them in the spring.
The horses never go out of sight of the island
assigned them, winter or summer, for fear of
wanting its shelter in a storm.

We encamped this evening among some
small brushwood. Our fire went out accident-
ally in the night, and I was kept awake by the
cold and by the noise of the dogs.


In the course of the next day, the twenty-
third of the month, we passed several coppices,
and saw that the face of the country was
changing and that we had arrived on the mar-
gin of the Plains. On the twenty-seventh we
encamped on a large wood, where the Indians
resolved on leaving the old women and children
till their return from the fort, from which we
were now distant only one day's march. On
the twenty-eighth they halted for the whole
day; but we engaged two of them to lead us
forward, and thus arrived in the evening at the
fort, where we found all well. A large band of
Cristinaux had brought skins from the Beaver

Next day the Indians advanced their camp
to within half a mile of the fort, but left
thirty tents behind them in the wood. They
continued with us three days, selling their
skins and provisions for trinkets.

It is not in this manner that the northern
Indians dispose of the harvest of the chase.
With them the principal purchases are of
necessaries; but the Osinipoilles are less de-
pendent on our merchandise. The wild ox
alone supplies them with everything which
they are accustomed to want. The hide of this
animal, when dressed, furnishes soft clothing
for the women; and dressed with the hair on, it
clothes the men. The flesh feeds them; the
sinews afford them bowstrings; and even the
paunch, as we have seen, provides them with


^leranber i^mrp

that important utensil, the kettle. The amaz-
ing numbers of these animals prevent all fear
of want, a fear which is incessantly present to
the Indians of the North.

On the fourth morning the Osinipoilles de-
parted. The Great Road expressed himself
much satisfied with his reception, and he was
well deserving of a good one; for in no situation
could strangers have been treated more hos-
pitably than we were treated in his camp. The
best of everything it contained was given us.

The Osinipoilles at this period had had
no acquaintance with any foreign nation
sufficient to aflfect their ancient and pristine
habits. Like the other Indians, they were
cruel to their enemies, but as far as the ex-
perience of myself and other Europeans
authorizes me to speak, they were a harmless
people, with a large share of simplicity of
manners and plain dealing. They lived in fear
of the Cristinaux, by whom they were not only
frequently imposed upon, but pillaged when
the latter met their bands in smaller numbers
than their own.

As to the Cristinaux, they are a shrewd race
of men, and can cheat, lie, and sometimes
steal; yet even the Cristinaux are not so much
addicted to stealing as is reported of the
Indians of the South Sea; their stealing is
pilfering; and they seldom pilfer anything but
rum, a commodity which tempts them beyond
the power of resistance.

I remained at Fort des Prairies till the
twenty-second of March, on which day I
commenced my return to Beaver Lake.

Fort des Prairies, as already intimated, is
built on the margin of the Pasquayah, or Sas-
catchiwaine, which river is here two hundred
yards across and flows at the depth of thirty
feet below the level of its banks. The fort has
an area of about an acre, which is enclosed by
a good stockade, though formed only of poplar,
or aspen wood,^^ such as the country affords.
It has two gates, which are carefully shut every
evening, and has usually from fifty to eighty
men for its defense.

Four different interests were struggling for
the Indian trade of the Sascatchiwaine; but
fortunately they had this year agreed to join
their stock, and when the season was over, to
divide the skins and meat. This arrangement
was beneficial to the merchants, but not di-
rectly so to the Indians, who, having no other
place to resort to nearer than Hudson's Bay or
Cumberland House, paid greater prices than if
a competition had subsisted. A competition,
on the other hand, afflicts the Indians with a
variety of evils in a different form.

The following were the prices of goods at
Fort des Prairies:

A gun 20 beaver skins

'* This fort, or one which occupied a contiguous site,
was formerly known by the name of Fort aux Trembles.
— Author.


^IcranDer i^cnrp

A Stroud blanket lo beaver skins

A white blanket 8 beaver skins

An axe of one pound weight 3 beaver skins
Half a pint of gunpowder i beaver skin

Ten balls i beaver skin,

but the principal profits accrued from the sale
of knives, beads, flints, steels, awls, and other
small articles.

Tobacco, when sold, fetched one beaver skin
per foot of Spencer's twist; and rum, not very
strong, two beaver skins per bottle: but a
great proportion of these commodities was dis-
posed of in presents.^'

The quantity of furs brought into the fort
was very great. From twenty to thirty Indians
arrived daily, laden with packs of beaver skins.

®^ The tobacco supplied by the traders to the Indians
was commonly twisted in the form of a rope, and the
quantity of a given portion was indicated by its
length; the rum, before being sold to the natives was
diluted with water, the degree of dilution depending
upon such factors as the rapacity of the trader, the
eagerness of the native to procure the rum, and the
extent of his sophistication with respect to the use of
this beverage. — Editor.



THE days being now lengthened and the
snow capable of bearing the foot, we
traveled swiftly; and the weather, though
cold, was very fine.

On the fifth of April we arrived without
accident at Cumberland House, On our way
we saw nothing living except wolves, who
followed us in great numbers, and against
whom we were obhged to use the precaution of
maintaining large fires at our encampments.

On the seventh we left Cumberland House,
and on the ninth, in the morning, reached our
fort on Beaver Lake, where I had the pleasure
of finding my friends well.

In my absence the men had supported them-
selves by fishing; and they were all in health
with the exception of one, who was hurt at the
Grand Portage by a canoe's falling upon him.

On the twelfth Mr. Thomas Frobisher with
six men was despatched to the River Churchill,
where he was to prepare a fort, and inform
such Indians as he might see on their way to
Hudson's Bay of the approaching arrival of
his partners.

The ice was still in the same state as in
January; but as the season advanced the


^icranticr i^cnrp

quantity of fish diminished, insomuch that
Mr. Joseph Frobisher and myself were obliged
to fish incessantly; and often, notwithstanding
every exertion, the men went supperless to
bed. In a situation like this the Canadians are
the best men in the world ; they rarely murmur
at their lot, and their obedience is yielded

We continued fishing till the fifth of May,
when we saw swans flying toward the Maligne.
From this circumstance and from our knowl-
edge of the rapidity of the current of that
river, we supposed it was free from ice. In
consequence I proceeded thither, and arriving
in the course of a day's journey, found it
covered with swans, geese, and other water-
fowl, with which I soon loaded my sledge, and
then returned to the fort.

The passage toward the Churchill being
thus far open, we left our fort on the twenty-
first of May, forty in number, and with no
greater stock of provision than a single supper.
At our place of encampment we set our nets
and caught more fish than we had need of, and
the same food was plenty with us all the way.
The fish were pickerel and whitefish.

On the twenty-second we crossed two car-
rying-places of half a mile each, through a level
country, with marshes on the border of the
river. The sun now appeared above the hori-
zon at half-past eight ^^ o 'clock in the morning,

''* Apparently a misprint for half-past three— Editor.

and there was twilight all the time that he was
below it. The men had but few hours for rest,
for after encamping a supper was not only to
be cooked, but caught, and it was therefore
late before they went to sleep. Mr. Frobisher
and myself rose at three; and the men were
stirring still earlier, in order to take up the
nets, so that we might eat our breakfast and
be on our journey before sunrise.

On the sixth of June we arrived at a large
lake, which, to our disappointment, was en-
tirely frozen over, and at the same time the
ice was too weak to be walked upon. We were
now fearful of detention for several days, but
had the consolation to find our situation well
suppUed with fish. On the following night
there was a fall of snow, which lay on the ground
to the depth of a foot. The wind was from the
northeast. The Indians who were of our party
hunted, and killed several elks, or moose deer.^^
At length the wind changed into the southern
quarter, on which we had rain, and the snow
melted. On the tenth, with some difiiculty
we crossed the lake, which is twenty miles
in length, through a channel opened in the ice.
On the fifteenth, after passing several carrying-
places, we reached the River Churchill, Mis-
sinibi, or Missinipi, where we found Mr.
Thomas Frobisher and his men, who were in

^* This was, of course, the moose; Henry uses the
term "red deer" to designate the American elk. —


^leranticr !^enrp

good health and had built a house for our re-

The whole country from Beaver Lake to the
Missinipi is low near the w^ater, with mountains
in the distance. The uplands have a growth of
small pine trees, and the valleys, of birch and
spruce. The river is called the Churchill
River, from Fort Churchill in Hudson Bay, the
most northerly of the company's factories or
trading-houses, and which is seated at its
mouth. By Mr. Joseph Frobisher it was
named English River. At the spot where our
house was built the river is five miles wide and
very deep. We were estimated by the Indians
to be distant three hundred miles from the
sea. Cumberland House was to the south-
ward of us, distant four hundred miles. We
had the hght of the sun in sufficient quantity
for all purposes during the whole twenty-four
hours. The redness of his rays reached far
above the horizon.

We were in expectation of a particular band
of Indians, and as few others made their ap-
pearance we resolved on ascending the river
to meet them, and even, in failure of that
event, to go as far westward as Lake Ara-
buthcow,^" distant according to the Indians
four hundred and fifty miles.

With these views we embarked on the six-
teenth with six Canadians and also one Indian

™ Called also Athapiiscow, and Athabasca. — Author.
Modern Lake Athabasca. — Editor.


woman, in the capacity of a guide, in which
service Mr. Frobisher had previously employed

As we advanced we found the river fre-
quently widening into lakes thirty miles long
and so broad, as well as so crowded with is-
lands, that we were unable to distinguish the
mainland on either side. Above them we found
a strait, in which the channel was shallow,
rocky, and broken, with the attendant features
of rapids and carrying-places. The country
was mountainous and thinly wooded, and the
banks of the rirer were continued rocks.
Higher up, lofty mountains discovered them-
selves, destitute even of moss, and it was only
at intervals that we saw afar off a few stunted
pine trees.

On the fifth day we reached the Rapide
du Serpent, which is supposed to be three
hundred miles from our point of departure.
We found whitefish so numerous in all the
rapids that shoals of many thousands were
visible with their backs above the water. The
men supplied themselves by kilHng them with
their paddled. The water is clear and trans-

The Rapide du Serpent is about three miles
long and very swift. Above this we reached
another rapid, over the carrying-place of
which we carried our canoe. At this place
vegetation began to reappear, and the country
became level and of an agreeable aspect.


^Icrantier l^cnrp

Nothing human had hitherto discovered itself,
but we had seen several bears and two cari-
boux on the sides of the mountains, without
being able to kill anything.

The course of the river was here from south
to north. We continued our voyage till the
twenty-fourth, when, a large opening being
before us, we saw a number of canoes filled
with Indians on their voyage down the stream.'^
We soon met each other in the most friendly

We made presents of tobacco to the chiefs,
and were by them requested to put to shore
that we might encamp together and improve
our acquaintance. In a short time we were
visited by the chiefs, who brought us beaver
skins, in return for which we gave a second
present; and we now proposed to them to
return with them to our fort, where we were
provided with large quantities of such goods
as they wanted. They received our proposal
with satisfaction.

On the twenty-fifth of June we embarked
with all the Indians in our company, and
continued our voyage day and night, stopping
only to boil our kettle. We reached our house
on the first of July.

The Indians comprised two bands, or parties,
each bearing the name of its chief, of whom
one was called the Marten, and the other the

"' The traders had reached Lake He a la Crosse on
the upper Churchill River. — Editor.


€rabd^ anti illtibcnturciSf

Rapid. They had joined for mutual defense
against the Cristinaux, of whom they were in
continual dread. They were not at war with
that nation, but subject to be pillaged by its

While the lodges of the Indians were setting
up the chiefs paid us a visit, at which they
received a large present of merchandise, and
agreed to our request that we should be per-
mitted to purchase the furs of their bands.

They inquired whether or not we had any
rum; and, being answered in the afi&rmative,
they observed that several of their young men
had never tasted that liquor, and that if it
was too strong it would affect their heads.
Our rum was in consequence submitted to
their judgment; and after tasting it several
times they pronounced it to be too strong, and
requested that we would order a part of the
spirit to evaporate. We comphed by adding
more water to what had received a large pro-
portion of that element before; and this being
done, the chiefs signified their approbation.

We remarked that no other Indian approached
our house while the chiefs were in it. The
chiefs observed to us that their young men,
while sober, would not be guilty of any ir-
regularity, but that lest when in liquor they
should be troublesome, they had ordered a
certain number not to drink at all, but main-
tain a constant guard. We found their orders
punctually obeyed, and not a man attempted


^Icjcanticr l^cnrp

to enter our house during all the night. I say
all the night because it was in the course of
this night, the next day, and the night follow-
ing, that our traffic was pursued and finished.
The Indians delivered their skins at a small
window made for that purpose, asking at the
same time for the different things they wished
to purchase, and of which the prices had been
previously settled with the chiefs. Of these
some were higher than those quoted from Fort
des Prairies.

On the third morning this little fair was
closed, and on making up our packs we found
that we had purchased twelve thousand beaver
skins, besides large numbers of otter and

Our customers were from Lake Arabuthcow,
of which and the surrounding country they
were the proprietors, and at which they had
wintered. They informed us that there was at
the farther end of that lake a river, called
Peace River ,^- which descended from the Stony
or Rocky Mountains, and from which moun-
tains the distance to the salt lake, meaning the
Pacific Ocean, was not great; that the lake
emptied itself by a river which ran to the north-

"- Henry was on the eve of making a great discovery,
for the Peace River was first explored by Alexander
Mackenzie in 1792. It takes its name, according to
Mackenzie from Peace Point, a place where a treaty was
concluded between the Christinaux and the Beaver
Indians. — Editor.


ward, which they called Kiratchinini Sibi,^''
or Slave River/* and which flows into another
lake, called by the same name; but whether
this lake was or was not the sea, or whether it
emptied itself or not into the sea they were
unable to say. They were at war with the
Indians who hve at the bottom of the river
where the water is salt. They also made war
on the people beyond the mountains toward
the Pacific Ocean, to which their warriors had
frequently been near enough to see it. Though
we conversed with these people in the Cree, or
Cristinaux language, which is the usual me-
dium of communication, they were Chepe-
wyans, or Rocky Mountain Indians.

They were in possession of several ultra-
montane prisoners, two of whom we purchased;
one, a woman of twenty-five years of age,
and the other a boy of twelve. They had both
been recently taken, and were unable to speak
the language of their masters. They conversed
with each other in a language exceedingly
agreeable to the ear, composed of short words,
and spoken with a quick utterance. We gave
for each a gun.

The dress of the Chepewyans nearly re-
sembled that of the Cristinaux, except that it
was composed of beaver and marten skins
instead of those of the ox and elk. We found

^' Or Yatchinini Sipi. — Author.

''* These are the rivers which have since been ex-
plored by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. — Author.


^llerantier l^enrp

these people orderly and unoffending, and they
appeared to consider the whites as creatures of
a superior order, to whom everything is known.

The women were dirty, and very inatten-
tive to their whole persons, the head excepted,
which they painted with red ocher, in defect
of vermilion. Both themselves and their hus-
bands for them were forward in seeking a loose
intercourse with the Europeans. The for-
mer appeared vain of soUcitation, and having
first obtained the consent of their husbands,
afterward communicated to them their suc-
cess. The men, who no doubt thought with
the Cristinaux on this subject,^^ were the first
to speak in behalf of their wives; and were even
in the practice of carrying them to Hudson

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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 18 of 20)