William Francis Butler.

The wild northland : being the story of a winter journey, with dog, across northern North America online

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Author ot "Liteot General Gordon"
♦*The Great Lone Land" etc., etc.




Copyright, 1903, by



People are supposed to have au object in
every journey they undertake in this world.
A man goes to Africa to look for the Nile,
to Rome to see the Coliseum or St. Peter's;
and once, I believe, a certain traveller tramped
all the way to Jerusalem for the sole purpose
of playing ball against the walls of that city.

As this matter of object, then, seems to be
a rule with travellers, it may be asked by
those who read this book, what object had the
writer in undertaking a journey across the
snowy wilderness of North America, in win-
ter and alone? I fear there is no answer to
be given to the question, save such as may
be found in the motto on the title-page, or in
the pages of the book itself.

About eighteen mouths ago I was desirous
of entering upon African travel. A great ex-
plorer had been lost for years in the vast
lake-region of Southern Central Africa, and
the British Nation — which, by the way, be-
comes singularly attached to a man when he
is dead, or supposed to be dead — grew anx-
ious to go out to look for him.


As the British Nation could not all go out
at once, or together, it endeavoured to select
one or two individuals to cairy out its wislies.

It will l)e only necessary to state here, that
the I'.ritisli Nation did not select the writer
of this book, who forthwith turned his atten-
tion from African tropic zones to American
frigid ones, and started out upon a lonely

Many tracks lay before me in that immense
region I call "The Wild North Land."
Former wandering had made me familiar with
the methods of travel pursued in these coun-
tries by the Indian tribes, or far-scattered
fur-hunters. Fortunate in recovering posses-
sion of an old and long-tried Esquimau dog
— the companion of earlier travel — I started
in the autumn of 1872 from the Ketl River
of tlie North, and, reaching Lake Athabasca,
completed half my journey by the first week
of March in the following year. From Atha-
basca I followed the many-winding channel
of the frozen Peace River to its great caiion
in tlie Rocky Mountains, and, journeying
through this pass — for many reasons the
most remarkable one in the whole range of
the Rocky Mountains — reached the north of
British Columbia in the end of May. From
thence, following a trail of '^^)0 miles through
tlie dense forests of New Caledonia, I emerged
on tlie 3rd of June at the frontier station of


Quesnelle on the Frazer Eiver, still 400 miles
north of Victoria.

In the en.suing pages the story of tliat long
tramp — for it was mostly jx'iformed on foot
■ — will be duly set forth Written by camp
fire, or in caiion, or in the little log-house
of a northern fnr fort, when dogs and men
rested for a day or two in the long icy run,
that narrative will be found, I fear, to bear
many indications of the rough scenes 'mid
which it has been penned ; but, as, on a former
occasion, many critics passed in gentle silence
over the faults and failings of another story
of travel in the Great Lone Land, so now it
may be my fortune to tell to as kindly an
audience, this record of a winter's walk
through more distant wilds — for in truth
there has been neither time for revision nor

Fortune, Avhich eighteen months ago de-
nied me African adventure, offers it now with
liberal hand.

I reached the Atlantic from the Pacific
shore to find an expedition starting from
England against Ashantee ; and long ere this
story finds a reader I hope to be pushing my
way through the mangrove swamps which lie
between the Gold Coast and Coomassie. To
others even must fall the task of correcting
proofs, while I assume my part in the correc-
tion and revision of King Koffi Kancalli, and



the administration to his subjects of that
l»roof ol' ]5iitish i)rowess Avhich it has been
deemed desiraijle to give them.

iVreantime, my ohl friends Chief Kar-ka-
konias, Kalder, and Cerf-vola, will be absent
from this new field: but, nevertheless, there
will be present many companions of former
travel, and one Chief under whose command
I first sought the Great Lone Land as the
threshold to remoter regions.

W. F. Butler.

Loxijox, Sept em her 21st, 3873.


Among the thousand? of books sent out
month after month by the ever-busy presses
of the world, only an occasional one is fitted
to survive. Books of travel in particular are
seldom read a generation after their produc-
tion; they must contain something of almost
universal interest, otherwise they are speed-
ily relegated to a forgotten shelf to accumu-
late the dust of neglect. While this is true
of the great majority of such publications it
is not true of all; an occasional volume, like
"The Wild Northland," by virtue of some
inherent quality very hard to adequately
specify, is sought for year after year; edition
after edition of it comes from the press, and
still the demand for it by the great reading
public remains unsatisfied For this reason
General Butler's masterpiece is reprinted iu
the Commonwealth Library.

The author of " The Wild Northland " has

risen high in the British service since his

great book was written. Grade after grade

was reached, from Ensign of the 69th Regi-



nieiit in 1858, to Major-General commanding
the Ilouie Department of the Southwest,
witli headquarters at Devonport in 1900.
He served his country in Canada, in Ashan-
cee, in Egypt, in the Soudan, and in South
Africa. During all these years of service
he accomplished considerable literary work.
The list of his books includes : " The Great
Lone Land," "The Wild :N'orthland," "Akim
Foo," "Far Out: Rovings Retold," "Red
Cloud, the Solitary Sioux," "The Campaign
of the Cataracts," "Life of General Gor-
don," "Life of Sir Charles Napier," etc.

]>orn in the County of Tipperary, Ireland,
in 1838, of a good Irish family, Butler was
educated in Dublin and entered the Army in
1858. In 1877 he married the distinguished
painter. Miss Elizabeth Thompson.

General Butler's connection with American
exploration began very soon after his regi-
ment landed iu Canada. In 1870-1 he was
dispatched on a special mission to the Sas-
katcliewan Territories. Almost immediately
after his return he started on the solitary and
lonely journey through the interior of tlie
Continent — a journey which will associate his
name with pioneer work in the North Ameri-
can Continent for all lime.

The " Wild Korlliland " of General Butler
is that portion of North America where the
region of forest terminates, and that of the


frozen barren lands commences. Its grand
and desolate scenery, its lakes and forests,
its lofty mountains and profound ravines, are
admirably described; the incidents of travel
keep the reader's attention well sustained, as
he is carried in imagination across the wildest
portions of the North. General Butler's
wanderings led him from Fort Garry on the
Red River to the Athabaska Lake, and
thence up the Peace River, and through u
wild gorge in the Rockies to British Columbia

Fort Chipewyan on this route is a place of
peculiar interest; for it is a station whence
several famous Arctic land expeditions of
former days have taken their departure. It
was from this point that Mackenzie set forth
to explore the great northern river which
bears his name. It was from here also that
Simpson started on his expedition to examine
the coast-line of the Arctic Ocean. Franklin
and Richardson rested on the shores of Atha-
baska before they struck deeper into the heart
of the Great North.

The route across the Rocky Mountains by
following the ravines of the Peace River, as
described by General Butler, passes through
^scenery of marvelous grandeur. Most of the
streams which feed the Great Slave Lake and
the Mackenzie take their rise in the Western
side of the range, and force a passage through
it, The Peace River cleaves the main chain


of the Eockies through a cliasin with steep
perpeudiciUar cliffs of great height on either
side, and the current floAvs silently under the
immense precipice without a break. This
awful gorge was the route by which Sir Alex-
ander Mackenzie, over a hundred years ago,
crossed the mountains to the Pacific Coast. I
believe I am correct in saying that the pro-
jected extension of the Grand Trunk Rail-
way of Canada is to reach British Columbia
through this pass.

The Peace River, with the ranges on the
south and north of it, make the dividing line
between the temperate and strictly Arctic
fauna. Here, too, is the land of the moose,
and the author gives an interesting account
of the skill and cunning with Avhich the great
deer strives to elude his pursuers, and of the
superior intelligence, aided by long experi-
ence, which enables the Indian hunter to cir-
cumvent him.

Very fascinating is General Butler's vivid
description of the higher mountains, " their
lower ridges clothed in forests of spruce,
poplar, and birch; their middle heights cov-
ered with dense thickets of spruce alone; their
summits cut with a thousand varied peaks,
bearing aloft into the sunshine 8,000 feet
above us the glittering crowns of snow."
Butler excels in these descriptions of scenery,
and the imagination of the reader is kept


constantly stretched not to miss anything
material in the magnificent panorama.

Such scenes as these, however, were not
visited in the early days Avithout the exercise
of much hardihood and daring, without the
endurance of hardship and the facing of dan-
gers. Xature reserves the enjoyment of her
grandest scenes only for the bravest and most
resolute of the sons of men. Such men are
not often gifted with the art of conveying
some portion of their pleasure, at second
hand, to their brethren. It is very rarely in-
deed that the restless wanderer, whose love
of adventure leads him into the wildest re-
cesses of distant mountains, can reproduce
his impressions with the skill and power that
are shown in "The Wild Northland." It
is the wide recognition of this fact which has
placed this notable book among the classics.

Egbert Waite.

New York, December, 1903.





The Situation at Home— The "West Again — A
Land of Silence, 1


Powder Terms Primroses — Tlie American

Lounger — "Home, Sweet Home," . . 6


Civilization and Savagery — Fort Garry Under
New Aspects — Social Societies — An Old
Friend — " Pony " the Perverse, . . .10


The Wilderness— A Sunset Scene— A White
Savage— Cerf-Vola the Untiring- Dogger-
el for a Dog— The Hill of the Wolverine
—The Indian Paradise — I Plan a Surprise
— Biscuits and Water, . . . .20


The Forks of the Saskatchewan — A Perverse
Parallel— Diplomatic Bungling— Its Re-
sults, 35




Uur "Winter Home— A Welcome— I Start Again
— Tlie Hunter's Camp— In Quest of Buffa-
lo on tlie Plains — "Lodge-poling" Leads
to Love, 41


An Ocean of Grass— The Red Man — Whence
Comes He? — The Buffalo — Puritans and
Pioneers- The Red Man's Friend, . . 4G


Buffalo Hunts — A Pictuie Once Seen Long Re-
memljered — L'Homme Capable — A Won-
derful Lake — The Lost Indian — An Appari-
tion — We Return Home, . . . .54


Strange Visitors — At-tistighat The Philosopher
— Indian Converts — A Domestic Scene —
The Winter Packet — Adam and his Dogs, 67


A Tale of AVarfare — Dog-sleds — A Missing
Link — The North Sea — " Winterers " —
Samuel Hearne, 80


A Dog of No Character — The Green Lake — Lac
He a la Crosse — A Cold Day — Fort He a la
Crosse— A Long lost Brother — Lost Upon




the Lake — Unwelcome Neighlxmrs — Mr.
Roderick Mrtclurlaue — "A Beautilul Morn-
ing " — Marble Features, . . , ,1)3


The Clearwater — A Bygone Ocean — A Land of
Lakes — The Athabasca River — Who is
He ? — Chipewyan Indians — Echo — Major
Succumbs at Last — Mai de Raquette, . 115


Lake Athabasca — Northern Lights — Chipe-
wyan— The Real Workers of the World, . 131


A Hudson's Bay Fort — It Comes at Last —
News From the Outside World — Tame and
Wild Savages — Lac Clair — A Treacherous
Deed— Harper, ... . . 140


The Peace River — Volcanos — M. Jean Batiste
St. Cyr — Half a Loaf is Better Than no
Bread— An Oasis in the Desert — Tecumseh
and Black Hawk, 155


The Buffalo Hills— A Fatal Quarrel— The Ex-
iled Beavers — "At-tal-loo" Deplores His
Wives — A Cree Interior — An Attractive
Camp — I Camp Alone — Cerf-vola Without
a Supper — The Recreants Return — Dunve-
gan— A Wolf-hunt, 168





Alexander Mackenzie — The First Sign of Spring
— Spanker the Suspicious — Cerf-vola Con-
templates Cutlets — An Indian Hunter —
"Encumbrances" — Furs and Finery — A
"Dead Fall "—The Fur Trade at Both
Ends— An Old Fort— A Night Attack—
Wife-lifting— Cerf-vola in Difficulties and
Boots— The Rocky Mountains at Last, . 188


The wild Animals of the Peace River— Indian
Method of Hunting the Moose — Twa-poos —
The Beaver— The Bear— Bear's Butter— A
Bear's Hug and How it Ended — Fort St.
John — The River Awakes — A Rose With-
out a Thorn — Nigger Dan — A Threatening
Letter — I Issue a Judicial Memorandum —
Its Effect is all That Could be Desired—
Working up the Peace River, . . . 203


Start From St. John's — Crossing the Ice — Ba-
tiste le Fleur — Chimeroo — The Last Wood-
buffalo — A Dangerous Weapon — Our Raft
Collapses — Across the Half-way River, . 233


Hudson's Hope — A Lover of Literature — Cross-
ing the Peace — An Unskilful Pilot — We
are Upset — Our Rescue — A Strange Vari-
ety of Arms— The Buffalo's Head — A Glo-
rious View. 233




Jciccjues, the Ficncli Miner — A I'Varfiil Altyss
— Tlie Great Cafiou of tlie Peace River —
We Are oil" on our Western Way — L'nfor
tunate Indians — A Burnt Baby — "The
Moose Tliat Walks," 244


Still Westward — The Dangers of the Ice — We
Enter the Main Range — In the Mountains
— A Grizzly — The Death of tlie Moose —
Peace River Pass — Pete Toy — The Omini-
ca— -'Travellers" at Home, . . .260


The Black Canon — An Ugly Prospect — The
Vanished Boat — We Struggle on — A For-
rorn Hope — We Fail Again — An Unhoped-
for Meeting and a Feast of Joy — The
Black Canon Conquered, .... 276


The Untiring Over-estimates his Powers — He
is not Particular as to the Nature of his
Dinner — Toil and Temper — Farewell to
the Ominica — Germansen — The Mining
Camp— Celebrities, 292


Mr. Rufus Sylvester — Tlie Untiring Developes
a New Sphere of Usefulness — Mansen — A

Last Landmark 302





British Columbia — Bouudaiics Again — Juau dc
Fu(;ii — Carver — The Sliiuing Mountains —
Jacob Astor — The Monarch of Salmon —
Oregon — " Riding and Tying " — Nation
Lake— The Pacific, 308


The Look-out Mountain— A Gigantic Tree —
The Untiring Retires Before Superior Num-
bers — Fort St. James — A Strange Sight in
the Forest— Lake Noola — Quesnelle — Cerf-
vola in Civilized Life — Old Dog, Good-
bye! 325



The Situation at Home — The West Again —
A Land of Silence.

There had never been so many armies in
England. There was a new army, and there
was an old army ; there was an army of mili-
tia, an army of volunteers, and an army of
reserve ; there were armies on horse, on foot,
and on paper. There was the army of the
future — of which great things were predicted
— and far away, lost in a haze of history (but
still more substantial than all other armed
realities, present or future), there lay the
great dead army of the past.

It was a time when everybody had some-
thing to do with military matters, everybody
on the social ladder, from the Prime Minister
on the topmost round to the mob-mover on
the lowest.

Committees controlled the army. Depart-
ments dressed it, Radicals railed at it, Lib-


erals ler-tured upon it, Conservatives con-
demni'd it, Teeis wrote pamphlets upon it,
Dukes denounced it, I'rinces paraded it, and
every member of Parliament who could put
together half a dozen words with tolerable
grammatical fluency had something to say
about it

Surely such a period must have been one
in which every soldier would have recognized
the grandeur and importance of his profes-
sion, and clung with renewed vigour to a life
which seemed of moment to the whole Bitish
nation. But this glowing picture of the great
"nation of shop-keepers," suddenly fired by
military ardour, had its reverse.

The stream of advancement slowly stag-
nating under influences devised to accelerate
it, the soldier wearied by eternally learning
from masters the lesson he could have taught,
the camp made a place of garrison routine
and not of military manoeuvre, the uniform
harness Avhicli had galled a Burton, a Pal-
grave, a Ruxton, and a Hayward, from ranks
Avhere the spirit of adventurous discovery
sickened under chilling regulation — this har-
ness made more unrelaxingly irksome ; a sys-
tem of promotion regulated by money — the
offspring, it is true, of foul corruption, but
which had become not a little purified by
lapse of time; this system, supplanted by
one of selection theoretically pure, but des-


tined to fall into that lowest of all corrup-
tions, the influence of jwlitical jobbery : all
this formed the leading features in that order
of things, old and new, which the spectacle
of a neighbouring nation, struck suddenly to
the ground by a mighty army, had caused the
l)anic-stricken British people to overhaul and
to reconstruct.

Taken any way one can, an army on paper
is not a satisfactory profession. It is subject
to sudden and unlooked-for bursts of military
zeal ; it is so bent upon nervously asserting
itself fit for anything ; it is from its nature so
much akin to pen, ink, and envelope of a
common-place type ; it has such disagreeable
methods at garrisoning the most pestilential
spots upon the earth, and abandoning to re-
publican bluster whole continents called colo-
nies; those who shape its destinies are so
ready to direct it against matchlock monarchs
and speared soldier}^ ; while arms are folded
before those conflicts which change the past
and future of the centuries ; all these consid-
erations go a great way towards making the
profession of arms, on paper, at any time an

But when there was also present to the
memory of one who thus regarded the new
order of military life, the great solitudes, the
inland oceans, the desolate wilds, the gloomy
forests of a far-away land, through which his


fonnei' wanderings had carried liini ; wlien
thought re-sought again those vast regions of
the earth where Kature has graven her image
in characters so colossal, that man seems to
move slowly amidst an ocean frozen rigid
by lapse of time, frozen into those things
we name mountains, rivers, prairies, forests;
man a mere speck, powerless so far to mark
his presence, in blur of smoke, in noise of
city, in clash of crank, or whirl of wheel:
when these things came back in pictures
touched by the soft colours Memory loves to
limn with, there were not wanting dull pro-
fessional outlooks and dearth of service to
turn the footsteps gladly into the old regions
again, there to trace new paths through the
almost exhaustless waste which lies between
the lonely prairies of the Saskatchewan and
the icy oceans of the Xorth.

What shall we call this land to those who
follow us into its depths?

It has prairies, forests, mountains, barren
wastes, and rivers ; rivers whose single lengths
roll through twice a thousand miles of shore-
land ; prairies over which a rider can steer
for months without resting his gaze on aught
save the dim verge of the ever-shifting hori-
zon; mountains rent by rivers, ice-topped,
glacier-seared, impassable; forests whose
sombre pines darken a region half as large as
Europe ; sterile, treeless wilds whose 400,000


square miles lie spread in awful desolation.
How shall it all be called?

In summer, a land of sound, a land echo-
ing with the voices of birds, the ripple of
running water, the mournful music of the
waving pine-branch ; in winter, a land of si-
lence, a land hushed to its inmost depths by
the weight of ice, the thick-falling snow, the
intense rigor of a merciless cold — its great
rivers glimmering in the moonlight, wrapped
in their shrouds of ice ; its still forests rising
weird and spectral against the Aurora-lighted
horizon ; its notes of bird or brook hushed as
if in death ; its nights so still that the mov-
ing streamers across the northern skies seem
to carry to the ear a sense of sound, so mo-
tionless around, above, below, lies all other
visible nature.

If then we call this region the land of still-
ness, that name will convey more justly than
any other the impress most strongly stamped
upon the winter's scene.



Powder versus Primroses — The American Lounger
— "Home, Sweet Home."

It was just time to leave London. The
elm-trees in the parks were beginning to put
forth their earliest and greenest leaves; in-
numerable people were flocking into town
because custom ordained that the country-
must be quitted when the spring is at its
finest ; as though the odor of primroses had
something pestilential about it, and anything
in the shape of violets except violet powder
was terribly injurious to feminine beauty.

Youthful cosmopolites with waxed mous-
taches had apparently decided to compromise
with the spring, and to atone for their aban-
donment of the country by making a minia-
ture flower-garden of their button-holes. It
was the last day of April, and ere the sum-
mer leaves had yellowed along the edge of the
great sub- Arctic forest, my winter hut had to
be hewn and built from the pine-logs of the
far-distant Saskatchewan.

In the saloon or on the after-deck of a
Cunard steamship steering west, one sees
perhaps more of America's lounging class


than can be met with on any other spot in the
world ; the class is a limited one, in fact it
may be a matter of dispute, whether the
pure and simple lounger, as we know him in
Piccadilly or Pall ]Mall, is to be found in the
New World; but a three, or six, or twelve
months' visit to Europe has sufficiently de-
veloped the dormant instincts of the class in
the New Vork or Boston man of business, to
give color to the assumption that Columbia
possesses a lounger.

It is possible that he is a lounger only for
the moment. That one glimpse of Bunker,
one echo of "Wall Street, will utterly banish
for ever the semblance of lounging ; but for
the present the Great Pyramid /ninns Bun-
ker's Hill, the Corso /« //^ //*- Wall Street, have
done something toward stamping him with
the air and manner of the idler. For the
moment he sips his coffee, or throws his ci-
gar-end overboard, with a half-thoughtful,
halt-bhtse air ; for the moment he has discov-
ered that the sun does not rise and set exclu-
sively in the United States, and that there
were just a few shreds and patches of history
in the world prior to the declaration of Ameri-
can independence: still, when the big ship
has steamed on into the shallow waters Avhich
narrow into Sandy Hook or Plymouth Sound,
and the broad panorama twixt Long Island

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Online LibraryWilliam Francis ButlerThe wild northland : being the story of a winter journey, with dog, across northern North America → online text (page 1 of 20)