« PreviousContinue »
secured by intricate knots, and the repairs are quires no blacksmith or skilled wheelwright completed.
for its repairing. It is at the same time wagon When the half-breed comes to a river to be and boat, and in case of necessity it serves as crossed, however swollen and wide, he finds excellent fuel. Commonly, the hunters' and it scarcely an obstruction. A buffalo-hide, or, the traders' trains are made up of from twenty in recent times, since the buffalo has disap- to seventy, or even more, of these vehicles peared, a canvas cart-cover, placed beneath moving in a single varying line over the rolling one of the wheels, its edges brought up over plain, each animal, except the first, attached the rim, furnishes him a “bull-boat,” seated to the cart in front. Covered usually with canupon the center of which he paddles himself vas covers, more or less white, they constitute across and guides his swimming pony. In a picturesque feature in the landscape when succeeding journeys he ferries over his load seen at a distance against the green of the and tows his remaining cart-frame. The wagon grass, or against the sky as they creep over the of the white man, however skeleton-like and summit of some slope — the only moving oblight it may be, is incomparably less well jects, except the clouds, within the reach of adapted to the necessities of plains travel than vision, arousing in the lonely spectator sugthis primitive construction, which practically gestions of human life and commerce and farcan neither break nor sink, and which re- off civilization. No grease or other lubricant
is ever applied to the axles, since the Indian the bay after tedious and dangerous passages considers such a use of fatty substances a sheer through the ice of Hudson's Straits, not far from waste of food, and the lugubrious creaking and the southern end of Greenland, they navigated wailing of the thirsty wood locates such an the stormy, shallow waters and arrived in June outfit even before it can be seen and after it or July at Fort Churchill or Port Nelson, where, disappears. A specimen of the Red River lightering their cargos, they received their recart can be seen in the National Museum at turn freight and hastily set sail for home, fearWashington, but it has been repaired by the ful lest the ice of winter should make them civilized device of iron nails, and so is not prisoners for an entire season before they could quite typical.
reach the open Atlantic. At the ports of deA characteristic feature of the great plains barkation,crews of men who had brought down of Canada are the trails which connect the the furs in York 1 boats from the distant posts widely separated trading-posts and settlements, were waiting to load the precious supplies and along which supplies are brought in and the the annual mails for the return trip to the wilds. peltries, which constituted in former times the They rowed and pushed their heavy crafts up chief products of the country, were carried to the broad, rushing streams and across the lakes, the great fur-depots on their way to Montreal, day after day through the uninhabited wilderwhence they were shipped to England. For- ness, until, after months in some cases, they merly, before the construction of the St. Paul, reached Lower Fort Garry and Upper Fort Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad, access to Garry on the Red River; Fort Ellice and Fort these remote northern districts was by means Qu'Appelle on the Assiniboin; Fort á la Come, of traders' carts from St. Paul over the unset- Carlton House, Fort Pitt, and Fort Edmonton tled prairies of Minnesota, and by small steam- on the North Saskatchewan; and other posts ers on the Red River to Fort Garry, the site on the English, or Churchill, River, and on the of the present city of Winnipeg, a journey of countless lakes for whose accumulated waters several weeks' duration. Earlier still the dog- it furnishes a channel. By other routes from trains, now a mode of conveyance known only the bay, and by combined water and land jourto the past, except in the extreme arctic regions neys, they carried such necessary supplies as of this continent, brought down in the winter would bear transportation to posts on Great season sledge-loads of valuable furs, and only Slave Lake, on the Peace River, on the Athahalf-breeds and Indians made the journey. As basca, even to the far trading forts on the Maclate as 1869, the present president of the railroad kenzie River, up to and beyond the arctic named above, then a poor soldier of fortune circle. living in St. Paul, was met one stormy day in The freighters' passage left no traces in the winter alone with a dog-sledge pushing his way fleeting waters, but on land there still exist many far north in Minnesota toward Fort Garry. Ru- of the old trails winding mile after mile over mors had reached him of that movement of the the grassy plains. Some of them are now abanhalf-breeds near the fort which took place upon doned, the primitive commerce having taken the adoption of the articles of Canadian con- new directions, yet in this arid climate decade federation in the year named, and which be- after decade they remain just as the last wheel came known as Riel's rebellion, and he was on pressed them. The passage of such a train of his way to see what openings for his adventurous carts as I have described leaves three tracks and enterprising spirit might arise in a time of in the dry soil, which, deepened by following political disturbance. Earlier yet in the history trains, become more and more distinct. One of the country, before St. Paul had become a is made by the pony or the bullock which draws distributing center for the great areas north and the load, the others by the wheels. At length west of it, before the Mississippi River had been hollows orchuck-holes are formed, and, to avoid approached by railroads, the principal high- them, a new series of tracks is made a few inches way by which the Northwest Territories were apart from the old one. This in turn is abanpenetrated was a water-route now altogether doned for another, and the process goes on unabandoned, although many men still live who til as many as a score of such sets of tracks are traversed it from time to time in the old days. worn in the brown soil, each track a foot in Some of the Hudson's Bay trading-posts were width and nearly a foot in depth. They everyestablished two hundred years ago at favorable where maintain their parallelism, never running points on the streams and lakes of the country, into one another, and the appearance they presand supplies were brought to them annually, ent is that of brown bands of color winding and furs were carried from them, by ships sent through the green expanse. Often not another from England to Hudson's Bay. Arriving at sign of human life or occupancy can be seen
for hundreds of miles, and an infrequent pas. 1 The York boat is made at Fort l'ork in the Hudson's Bay Territory. Constructed of whip-sawed boards, it senger with his outfit hails the advance of anis large, strong, and of great carrying capacity.
other with all the interest with which, on long
voyages in unaccustomed waters, one ship hails of mosquitos in the Northwest is a myth. It another on the homeward course. The travelers is a question of definitions, of course, but the halt when they meet, cordial greetings are ex- learned writer could not have used the word changed, the news of the distant points of de-“myth" in an ordinary signification. At least parture is asked for, each party waits while the I used to think at times when the mosquitos other prepares such letters as he may wish to were so abundant that we could not eat our send back to far-away friends, and with good sopp at supper-time, even with the defense
wishes they go on their separate journeys, and of a most powerful smudge of grass and leaves solitude unbroken reigns again.
placed to windward, without finding every The great plains are now comparatively de- spoonful plentifully peppered with the culex, void of animal life, and at certain seasons, even and a single sweep of the hand would capture in summer, one may travel for several days at a score of the winged pests, while the bitter a time without seeing insect, bird, or beast of tears ran from our eyes, that Principal Grant's any kind. This surprising statement is literally powers of observation might have been considtrue: but at other times insect life abounds be erably improved by exposure without protection yond all comprehension or experience else- for a time to such an atmosphere. Alas! during where; and now and then herds of antelope, July and August mosquitos do abound, and or deer of several varieties, or a few elk, or a they are attended by coadjutors of no mean bear, or a band of wolves, or a badger may be powers-sand-flies, black-flies, deer-flies, bullseen; while the air is full of the winnowing of dog-flies (the bot-fly), and I know not how many the wings and the cries of wild fowl. On every others, who conspire to make life for man and hand are seen lakes white with swans, plover, the animals on warm, damp days and at night herons, cranes, curlew; and the active and enter- nothing less than a burden. So numerous and prising cow-bird, which, alighting on the backs virulent are they that animals grow thin in flesh of domestic animals where there are any, pro- during the period of their existence, and on the motes their comfort and satisfies its own hunger Athabasca River horses and cattle perish outby the onslaught it makes on the myriads of right from their attacks. At night the traveler's mosquitos which torment them. Principal Grant animals are often stampeded by them, and the at one time made a hurried journey through a usual precaution taken is to make a dense, dank part of this country, and upon his return wrote smudge of green boughs and sods, in the acrid a book in which he averred that the existence smoke of which a passable degree of comfort
VOL. XLIV. – 76.
can be had. From such a smoke it would be moisture had checked the sweeping flames, impossible to stampede a band of horses, and where we found the only available pasturage for the choicest positions in it they will fight for our animals at night. The coal-black surwith teeth and hoofs.
face was thickly dotted with the white bones of But the most impressive signs of the abun- the buffalo, which, in some merciless onslaught dance of nobler animal life in recent times are of the hunters, had fallen there by the thouthe countless buffalo-trails found almost every- sand for the paltry booty of their hides. Just where. Like the cart-trails they are worn deep where they fell
, they lay scattered over miles into the soil, and they remain unchanged for of country, their bones the only mementos of years. While feeding or resting, the buffalo are once happy, crowding, noble animal life. As scattered about, and they make no permanent the skeletons gleamed white in the darkness and impression of their presence; but when they are silence of night, the impression made on the going to water or are traveling to new pastures, thoughtful observer was depressing enough. they move in single file behind the leader of Desiring one day to look over the country at the herd, and a trail is speedily formed by their large, with my half-breed guide I crossed some sharp hoofs. On their now deserted pasturing- clay canons on horseback, and climbed the grounds these trails cut the surface in every slopes of one of the hills spoken of, whence in direction, now and then marked by the wal- all directions the undulating plain lay spread out lowing-places worn deep in the ground, where below me. A locating engineer with his party each animal followed the leader not only in was following on my trail at a distance of some marching, but in taking a dry wash for health weeks' travel, and with him I wished to comand comfort. Up-hill and down-hillthese paths municate concerning the best direction in which wind and wind. Even on the thin edges of the to carry his line. As my party consisted of only hogbacks in the valley of the Red Deer River, two men besides myself, I could not detach a and on their almost vertical faces, where no messenger, and my only resource was to erect horse can find a footing, and a man would find some monument on the summit of the hill, difficulty in going, the buffalo found an easy which, seen against the sky, would attract his road for his sure-footed majesty.
attention. For such a construction the numerIt is not long since this noble animal was ous buffalo-bones lying about offered ample the monarch of these lonely regions. Not only materials. Inscribing a message to Douglass, are the hill-slopes in many places terraced by the engineer, on a broad, white shoulder-blade, their deep-worn paths, running parallel to one I put it at the base of the monument, and colanother at the distance of perhaps a yard, lecting a score of great skulls with the horns still but in favorite localities, where they once fed attached to them, I piled them together to the in countless droves, their bones and horns lie height of eight or ten feet. At the top I placed scattered on every hand, bleaching and slowly another blade-bone directing attention to the decomposing in the drying wind. Sometimes message deposited below. As we rode away in every square rod of the surface presents the the slanting light of the setting sun, which threw sad memorials of a noble animal gone to his the shadow of the hill and its melancholy cairn death in a pile of shoulder-blades, rib-bones, of bones for miles and miles across the plain toleg-bones, horns still covered with the black, ward the east, whence we had come, I thought shining corneous substance which made them of the appropriate nature of such a monument so striking during life, and in a broad skull the monarch of the lonely plains, crowded to his with empty eye-sockets, still tufted with brown death by the ruthless, fiery edge of advancing hair, and still maintaining a lordly port. At civilization, sullenly looking with sightless eyes one time in my wanderings I came, near the afar to catch the first gleaming light and the Eyebrow Hills, to a tract some hundreds of thunderous rush of that highest embodiment miles in extent, already — early in the autumn of nineteenth-century progress and power,
the as it was — scathed by the prairie fires and left railway locomotive. black and charred, the only spots excepted be- Until the farmer came to look upon these ing a few small round marshes in which the broad areas as furnishing land for cultivation in
1 Some notion of the former abundance of the buffalo pany paid £1200, or $6000, for the booty brought in. in the Canadian Northwest may be obtained from the How many animals were slain we can only conjecture. following memoranda of outfit for a single buffalo-hunt Less than twenty years ago, my intelligent half-breedi in 1840, the authenticity of which cannot be doubted. guide told me, he had seen, more than once, piles more There were required : 200 carts and harness, 655 cart. ihan six feet in height of buffalo tongues which had been horses, 586 draft-oxen, 403 horses for running buf- thrown together just as they were cut out after a single falo with saddles and bridles, 1240 scalping-knives for successful hunt by a party of Indians. These tongles cutting up meat, 740 guns (flint-lock), 150 gallons of were the perquisite of the medicine-man, who, during powder, 1 300 pounds of Valls, 6240 gun-flints, and the the progress of the hunt, sat in his tepee beating his drum number of persons was 1630. The expedition returned and utiering incantations for its successful outcome, 10 Fort Garry in August, and the Hudson's Bay Com- instead of participating more actively in the slaughtti.