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Hydah Indians of Canada
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Exploring Expedition Through the Interior of Labrador
The Company having learned, through a pamphlet
published by the Moravian missionaries of Labrador, that the country
produced excellent furs, were induced by the laudable desire of
"ameliorating the condition of the natives," to settle it; and a
party was accordingly sent overland from Moose Factory to take
possession in the summer of 1831. The Moravians, finding their
intention thus anticipated, left both the cure of souls and trade of
furs to the Company.
Whatever may have been the Company's real motives in forming a
settlement in this quarter, the profits derived from it added but
little to the dividends; the substance that glittered at a distance
like gold proved to be but base metal. Beavers were nowhere to be
found; and although the martens brought an extraordinary high price,
they were far from plentiful; while the enormous expense of
supplying the district by sea, and supporting it on imported
provisions, rendered the "Ungava adventure" a subject of rather
unpleasant discussion among the partners, most of whom were opposed
to the measure from the first.
Mr. Simpson was, in fact, the prime mover of the project, and aware
of the discontent caused by its failure, determined on making every
effort to reduce the expense, and, if possible, to increase the
returns. Accordingly, I was directed to push outposts into the
interior, to support my people on the resources of the country, and
at the same time to open a communication with Esquimaux Bay, on the
coast of Labrador, with the view of obtaining in future my supplies
from thence by inland route; "there being no question of the
practicability of the rivers." So said not he who had seen those
Mr. Erlandson had traversed the country in the spring of 1834, and
represented to me the utter impossibility of carrying my
instructions into effect. Meantime, the Committee, having learned by
dispatches from York Factory that the vessel intended for the
business of the district had been lost, and the other, in which I
made my passage, placed in so critical a situation as to render her
safety in spring a very doubtful matter, considered it advisable to
provide for the worst by freighting a small schooner to carry us out
our supplies. This vessel very unexpectedly made her appearance on
the 22d of September, and we thus found ourselves supplied with
goods and provisions for two years' consumption.
Having, as above mentioned, learned from Mr. Erlandson the
difficulties of the inland route, and also that a great number of
the natives had gone to Esquimaux Bay, with the intention of
remaining there, I considered it incumbent upon me to visit that
quarter at an early period of the winter, and I accordingly set out
from Fort Chimo on the 2d of January. I submit the following
narrative of my journey to the reader.
"Tuesday, the 2d of January, 1838.—I left Fort Chimo at eleven A.M.,
accompanied by the following men, viz.:—
"Donald Henderson, Henry Hay, and two Indian guides, who are to
accompany me throughout the journey; Pierre Neven and M. Ferguson go
part of the way, each driving a sled of two dogs, loaded with
provisions, the other men having sleds drawn by themselves.
"Wednesday, the 3d.—Left our encampment before dawn of day.
Excessively cold—some of us got frost-bitten, but not severely. Our
principal guide, finding his companion unable to keep up with us,
set off to his lodge in quest of a substitute. Encamped early,
having proceeded about nine miles.
"Thursday, the 4th.—Started at seven A.M. Reached High Fall Creek at
nine A.M. Halted to wait for our guide, who soon joined us, alone,
finding no person willing to accompany him. Resumed our march at
half-past nine; had not proceeded far, when we perceived that our
young guide, Pellican, was left considerably in the rear. We waited
till he overtook us, and the miserable creature appearing completely
exhausted with fatigue, we encamped at an early hour. Eight miles.
"Friday, the 5th.—Lightened Pellican's sled, and set off at five
A.M.; fine weather, though sharp. Advanced sixteen miles.
"Saturday, the 6th.—As the ice was covered with water close to our
encampment, it was deemed advisable to await the light of day. Set
off at eight A.M., but found it impossible to move forward in
consequence of the immense quantity of snow that had fallen during
the night. It continuing still to snow, and blowing a violent gale
at same time, I gave up the struggle. Advanced about a mile.
"Sunday, the 7th.—Got up about three A.M., literally buried in snow.
Our blankets being wet, we waited in our encampment drying them till
eight o'clock, when we started with only half loads, with which we
intended to proceed to the first lake, and then return for the
remainder; but to our great satisfaction we soon discovered that the
tempest which had incommoded us so much last night had cleared the
ice of snow; we therefore returned for the property we had left;
then proceeding at a fine rate, having beautiful weather, we soon
reached the lake; when my guides, discovering a herd of deer on an
adjacent hill, immediately set off at a bound, followed by Pellican
and my two brules. I saw at once my day's journey was at an end, and
accordingly directed my encampment to be made. Our hunters joined us
in the evening with the choice parts of three deer they had killed.
Proceeded eight miles.
"Monday, the 8th.—Very cold, tempestuous weather. Our progress was
much retarded by the great depth of snow in the woods through which
our route lay. Thirteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 9th.—Blowing a hurricane; the cold being also intense,
we could not venture out on the ice without incurring the risk of
being frost-bitten; we therefore remained in our quarters, such as
they were, until the weather should moderate.
"Wednesday, the 10th.—My guides appeared very unwilling to quit
their encampment this morning, pretending indisposition. They might
have been really ill; but the beastly manner in which they had been
gorging themselves for the past two days being well known to be the
cause of their illness, no one felt disposed to pity them. I
therefore sprang into their encampment, and pitching the remainder
of their choice morsels into the snow, drove them out before me.
Traveled through woods the whole day. Encamped at half-past three.
"Thursday, the 11th.—Started at five, A.M. Soon fell on a large
lake, on which we traveled till three, P.M., when we encamped. Thus
far the lake extends S.E. and N.W., being about two miles in width.
As Mr. Erlandson was the first European who had traversed these
inhospitable wilds, I had the gratification of giving his name to
the lake. It is reported by the natives to abound in fish of the
best quality; rein-deer are also said to be numerous at certain
seasons of the year. Proceeded fifteen miles.
"Friday, the 12th.—Being immoderately cold, and the wind blowing
direct in our faces, we could not attempt traveling on the lake.
"Saturday, the 13th.—Weather fine. Left Erlandson's Lake about one,
A.M.; it still stretched out before us as far as the eye could
reach, and cannot be less than forty miles in length; its medium
breadth, however, does not exceed two miles and a half. The
circumjacent country is remarkably well wooded, even to the tops of
the highest hills, and is reported by the natives to abound in
martens. A few industrious Indians would not fail to turn such
advantages to good account; but they can avail the Company very
little, while the natives alone are in possession of them. Went on
"Sunday, the 14th.—Set off at five, A.M. Passed over several small
lakes; the country well wooded. Entered upon a small river about
noon, the banks covered with large pine. Encamped at three, P.M.
Advanced sixteen miles.
"Monday, the 15th.—Took our departure at seven, A.M. Traveled
without halting the whole day. Eighteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 16th.—Decamped at five, A.M.; the snow very deep in
the woods. Fell on Whale River at ten, A.M. The face of the country
presents scarcely any variety; from Erlandson's Lake to this river
it is generally well wooded, but afterwards becomes extremely
barren, nothing to be seen on both sides of the river but bare
rocks. Proceeded sixteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 17th.—Started at five, A.M. Our route in the morning
led us through a chain of small lakes, and brought us out again on
Whale River, on which we traveled till four, P.M. The appearance of
the country much the same as described yesterday. Proceeded eighteen
"Thursday, the 18th.—P. Neven being unable to travel from
indisposition, I resolved on passing the day to await the issue,
deeming his malady to be of no very serious nature. In the meantime
I took an exact account of my provisions which I found to be so far
reduced, that no further assistance was required for its conveyance.
I accordingly made the necessary arrangements to send the men back.
"Friday, the 19th.—Early in the morning, P. Neven (being now
convalescent) and Mordoch Ferguson set off on their return, whilst I
and my party proceeded on our onward route. I retained a sled of
dogs, intending to drive them myself. We traveled eleven miles on
Whale River, then struck across the country to the eastward.
Encamped at four, P.M. Fourteen miles.
"Saturday, the 20th.—The moon affording no longer light to find our
way in the night, we must now wait till daylight. Started at seven
A.M.; crossed a point of wood, chiefly larch, of a miserably small
growth; then came out on a large lake (comparatively speaking), on
which we traveled till four, P.M. Thirteen miles.
"Sunday, the 21st.—Set off at seven A.M. About eleven, we fell on
the fresh tracks of a large herd of deer, which my guides carefully
examined; their experience not only enabling them to determine the
precise time they had passed, but the very spot where they were
likely to be found, which they affirmed was close to us. My dogs
being very much reduced, and not having the means of increasing
their present modicum of food, I determined on availing myself of an
opportunity which might not again occur of procuring a supply. The
Indians accordingly set off in quest of them, desiring us at their
departure to make no fire until the sun had reached a certain
position in the heavens which they pointed out to us. We made our
encampment at the time appointed, and were soon joined by our
hunters, dragging after them a fine doe; they had got only one shot
at the herd, which immediately took to the bare hills, where pursuit
was in vain. Our guides being encamped by themselves, I was curious
to ascertain by ocular evidence the manner in which the first kettle
would be disposed of, nor did I wait long till my curiosity was
gratified. The cannibals fell upon the half-cooked flesh with a
voracity which I could not have believed even savages capable of;
and in an incredibly short space of time the kettle was disposed
of;—and this, too, after their usual daily allowance, which is equal
to, and sometimes exceeds, that of the other men, who say they have
enough. Proceeded seven miles.
"Monday, the 22nd.—On examining the remains of the deer this
morning, I found my quadrupeds would benefit but little by my good
intentions and loss of time, our guides having applied themselves so
sedulously to the doe during the night, as to leave but little for
their canine brethren. We started at seven, A.M., the traveling very
heavy in the woods. About noon we came upon a large lake, where we
made better speed. Thirteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 23rd.—Traveled through woods the greater part of the
day; encamped at four o'clock. Sixteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 24th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Our route lay through
swamps and small lakes, with strips of wood intervening. Martens
appear to be numerous, but beavers must be extremely rare, for we
have discovered no traces whatever of their existence anywhere along
our route, though innumerable small lakes and rivers, such as
beavers frequent, are to be met with in every direction; but the
country produces no food for them. At ten A.M. we arrived at a
considerable lake, where my guides told me we had reached the
highest land. On asking them if this were the lake where we intended
to build, they pointed to the south-west, saying it was four days'
journey off in that direction!—so far had I been led from the route
I intended to have followed, notwithstanding the perfect
understanding I had with my perfidious guides prior to our departure
from the establishment. Encamped at three, P.M. Twelve miles.
"Thursday, the 25th.—Immediately on leaving our encampment, we fell
on a large river flowing to the north-east, which I took to be
George's River. We followed it for a short distance, and then
directed our course over bare hills. Encamped at three, P.M. Eleven
"Friday, the 26th.—Having passed the night in a clump of small
pines, which sheltered us from the inclemency of the weather, we
were not aware of the violence of the storm which was raging round
us, until, pursuing our route over a ridge of bare hills, we were
completely exposed to its fury. We found the cold intense, the wind
blowing in our faces, so that it was impossible to proceed.
Observing a hummock of wood close to us, we shaped our course for
it, where we were no sooner arrived, than it began to snow and
drift. The few trees to which we had retreated being far apart, and
the wind blowing with the utmost violence, we experienced the
greatest difficulty in clearing an encampment. The storm continuing
unabated, we passed a miserable day in our snow burrow. Two miles.
"Saturday, the 27th.—Arose from our comfortless couché at half-past
four. The snow having drifted over us, and being melted by the heat
of the fire in the early part of the night, we found our blankets
and capotes hard frozen in the morning. Thawing and drying them
occupied us till nine A.M., when we set off. Snow very deep.
Proceeded nine miles.
"Sunday, the 28th.—Set off at seven, A.M. Snow still increasing in
depth, and our progress decreasing in proportion. At one, P.M., we
came upon a large river flowing to the north, on which we traveled a
short distance; then followed the course of a small stream running
in an easterly direction. Leaving this stream, our route lay over
marshes and small lakes; the country flat, yielding dwarf pine
intermixed with larch. Encamped at half-past four; advanced eight
"Monday, the 29th.—Started at seven. Appearance of the country much
the same as yesterday. Fifteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 30th.—Decamped at seven. Weather mild, and walking
heavy. Our principal guide appears rapidly declining in strength,
which does not surprise me, considering the laborious duty he has
had to perform; always beating the track a-head, without being once
relieved by his worthless associate. Fourteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 31st.—Started at seven. Still very mild. Observed a
few small birch trees. Encamped at four, P.M. Fifteen miles.
"Thursday, the 1st of February.—Started at the usual hour. We have
been travelling through a very rough country for these two days
past. The fact is, that our guides, having only passed here in
summer, are unacquainted with the winter track. We are, therefore,
evidently pursuing a circuitous course, which, with every other
disadvantage, subjects us to the risk of running short of
provisions,—a contingency which our reduced stock warns us to
prepare for ere long. We can afford no more food to the dogs; their
load is now transferred to the men's sleds. Fifteen miles.
"Friday, the 2d.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Pursued our route over
extensive swamps and small lakes, where there is scarcely any wood
to be seen. The face of the surrounding country being level, the
least elevation commands a most extensive view; but the eye turns
away in disgust from the cheerless prospect which the desolate flats
present. I deemed it expedient to curtail our allowance of
provisions this evening. Eighteen miles.
"Saturday, the 3d.—Set off at seven, A.M. Reached Michigama Lake at
one, P.M.; on which we traveled till five o'clock, when we encamped
on an island. Proceeded twenty miles.
"Sunday, the 4th.—Left our encampment at the usual hour. Halted for
our scanty meal at ten, A.M. After an hour's delay we resumed our
march, and encamped at four, P.M., on an island near the mainland on
the east side of the lake, having performed about twenty miles. I
here repeated to the Indians my earnest wish to proceed to Esquimaux
Bay, by North River, which takes its rise in this lake. They replied
that nothing could induce them to comply with my wishes, as
inevitable starvation would be the consequence; no game could be
found by the way, and we would have, therefore, to depend solely on
our own provisions, which were barely sufficient for the shortest
route. I had thus the mortification to find, that I should entirely
fail in accomplishing the main object I had in view in crossing the
"Monday, the 5th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Reached the mainland at
half-past eight; then ascended a river flowing from the north-east,
which discharges itself into Michigama Lake, Pellican taking the
lead, being the only one acquainted with this part of the country.
The Indians shot an otter. No wood to be seen, but miserably small
pine, thinly scattered over the country. Encamped at Gull Lake.
"Tuesday, the 6th.—Left our encampment at seven. Our guide lost his
way about noon, which after an hour's search, he succeeded in
finding; when we resumed our slow march, Pellican proceeding at a
snail's pace, which neither threats nor entreaties could in the
least accelerate. Encamped at five, P.M. Eleven miles.
"Wednesday, the 7th.—Started at half-past six, A.M. Arrived at the
site of an extensive Indian camp, which appeared to have been
recently occupied. Our guides knowing the Indians to be their
friends from Ungava, and their trail leading in the direction of our
route, required no longer to be urged on. An immediate impulse was
given to Pellican's sluggish motions, increasing his speed to such a
degree, that it required our utmost exertions to keep up with him.
Encamped near a high fall on North-West River, which is here walled
in by inaccessible precipices on both sides. The view above the fall
is interrupted by stupendous rocks; the natives say that the
appearance of the river and surrounding country is the same from
this fall to Michigama Lake; the river is deemed to be impracticable
for any kind of craft. Eighteen miles.
"Thursday, the 8th.—Set off at seven, A.M. Fine traveling on the
river. We passed two portages and rapids. Encamped at forty-five
minutes past five. Twenty miles.
"Friday, the 9th.—Decamped at seven. Traveling good; the banks of
the river high and precipitous, and almost destitute of wood. We
observed, however, a few birches. Encamped at six, P.M. Twenty
"Saturday, the 10th.—Started at eight, A.M. About noon we arrived at
a wide expansion of the river, where it suddenly bends to the west.
Here we again quitted the river, directing our course to the
eastward. The navigation of this part of the river is represented by
the natives to be impracticable, and similar to the upper part. Our
snow-shoes being the worse for wear, we encamped at an early hour
for the purpose of repairing them. Advanced fifteen miles.
"Sunday, the 11th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Pursued our course
through the roughest country I ever traveled. The appearance of it
struck me as resembling the ocean when agitated by a storm,
supposing its billows transformed into solid rock. We commenced
ascending and descending in the morning, and kept at it till night.
The men complained much of fatigue. Proceeded fourteen miles.
"Monday, the 12th.—The weather being so much overcast that we could
not find our way, we remained in our encampment till eight, A.M.
Encamped at a quarter past five. Fifteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 13th.—Set off at half-past seven, amidst a tremendous
snow-storm, which continued without intermission the whole day; we
sunk knee-deep in the snow, and found it not the most pleasant
recreation in the world. About noon we passed a hut, which my guide
told me had been the residence of a trader, two years ago. Late in
the evening we arrived at another hut, on North West River, where we
found two of Mr. McGillivray's people, who were stationed there for
the purpose of trapping martens. Nine miles.
"Wednesday, the 14th.—The weather being unpropitious, and finding
ourselves very snug in our present quarters, we passed the day
enjoying the comfort of a roof.
"Thursday, the 15th.—Left our Canadian hosts at early dawn; the snow
very deep on the river. Proceeded till ten, A.M., when D. Henderson
was suddenly seized by a violent fit, which completely incapacitated
him from traveling. Discovering a hut close by, a fire was
immediately kindled in it, and a place prepared for our invalid to
lie down; in our present circumstances nothing more could be done. I
waited by him till two, P.M., then pursued my route, accompanied by
the Indians, leaving H. Hay to take care of him. Accomplished
"Friday, the 16th.—Set off at four, A.M. Arrived at dusk at Port
Smith, where, although I was well known, my Esquimaux dress and long
beard defied recognition, until I announced myself by name.
"Saturday, the 17th.—An Indian was dispatched early in the morning,
to meet my men with a supply of the north-west panacea, Turlington
Balsam; and I was glad to see them arrive in the evening, more in
want of food than medicine."
Two days after our arrival, all the Nascopie or Ungava Indians, at
present residing in this part of the country, numbering seventy or
eighty souls, came to the establishment, with the produce of their
winter hunts. Mr. McGillivray and myself having come to an
understanding regarding them, we both addressed them, representing
to them the advantages they would derive from having posts so
conveniently situated on their lands, &c. After some deliberation
among themselves, they expressed their intention to be guided by our
advice, and to return forthwith to their lands. Having sent off my
dispatches by Indian couriers, for Mashquaro, on the 3d of March, to
be forwarded thence to Canada, via the Company's posts along the
Gulf and River St. Lawrence, I sent H. Hay for my guides (who had
gone to pay the kettles of their friends a visit), preparatory to my
departure hence, which has been deferred to a much later period than
I had calculated upon, from the prevalence of excessively bad
weather for a fortnight.
Hay, having met the Indians on the way, returned the same evening;
but they were so emaciated that I could scarcely recognize them,
looking like so many spectres—a metamorphosis caused by the
influenza, at that time prevalent in the country. My principal
guide, however, declared himself able to proceed on the journey,
with a light load; and it was arranged that Pellican should
accompany his relative. Two young men, who came in with my guide,
appearing not quite so much reduced as the others, I proposed to
them to accompany me as far as Michigama Lake, to assist in hauling
our provisions, which they consented to do; and they accordingly
took their departure along with my guide, on the 4th of March.
Myself and two men, along with my "husky" interpreter, followed next
morning; but as we are to retrace our steps by the same way we came,
it will be unnecessary to narrate the occurrences of each day.
We arrived in the evening at the first Indian camp, where I found
one of the young men I had hired, relapsed into his former malady,
and unable to proceed further. This, although a disappointment, did
not much affect me, as I had hopes my guide would be able to
continue his route, from the circumstance of his having passed on to
the farthest camp. When we arrived, about noon next day, and found,
not only our guide, but every individual in the camp, suffering
under the fatal malady, this was the climax to my disappointment. I
determined on returning to Fort Smith with my guide, where, by
proper treatment, I hoped he might yet recover in time to admit of
my returning before the end of the season.
I accordingly returned, accompanied by H. Hay, who conducted the
dog-sledge, on which I had placed my sick Indian, leaving D.
Henderson in charge of the provisions, along with the Esquimaux. On
the morning of the 9th, I dispatched H. Hay to join Henderson, with
directions to haul the provisions on to McGillivray's hut, there to
await further orders.
My guide, for a few days, appeared to be in a hopeless state,
refusing sustenance of any kind, and became delirious. This was the
crisis of the malady; for he soon began to take some food, and
recovered strength daily. He at length proposed to attempt the
journey, to which I joyfully assented; and once more took leave of
Fort Smith, on the 19th of March, and joined my men next day.
Remaining two days, to give the guide time to recruit his strength,
I started on the morning of the 23d; the Indians had recovered
strength enough to enable them to proceed towards their winter
deposit of provisions, near Michigama Lake, leaving us an excellent
track. We overtook them on the 26th. I found it impossible to
separate my guide from his relatives while we pursued the same
route. We arrived on the 30th at their last stage, and encamped
Next morning as we were about to start, a message arrived from my
guide, announcing his determination to proceed no farther, unless
Pellican were permitted to accompany us. I sent for him immediately,
and endeavored to impress on his mind the unreasonableness of such a
proposition, our provisions being scarcely sufficient for
ourselves—that it would expose the whole party to the risk of
starvation; but I addressed a thing without reason and without
understanding, and was accordingly obliged, once more, to yield.
We reached the highest land on the 2d of April, where, on examining
our remaining stock of provisions, the alarming fact that it was
altogether insufficient to carry us to the establishment, was but
too apparent. It was therefore necessary to take immediate measures
to avert, if possible, an evil that threatened so fearful
consequences; and the only course that presented itself was to
divide into two parties,—the one to proceed with all possible
dispatch to the fort, by the shortest route, and to send forward a
supply to the other, which it was anticipated would reach them ere
they were reduced to absolute want.
Pursuant to this resolution I set off, accompanied by the guide and
H. Hay; leaving D. Henderson to make the best of his way, with the
Esquimaux and Pellican. Having taken but a very small share of the
provisions with us, and meeting with no game on the way, we were
soon reduced to the utmost extremity. One of our dogs being starved
to death, we were ultimately obliged to knock the surviving one on
the head, to supply ourselves with what we considered, in present
circumstances, "food for the gods." Such as it was, it enabled us to
keep soul and body together till we reached Fort Chimo, on the 20th
of April, where we found all the Nascopies of this part of the
country assembled to greet the arrival of their long-expected
friends—our guides. I immediately selected a couple of smart-looking
lads to go to meet my rear-guard,—the other servants about the
establishment, who were accustomed to snow-shoes, being absent,
watching the deer.
On the third day after their departure the couriers returned, with
Pellican. On inquiring of the latter what had become of my men, he
replied that he had left them encamped at a lake about sixty miles
distant, where the Esquimaux, abandoning himself to despair, could
not be prevailed upon to go a step farther; and that he (Pellican)
had been sent forward by Henderson to urge on the party whom they
expected. They were within a day's journey of them; and yet the
wretches returned immediately on meeting Pellican, leaving the
others to their fate. No Indians I had ever known would have acted
so basely; yet these are an "unsophisticated race" of aborigines,
who have but little intercourse with the whites, and must, of
course, be free from the contamination of their manners. Our hunters
being now arrived, were sent off, without delay, in quest of the
missing; and I had the satisfaction to see my famished companions de
voyage arrive, on the 26th of April.
Notes of a Twenty-Five Years Service in the
Hudson's Bay Territory, 1849
Notes on Hudson Bay Territory