MUSK RAT COUNTRY
David Thompson's narrative
Musk Rat country — Boundaries — Frozen soil — Forest — White Birch — Rind of White Birch — Berries — Misaskutum Berry — Fish — Pike — Trout — White Fish — Carp — Sturgeon — Swan — Marten — Accident while trapping Marten Nature of Marten — Wolverine — Pranks of Wolverine.
HAVING described what is peculiar to the wild shores of Hudson’s Bay, I now turn to the interior country, and include a space from Hudson’s Bay of about three hundred miles in width, known to the Fur Traders by the name of the Musk Rat country. The geology of this country is quite distinct from the countries westward, it is composed of granitic and other silicious Rocks ; from the parallel of 54 or 55 degrees north, this rocky region extends northward to the extremity of the continent, and is about 400 miles in width ; to the southward of the above line, this region extends southward to the coasts of Labrador ; every where it’s character is much the same, almost everywhere rock covered with moss, the spots of tolerable soil are neither large, nor frequent, containing very many Lakes, the Streams from which find their way to the large Rivers. This Region is bounded on the west by the great chain of Lakes, the principal of which are Lake Superior, the Rainy Lake, the Lake of the Woods, Winepeg, the Cedar, and chain of Lakes northward to the Athabasca and great Slave Lakes. The northern parts are either destitute of Woods, or they are low and small ; especially about Hudson’s Bay where the ground is always frozen ; even in the month of August, in the woods, on taking away the moss, the ground is thawed at most, for two inches in depth : M’ Joseph Colen,^ the Resident at York Factory, on having a Cellar dug for a new building, found the earth frozen to the depth of five and a half feet, below which it was not frozen. All the Trees on this frozen soil have no tap roots ; their roots spread on the ground, the fibres of the roots interlace with each other for mutual support ; and although around Hudson’s Bay there is a wide belt of earth of about one hundred miles in width, apparently of ancient alluvial from the rounded gravel in the banks of the Rivers, yet it is mostly all a cold wet soil, the surface covered with wet moss, ponds, marsh and dwarf trees. The only dry places are the banks of the Brooks, Rivulets and Lakes. The rocky region close westward of this coarse alluvial already noticed, in very many places, especially around it’s Lakes, and their intervals, have fine Forests of Pines, Firs, Aspins, Poplar, white and grey Birch, Alder and Willow ; all these grow in abundance, which makes all this region of rock and Lake appear a dense forest, but the surface of the Lakes cover full two fifths, or more, of the whole extent. The most usefull trees are the White Birch, the Larch, and the Aspin.
Joseph Colen was one of the clerks at York Factory under Humphrey Marten when Thompson arrived there in 1785. On the departure of Marten for England in 1786, Colen succeeded him as Resident in charge of the fort, and remained in charge until his own recall in 1798. During these twelve years, he seems to have handled the fur-trade of the Company in a fairly capable manner, but he was often at cross-purposes with the Resident in charge of the Churchill district, and he did not get along well with William Tomison, who was in charge of the Saskatchewan trade, and who received his supplies from York. After Colen’s recall, Tomison was made President of the Council at York.
The White Birch, besides it’s bark, which is good for tanning leather, has also a Rind which covers the bark, of which Canoes are made ; this Rind is thick in proportion to the intense cold of winter where the tree grows, in high Latitudes, it is one fourth of an inch thick, and wherever the winter is very cold. On the west side of the Mountains where the winters are very mild, the Rind is too thin to be of any use ; it thus appears to be a protection to the tree against the frost.
The Wood of the Birch tree is used for making Sledges and Sleds, Axe helves and whatever requires strength and neat- ness, as the frames of Snow Shoes, but does not bear exposure to wet weather. The Rind is very useful to the natives and traders for making Canoes, Dishes, coverings for canoes, and for Tents and Lodges in the open Seasons. The White Birch is seldom more than four feet in circumference, but to the branches of which the head is formed, carries this girth with little diminution ; it can be raised from the bark only in mild weather, in hot weather it freely comes away, and a well grown tree will give from fifteen to thirty feet of Birch Rind ; it requires a practised Man to raise it without injuring it. The rind is never renewed, and the bark not having the shelter of the rinds becomes full of cracks, and the tree decays.
In the spring of the year incisions in the tree yield a sap, which is boiled to a well tasted syrup. The grey birch ^ grows among the Rocks, it [is] a dwarf tree, crooked, knotty, and full of branches ; it’s wood is stronger than the white birch ; it’s rind too thin to be of use, it has many tatters hanging to it, which are much used for quickly lighting a fire. The Larch is well known, a strong elastic wood, and make the best of Sleds. The poplar “^ and aspin,^ make the best of fire wood for a tent, [as] the wood does not sparkle, and the smoke is mild ; the smoke of no other woods should be used for drying meat and fish. The smoke of these woods preserves both and gives an agreeable taste ; in places, there are fine forests of aspins of six inches to one foot diameter, and thirty to forty feet without branches. The White and Red Firs grow on a sandy soil, they are of dwarf growth, and full of knots and branches. There are four species of the Pine,^ besides the Cypress ; ^ the white Spruce ^ is noted for it’s fine spreading branches, which form the beds of the traveller and the hunter ; In the frozen clime of Hudson’s Bay, only half of this tree can be used, the north east side being very brittle, and can hardly be called wood. The other Pines are mostly found in the interior, they thrive most near Lakes and Rivers, and in favorable places are of six feet girth, and forty to fifty feet in height.
By the Natives the saplings of these serve for tent poles, laths and timbers for canoes, by the traders, the same purposes, and building of Houses. Of Berries there are twenty species all known in europe but one. They are, the dry * and swamp Cranberry,^ the Crow ® and Black Berries, two kinds of Raspberries ; ^ the Strawberry ; ^ two kinds of Cherry’s,^ both are small. White and Red Currants ; ^^ the black Currant,^^ a .mild purgative ; two kinds of Gooseberries,^” two of Hipberries ; ^^ the Juniper berry ; “ the Eye berry : ^^ the Bear Berry ; this has a low spreading plant which lies flat on the ground, it has it’s use in medicine ; the Natives collect and dry the leaves, wherever it can be procured ; it is mixed with tobacco for smoking, giving to the smoke a mild, agreeable flavour.
A berry of an agreeable acid called the Summer berry,^ it ripens late in Autumn, the Shrub of this berry has a large pith, takes a good polish and is used for Pipe Stems ; and the Misaskutum berry,^ perhaps peculiar to north america ; the berry grows abundantly on willow like shrubs, is of the color of deep blue, or black ; the size of a full grown green pea, very sweet and nourishing, the favorite food of small birds, and the Bears. They are very wholesome, and may safely be eaten as long as the appetite continues ; they are much sought after by the Natives, they collect and dry them in quantities for future use ; and mixed with Pimmecan, be- comes a rich and agreeable food. The wood is of a fine size for arrows, and where this can be got, no other is employed ; it is weighty, pliant, and non-elastic. As this berry is pre- ceded by a beautiful flower, and the berry is as rich as any currant from Smyrna and keeps as well, it ought to be cultivated in Canada, and in England.
The Rivers and Lakes have Pike,^ (the water wolf.) He preys on every fish he can master, even on his own species ; he seises his prey by the middle of the back, and keeps his hold until it is dead : when he swallows it. It catches readily at any bait, even a bit of red rag. It is a bold active fish, and in summer is often found with a mouse in it’s stomach.
It’s jaws are strong, set with sharp teeth, somewhat curved, it is of all sizes from one to fifteen pounds ; it is seldom found in company with the Trout,* which last appears to be the master fish, for where they are found In the same Lake, the Pike are confined to the shallow bays. The Trout to attain to a large size, they require to be in extensive deep Lakes. In this region they are from one to twenty pounds.
They are as rich as meat. The white fish ^ is well known, their quality and size depends much on the depths of the Lakes.
In shoal Lakes they are generally poor, and in deep Lakes fat and large, they are almost the sole subsistence of the Traders and their men in the winter, and part of the summer : they are caught in nets of five to six inches mesh, fifty fathoms in length, and five to six feet in depth ; which are set and anchored by stones in three to five fathoms water, if possible on sandy, or fine gravel, bottom. They weigh from two to ten pounds. They are a delicate fish, the net ought not to stand more than two nights, then [it ought to be] taken up and washed in hot water, dried and mended : Some of the Lakes have only a fall fishery and another in the spring, in this case the fish are frozen, and lose part of their good taste. Fish do not bear keeping, the maxim is ; “ from the hook or the net directly into the kettle “ of boiling water. Those who live wholly on fish, without any sauce, and frequently without salt, know how to cook fish in their best state, for sauces make a fish taste well, which otherwise would not be eatable.
There are two species of Carp, the red “ and grey ; ^ the former is a tolerable fish ; the latter is so full of small bones, only the head and shoulders are eaten. They spawn in the spring, on the small Rapids, are in shoals, the prey of the Eagle, the Bear, and other animals. The Sturgeon * to be good must be caught in muddy Lakes, he is the fresh water hog, fond of being in shoal alluvials ; in such lakes it is a rich fish ; but in clear water not so good ; they weigh from ten to fifty pounds.
The Pickerel/ the Perch ^ and Methy ^ are all common ; these are all the varieties of fish found in this region worth notice.
With the Spring a variety of small birds arrive, they breed and remain during the summer, and depart for the southward in Autumn, they are all known to Europe. The Whippoorwill * arrives in the month of March. In the after- noon and evening as well as the morning, he flits from tree to tree about ten feet above the snow, with it’s head down- wards, repeats it’s cry of Whip poor will for two, or three minutes, and then flies to another tree ; only one species is known. The natives regard it as a peculiar bird and never hurt it. In some summers the flocks of Pigeons ^ are numerous, and make sad havoc of the Straw and Raspberries, in other summers they are very few. The Rooks ^ arrive in the latter end of April. The Natives regard the time of their arrival as the sure sign that winter has passed away, and the mild weather set in. The British population in Canada call them Crows, which latter bird is not known in North America.
Two species of Eagle visit us, the large brown Eagle’ is seen in March, and gives it’s name to the Moon of this month ; it is merely a visitor, soars high, seldom alights, and then shows itself a most majestic bird ; it is sometimes shot, as the Natives set a high value on its plumage, and respect it as the master of all other birds ; from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other wing, it has been measured nine feet ; it’s talons are long, very curved and strong, and it strikes with great force ; it is supposed capable of carrying off a bird equal to it’s own weight, which is ten to twelve pounds, some have weighed fourteen pounds ; yet the great Eagle of the Plains is larger than these. The Gray Goose ^ is accounted a very swift bird on the wing, at a distance we perceived a flock of these geese pursued by an Eagle. The latter did not seem to gain much on the former, they passed about one hundred yards from us (out of shot), the Eagle was then close to them, and going a short distance further, it came up to the third goose from the rear, and with one of it’s claws, drove it’s talons thro’ the back of the goose close behind the wings, it fell as if shot, the Eagle stooped to take it, we ran and frightened it away ; and it kept on its flight after the other geese ; we picked up the goose, quite dead, the claws had perforated through the back bone over the heart. As they passed us, we remarked, the Eagle gained fast on the geese.
The Hawks in like manner strike the birds they prey on ; The Natives say the Eagle readily carries off Ducks and Hares, but the gray goose is too heavy for him, but he soon tears it to pieces with his sharp crooked beak ; the Fox will contend with the Hawks for the birds they kill in the great Marshes and plains, but never with the Eagle. The wolf tries for the prey of the latter, and is sure to be beaten.
The other species of Eagle is the White Headed,^ from the head and upper part of the neck being covered with white feathers which lie close on each other, it is called the bald- headed Eagle. I believe it to be peculiar to North America, the color of the rest of the neck, and of the body, is all the shades of a deep brown, with tinges of dark yellow. It lives mostly on fish, without any objection to a chance hare or duck. They are generally found in pairs, and build their nest in the branches of a poplar, close to the banks of a Lake, or River ; like the other species they lay only two, or three eggs, and rears it’s young with great care : as it is, compara- tively, slow of flight, although it’s wings extend seven to eight feet, it hovers over the surface of the water, [looking] for some fish of a weight that it can take out of the water, and carry off to it’s nest. That it is successful the old, and young eagles, attest by their fatness ; the inside fat is purgative, and when they feed on trout, highly so : their flesh is eaten by the Natives, as being more fat and juicy, and [they] prefer them to Grouse. They seize their prey by the back, between the fins, and if weighty, make for the shore ; and there with their beak cut off the head of the fish, and thus take it to the nest. It sometimes strikes a fish too weighty for it, in this case the fish carries the Eagle under water where it loosens it’s claws, and comes to the surface, its feathers all wet. It floats well, but as it cannot swim, is drifted to the shore by the wind or current, and must wait for it’s feathers to dry, before it can take flight.
There are five species of Hawk, three pass the winter.
They prey on everything they can master. There are four species of the owl, one of them is very small. Two of the others are large, one of these is called the great White Owl ; ^ it weighs from ten to twelve pounds : the other is the noted Horned Owl,^ so named from it’s having on each side of the head, stiff, erect, feathers in shape and size, like the ears of the White Fox ; it is a fine looking, grave bird, with large lustrous eyes, and in the dark sees remarkably well, and preys wholly in the night. They are easily tamed, I have often kept one during the winter ; it lived chiefly on mice, which it never attempts to swallow until it is sure it is dead, of this it judges by the animal ceasing to move ; perched on it’s stand, and a live mouse presented to it, with its formidable talons, it seized the mouse by the loins, and instantly carried it to its mouth, and crushed the head of the mouse ; still holding it in one of it’s claws, it watched till all motion ceased and then head foremost swallowed the mouse : often while the owl was watching the cessation of motion, with the end of a small willow, I have touched the head of the mouse, which instantly received another crush in it’s beak, and thus [it] continued till it was weary, when losening it’s claws, it seized the mouse by the head ; by giving motion to the body, it crushed it, and have thus vexed it until the body was in a pulp, yet the skin whole ; by leaving the Mouse quiet for about half a minute, it was swallowed ; from seve[ral] experiments I concluded that to carnivorous birds, the death of its prey is only known by the cessation of motion : like all other birds that swallow their prey whole, the hair, if an animal, or the feathers if a bird, are by some process in the stomach, rolled into hard, small, round balls, and ejected from the mouth with a slight force. The meat of the Owl is good and well tasted to hunters. The aquatic birds are more numerous, and in great variety : but they pass to the southward as the cold weather comes on. They arrive in the month of May, and leave us by the middle, or latter end of October, as the season may be. There are two species of Swan, the largest ^ weighs about twenty four pounds, the lesser ^ about fifteen, when fat. They lay from seven to nine eggs. When shot, twelve eggs have been counted in them ; but nine is the greatest number I have found in a nest, and also of the number they rear ; when fat they are good eating, but when poor the flesh is hard and dry. They are a shy bird, and their nests not often found : they frequent the lesser Lakes ; and seldom approach the shores. The Natives often shoot them in the night ; for this purpose, fir wood, split into laths, to burn freely, is made into small parcels, one of which is placed in an old kettle, or one made of wood, placed on a strong, short, stick, to keep it two, or three feet above the Canoe. When it is quite dark, two Indians embark, one steers the Canoe quietly, and steadily, towards the Swans, (they keep near each other ;) the other is in the bow of the Canoe, with his gun, and the torch wood ; which is lighted and soon in full blaze, and is kept in this state by the man in the bow ; as soon as the Swans perceive the fire, they commence, and continue their call of Koke, Koke. They appear aware of danger, but are fascinated by the fire, they keep calling and swimming half round, and back in the same place, gazing on the fire ; until the Canoe is within about thirty yards, when the bow man, by the light of the fire, levels his gun, and shoots the Swan nearest to him ; if he has two guns the other Swan is shot as he rises on his flight. Another mode by which the Swan is enticed within shot, is, the Indian lies down in some long grass rushes, or willows near the edge of the Lake, with a piece of very white birch rind in his hand, or fastened to a short stick ; this is made to show like a Swan, and the call made ; then drawn back ; then again shown ; thus it attracts the Swans who gently approach, to within shot ; this requires great patience, perhaps three, or four hours. It is more successful with a single Swan, than with a pair, or more. The several species of Geese I have akeady noticed : but very few breed in this region, and those only of the Gray Geese,^ they lay from eleven to thirteen Eggs ; which they will defend against the Fox and the Mink to no purpose, the Eggs are sure to be eaten and perhaps one of the geese.
There is a great variety of Ducks, some of them lay fifteen eggs. The young are reared with great care, in a heavy- shower of rain the young are all under their parents wings ; one variety builds in hollow trees, which it enters by a hole in the side of the tree ; and is named the Wood Duck.^ Two species of Crane ^ pass the open season, they make their nests among quagmire rushes, which cannot be approached ; they have about nine young, which are hidden until they are fully half grown. The Bittern^ is found among the rushes, reeds, and tall grass of the marshes. It does not weigh more than three, or four, pounds, and holding it’s long neck and bill erect it gives a hollow note, as loud almost as an Ox. And keeping itself hid, those not acquainted with it, are at a loss to know what animal it can be ; it takes it’s name from having on each breast a narrow stripe about two inches in length, of rough, raised, yellow skin, which is very bitter, and must be taken off, otherwise, this well tasted bird is too bitter to be eaten. Like the Crane, it lives on Roots, frogs and small lizards. Of the Plover, there are a few species, they are not plenty, the Boys kill them with their arrows. The water is the element of the Loon,^ on the land he is unable to walk, his legs being placed too far backwards, nor from the ground can he raise his flight, and is quite helpless ; but in the water, of all birds he is the most completely at home. He swims swiftly and dives well, going under water apparently with the same ease, as on the surface ; he has the power of placing his body at any depth, and when harassed in a small lake, places his body under water to be secure from the shot, leaving only his neck and head exposed and this he sinks to the head ; in any of these positions he remains at pleasure ; he prefers acting thus on the defensive, than flying away, for being very short winged, he has to go some thirty yards near the surface before he can raise his flight, and is so steady on the wing, that he is accounted a dead shot : the Loon is very destructive among the small fish, yet seldom fat : it lays only three eggs, when boiled, the inside appears streakedblack and yellow, and [they] are so ill tasted they cannot be eaten, it’s flesh is also bad. When on discovery to the north- ward, one evening on camping we found a Loons nest ; the eggs were taken, but were f ound not to be eatable : two Lads lay down near the nest, in the night the pair of Loons came, and missing their eggs, fell upon the Lads, screeching and screaming, and beating them with their wings ; the Lads thought themselves attacked by enemies, and roared out for help ; two of us threw off our blankets and seized our guns, the Loons seeing this returned to the Lake, we were at a loss what to think or do, the Lads were frightened out of their wits ; in a few minutes we heard the wild call of the Loons ; the Indian said it was the Loons, in revenge for the loss of their eggs ; and giving them his hearty curse of “ death be to you,” told us there was no danger, and the Loons left us quiet for the rest of the night. The Pelican ^ is represented as a solitary bird, it may be so in other countries ; but not in this region. They are always in pairs, or in flocks of five to twenty. This is the largest fishing bird in the country, it is occasionally shot, or knocked on the head for it’s feathers and pouch ; the color is a dirty white, the wings extend about seven and a half feet ; it’s height is about thirty to thirty four inches, of which the bill, which is straight, measures about fourteen inches, it is capacious, and under the bill and upper part of the throat is a pouch that will hold a full quart of water. This bird when measured from the end of the tail to the point of the beak is about five feet in length ; it’s tail feathers are used for arrows, and the pouch, when cleaned and dried, is used to keep tobacco and Bear’s weed for smoking ; The Pelican is very destructive among small fish to a pound in weight. It has a wide throat, and after filling it’s stomach, also fills it’s pouch, which becomes much distended, and half putrid, is, fish by fish, emptied into the throat. Such is it’s fishing habits in the morning, and the same in the afternoon ; they frequent the Rapids of small Streams, and when thus gorged sit close to each other in a line. In this state they are unable to fly, and when our voyage in canoes leads us among them, before they can rise, they have to disgorge the putrid fish in their pouches, the smell of which is so very bad, that we hury past as fast as possible ; the Black Bears, ^ who frequent the same Rapids, never injure them ; these birds are so impure, they are the bye word of the Natives and the Traders, There are two species of Cormorant,^ both of them very expert in fishing, their flesh and Eggs are almost as bad as those of the Loon ; There are also several species of the Merganser, or fishing Ducks, ^ altho’ they live on fish, yet both their flesh and eggs are eatable, when no better can be got : The three species of Gulls * conclude the list of birds that live on fish ; they are all good to eat, their eggs are good as those of a Duck, especi- ally the largest kind which is the size of a teal duck ; their young cannot fly until they are full grown, and as all the species are too light to dive, become an easy prey to the Eagle, the Hawk, and to Man : On some of the Islets in the Lakes, they breed in such numbers that the Native Women collect as many as their blankets can hold.
Ali the Animals of this Region are known to the civilized world, I shall therefore only give those traits of them which naturalists do not, or have not noticed in their discriptions .
There are two species of the Mouse, the common,^ and the field Mouse ^ with a short tail ; they appear to be numerous, and build a House where we will, as soon as it is inhabited they make their appearance ; but the country is clear of the plague of the Norway Rat,^ which, although he comes from England, part owner of the cargo, as yet has not travelled beyond the Factories at the sea side. The Ermine,^ this active little animal is an Ermine only in winter, in summer of a light brown color, he is most indefatigable after mice and small birds, and in the season, a plunderer of eggs ; wherever we build, some of them soon make their burrows, and some- times become too familiar. Having in June purchased from a Native about three dozen of Gull eggs, I put them in a room, up stairs, a plain flight of about eight feet. The Ermine soon found them, and having made a meal of one egg, was determined to carry the rest to his burrow for his young ; I watched to see how he would take the eggs down stairs ; holding an egg between his throat and two fore paws, he came to the head of the stairs ; there he made a long stop, at a loss how to get the egg down without breaking it, his resolu- tion was taken, and holding fast to the egg dropped down to the next stair on his neck and back ; and thus to the floor, and carried it to his nest : he returned and brought two more eggs in the same manner ; while he was gone for the fourth, I took the three eggs away ; laying down the egg he brought, he looked all around for the others, standing on his hind legs and chattering, he was evidently in a fighting humour ; at length he set off and brought another, these two I took away, and he arrived with the sixth egg, which I allowed him to keep ; he was too fatigued to go for another.
The next morning he returned, but the eggs were in a basket out of his reach, he knew where they were but could not get at them, and after chattering awhile, had to look for other prey. In winter we take the Ermine in small traps for the skin, which is valued to ornament dresses.
There are two separate species of Squirrel, the common ^ and the flying Squirrel,^ the former burrows under the roots of large Pines, from which he has several outlets, [so] that when the Marten, or the Fox dig for him, he has a safe egress, and escapes up the tree with surprising agility, where he is safe. The flying Squirrel is about one fifth larger, and of the same color, it’s name arises from a hairy membrane, which on each side extends from the fore to the hind leg : and which it extends when leaping from tree to tree ; this latter builds it’s nest in the trees ; they both feed on the cones of the Pine, using only those in a dry state ; they are numerous ; their elegant forms, agile movements, and chatterings, very much reheve the silence of the Pine Forests. The haunts of the Marten^ are confined to the extensive forests of Pine, especially the thickest parts, they are of the size of a large cat, but of a more compact and stronger make ; the color brown, the deeper color the more valuable, some few approach to a black color ; two he, or three she Martens, in trade are of the value of one Beaver. They are always on the hunt of mice, squirrels and birds : They are caught in traps, already described ; and as their skins are valuable, and their flesh good, they are trapped by the Natives and the Men of the Factories : the best bait for them is the head of a Grouse with the feathers on ; or the head of a hare ; even the leg of a hare is preferred to a bait of frozen meat, which he seldom takes. Among the Natives the snareing of hares, and trapping of Martens are the business of the Women, and become their property for trade. The White Men sometimes make ranges of Marten Traps for the length of forty or fifty miles, at about six to eight traps p’ mile : in this case the Trapper makes a hut of Pine Branches about every ten miles, which length of traps is as much as he can manage in a day ; the trapping is most successful in the month of November and early part of December : and the months of February and March, after which the skin soon becomes out of season.
At each hut the Trapper ought to leave a stock of fire wood sufficient for the next night he passes there, as he frequently does not arrive until the daylight is gone, and cutting wood in the night is dangerous. An old acquaintance who had a long range of traps, had neglected to leave fire wood at the hut at the end of the range, arriving late in the evening had to cut fire wood for the night, with all his caution a twig caught the axe and made the blow descend on his foot, which was cut from the little toe, to near the instep ; he felt the blood gushing, but finished cutting the wood required ; having put everything in order, he took off his shoe and the two blanket socks, tore up a spare shirt, and bound up the wound, using for salve a piece of tallow ; he was six days journey from the Factory and alone ; the next morning, having mended his shoe and socks he got them on, but how to march forward was the difficulty ; a hut with firewood at the end of every ten miles along the range was some encourage- ment ; having tied his blankets and little baggage on the flat sled which every Trapper has, with pain he tied his foot to the snow shoe, then tied a string to the bar of the snow- shoe, the other end in his hand, thus set off alone, to perform a winter journey of about one hundred and twenty miles, hauling a sled, and with one hand lifting his wounded foot, the Snow Shoe was steady and soft on the snow ; the first mile made him stop several times, and shook his resolution ; but continuing his foot became less painful and could easily be borne ; he had so much of the spirit of the Trapper in him that he could not pass a trap in which a Marten was caught without taking it out, although it added to the weight he was hauling : In the evening he arrived at the first hut, put every thing in order, lighted his fire, and sat down, and as he told me, [was] more proud of the fortitude of the day, than of any day of his life ; he slept well, his foot did not swell ; and the next morning, with some pain [he] renewed his journey to the second hut ; and thus to the fifth hut. During these days he had the trapping path to walk on, which was soft and steady ; he had now about sixty miles to go without a path ; he had now to hang up the Martens and everything he could do without, boil the bark of the Larch Tree which lies close to the wood, beat it to a soft poultice and lay it on the woimd ; his sled was now light and his hand regular in lifting his foot and snow shoe ; in five days he arrived at the Factory having suffered much each evening in getting firewood : during all this time of traveling his foot was not in the least swelled ; when at the Factory he thought he would be at his ease, but this was not the case, his foot became swollen, with considerable pain, and for a month he had to make use of a crutch.
I have often tried to tame the Marten, but could never trust him beyond his chain : to one which I kept some time, I brought a small hawk slightly wounded, and placed it near him, he seemed willing to get away ; and did not like it ; two days after I winged a middle sized owl, and brought it to him, he appeared afraid of it, and would willingly have run away, but did not dare to cease watching it. Shortly after I found a Hare in one of the snares just taken. I brought it alive to near the Marten, he became much agitated, the skin of his head distorted to a ferocious aspect, he chattered, sprung to the Hare, as if with mortal hatred ; this appeared to me strangely unaccountable, all this state of excitement against a weak animal it’s common prey. Walking quickly through the Forest to visit the snares and traps, I have several times been amused with the Marten trying to steal the Hare, suspended by a snare from a pole ; the Marten is very active, but the soft snow does not allow him to spring more than his own height above the surface ; the Hare is suspended full five feet above the surface ; determined to get the Hare, he finds the pole to which the Hare is hanging, and running along the pole, when near the small end, his weight over balances the other end, and the Marten is pre- cipitated into the snow with the hare, before he recovers, the pole has risen with the Hare out of his reach ; he would stand on his hind feet, chatter at the hare with vexation ; return to the Pole, to try to get the hare, to be again plunged in the snow ; how long he would have continued, I do not know, the cold did not allow me to remain long ; seeing me, he ran away.
The Lynx^ may be regarded as a very large cat, readily climbs trees, and preys on Mice, Hares, Squirrels and Birds, it’s habits are those of a Cat : it is a shy animal ; it’s skin is not much worth, the skin being thin and weak ; the Natives take this animal in a trap, in which is a wisp of grass rolled round some Castorum and the oil stones of the Beaver,^ against this he rubs his head, displaces the stick which suspends the trap, and he is caught ; by the same means he is caught in a snare ; while rubbing his head he purrs like a cat. The flesh is white and good, and makes a good roast.
His fine large lustrous eyes have been noticed by naturalists, and other writers, they are certainly beautiful, but better adapted to the twilight, than the glare of the sunshine. I am inclined to think that the habits of the Fox are better known in Europe than to us, for in populous countries it requires all his wits and wiles to preserve his life. The Wolverene,^ is an animal unknown to other parts of the world, and we would willingly dispense with his being round here.
It is a strong, well made, powerful animal; his legs short, armed with long sharp claws, he climbs trees with ease and nothing is safe that he can get at ; by nature a plunderer, and mischievous, he is the plague of the country.
A party of six men were sent to square timber for the Factory, and as usual left their heavy axes where they were working, when they went to the tent for the night. One morning the six axes were not to be found, and as they knew there was no person within many miles of them they were utterly at a loss what to think or do. They were all from the very north of Scotland, and staunch believers in ghosts, fairies and such like folk, except one ; at length one of them who thought himself wiser than the rest, addressed his un- believing companion, “ Now Jamie, you infidel, this comes of your laughing at ghosts and fairies, I told you that they would make us suffer for it, here now all our axes are gone and if a ghost has not taken them, what has .’’ “ Jamie was sadly puzzled what to say, for the axes were gone ; fortu- nately the Indian lad who was tenting with them, to supply them with grouse came to them ; they told him all their axes were taken away, upon looking about he perceived the footmarks of a Wolverene, and told them who the thief was, which they could not believe until tracking the Wolverene, he found one of the axes hid under the snow : in like manner three more were found, the others were carried to some distance and took two hours to find them, they were all hidden separately, and to secure their axes they had to shoulder them every evening to their tent. During the winter hunt, the feathers of the birds are the property of the hunters ; and those of the white Grouse sell for six pence a pound to the Officer’s of the ship, we gave our share to Robert Tennant, whom we called Old Scot. He had collected the feathers of about 300 grouse in a canvas bag, and to take it to the Factory, tied it on the Dog’s sled, but some snow having fallen in the night, the hauling was heavy ; and after going a short distance the bag of feathers had to be left, which was suspended to the branch of a tree ; On our return we were surprized to see feathers on the snow, on coming to the tree on which we had hung the bag we found a wolverene had cut it down, torn the bag to pieces, and scattered the feathers so as hardly to leave two together. He was too knowing for a trap but [was] killed by a set Gun. In trapping of Martens, ranges of traps sometimes extend forty miles, or more. An old trapper always begins with a Wolverene trap, and at the end of every twenty traps makes one for the Wolverene, this is a work of some labor, as the trap must be strongly made and well loaded, for this strong animal, his weight is about that of an english Mastiff, but more firmly made ; his skin is thick, the hair coarse, of a dark brown color, value about ten shillings, but to encourage the natives to kill it, [it] is valued at two beavers, being four times it’s real value.
Of the three species of Wolf,^ only one is found in this stony region that I have described, and this species appears pecullar to this region ; it is the largest of them, and by way of convenience is called the Wood, or Forest Wolf, as it is not found elsewhere ; it’s form and color [is] much the same as the others, of a dark grey, the hair, though not coarse, cannot be called soft and fine, it is in plenty, and with the skin makes warm clothing. It is a solitary animal. Two are seldom seen together except when in chase of some animal of the Deer species. Fortunately they are not numerous, they are very rarely caught in a trap, but redily take the bait of a set Gun, and [are] killed. The cased skin of one of these Wolves, came with ease over a man of six feet, two inches in height dressed in his winter clothing, and was ten inches above his head, yet powerful and active as he is, he is not known to attack mankind, except in a rare case of some- thing like canine madness, and his bite does not produce hydrophobia. At least it never has been so among the Natives, and the dogs bitten by him, only suffer the pain of the bite. Foxes have sometimes this canine madness or some- thing like it, but hydrophobia is wholly unknown. Two of these Wolves are a full match of either the Moose,^ or Rein Deer,^ the only two species found in this region. When they start one of these Deer, they are left far behind, but the Deer must stop to feed, they then come up to, and again start the Deer, and thus continue until the animal, harrassed for want of food and rest becomes weak and turns to bay in this state ready to defend itself with it’s powerful feet. The wolves cautiously approach, one going close in front to threaten an attack, yet keeping out of the reach of it’s fore feet. The other wolf goes behind, keeping a little on one side to be out of the direct stroke of the hind feet ; and watching, gives a sharp bite to cut the back sinew of one of the hind legs, this brings on a smart stroke of the hind legs of the Deer, but the wolf is on one side, and repeats his bites until the back sinew is cut, the Deer can now no longer defend itself, the back sinew of the other hind leg is soon cut, the Deer falls down and becomes the easy prey of the Wolves ; the tongue and the bowels are the first to be devoured. From the teeth of the old Wolves being sharp pointed, it does not appear they knaw the bones, but only clean them of the flesh, and in this state we find the bones. The Deer in summer sometimes takes to the water, but this only prolongs his life for a few hours. They are very destructive to the young deer ; and their loud bowlings in the night make the Deer start from their beds and run to a greater distance.
When wounded, he will defend himself, but tries to get away, and dies as hard as he lived. There is something in the erect form of man, while he shows no fear, that awes every animal.
The animals described in this Stony Region are few in pro- portion to the extent of country, the Natives with all their address can only collect furrs sufficient to purchase the necessaries of life ; and part of their clothing is of leather in summer, very disagreeable in rainy weather, and the avidity with which the furr bearing animals is sought, almost threatens their extinction ; the birds of passage may be as numerous as ever, comparatively only a very few can be killed as they pass, and the Natives acknowledge, that with all their endeavours they can barely subsist by the chase, even when making use of all the animals they catch for food.Last Updated (Thursday, 02 December 2010 00:43
Copyright Jacob Romeyn March 2008