AN ACCOUNT OF A JOURNEY OVERLAND FROM CANADA TO BRITISH COLUMBIA DURING THE SUMMER OF 1862, EMBRACING A GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY, TOGETHER WITH THE VARIOUS INCIDENTS, DIFFICULTIES AND DANGERS ENCOUNTERED; FOR CIRCULATION IN THE EASTERN BRITISH COLONIES. BY MR. THOMAS MCMICKING, OF QUEENSTON, CANADA WEST.
To the Editor of the British Columbian
New Westminster, B.C.
November 1Oth, 1862
DEAR SIR,---Since the rich discoveries of gold in this Country have invested every thing and every place near it with new interest, and have turned the attention of the Eastern World to consider the easiest, quickest and cheapest road for reaching it, a description of the Overland Route, as we found it, may not be uninteresting to your readers here, and through your exchanges to the people of the East. I purpose then, with your permission, to give through your columns a few particulars of our journey, together with a description of the country through which we passed, the difficulties we overcame, the dangers we escaped, the losses we sustained and other matters connected with the route.
The party with whom your correspondent was more immediately connected was organized at Queenston, C.W., and consisted of the following twenty-four men, viz: Archibald Thompson, Stratford; John Bowland [Boland], Queenston; F.C. Fitzgerald, St. Catherines; James Willox, St. Davids; Leonard Crysler, Niagara; Joseph Robinson, Queenston; Robert Brownlee, St. Catherines; Robert Harkness, Iroquois; I.D. Putnam, Ingersoll; James Rose, St. Davids; William Gilbert, Queenston; Dobson D. Prest, Queenston; Thomas Murphy, Stamford; R.H. Wood, Niagara; A.M. Connell, Queenston; John Hunneford [Hunniford], St. Catherines; Simeon E. Cummer, St. Davids; Samuel W. Chubbuck, Queenston; W.H.G. Thompson, Niagara; John Fannin, Kemptville; Robert McMicking, Stamford; W. Fortune, St. Davids; Peter Marlow, Queenston; and Tbomas McMicking, Queenston. Our personal outfit, varying of course according to the judgement or fancy of the individual, and the cost of which will not be reckoned in our list of expenses, consisted generally in one good strong suit, from three to six changes of under-clothing, a pair of knee boots and a pair of shoes, a rubber coat and a pair of blankets; and [we were] armed with a rifle, revolver and bowie knife. Besides these every one was provided with a few drugs and patent medicines, and such other little articles as each considered necessary.
Thus equipped, after bidding an affectionate farewell to the "loved ones at home," we started on our hazardous and difficult journey on the 23rd day of April last. Our party were in the best possible spirits, and full of bright hopes for the future. We left St. Catherines by the Great Western Railway at 11:40, A.M., and arrived at Windsor, 229 miles from home, at 10, P.M. We had taken the precaution to provide ourselves with a certificate from the Custom House at Queenston, and armed with this we had no difficulty in transporting ourselves and our goods into Uncle Sam's dominions. We crossed over immediately to Detroit where we remained until the next morning, the 24th. At 10:15, A.M., we left Detroit by the Detroit and Milwaukie Railway, and arrived at Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan, 186 miles from Detroit, at 8, P.M. Here we took passage immediately by the steamer Detroit, and arrived at Milwaukie, 86 miles from Grand Haven, at 2 o'clock on the following morning. Here we stopped until 5 o'clock, P.M., when we left by the Milwaukie and Lacrosse Railway and arrived at Lacrosse on the Mississippi River, 201 miles from Milwaukie, at 10 o'clock, P.M., on the 26th, having been detained eight hours by a break in the railway, 4 miles from Portage City. At Lacrosse we embarked on board the steamer Frank Steele, and at 2 o'clock began the ascent of the "Father of Waters." The Mississippi was at this time very high and overflowed a great extent of country on both sides of the river. We ought to have reached St. Paul on the night of the 26th, but owing to sundry delays, whether accidental or intentional, we did not arrive until 10 o'clock on the evening of the 27th.
Although at so great a distance from them that it is only just possible that it will reach them or the public who travel by that way, yet I must be allowed, on behalf of our party, to enter my protest against the treatment we received from the officers of the Frank Steele. By an arrangement with the railway managers, in consideration of the number of our party, we were furnished with through tickets to St. Paul, securing to us first class accommodation, at second class rates. We had been treated with uniform courtesy by all parties until we went aboard the boat; but here we were crowded together between the decks, where we had no room to lie down, and refused provisions, although we offered to pay for them, what ever they might ask.
When we left home we did not know that we should have the company of any others besides
our own party; but upon arriving at St. Paul we found a great many from different parts of Canada already there, and others continually coming, upon a common errand with ourselves. We found St. Paul a thriving city. Here we purchased our groceries, mining tools, tents, dishes, &c. Our course from St. Paul was by Burbank & Co.'s stages to Georgetown on the Red River; and from the limited accommodation for carrying passengers, and the great number wishing to go, we did not leave St. Paul until the 2nd day of May. Our first day's drive brought us to St. Cloud on the Upper Mississippi, 77 miles from St. Paul. This is a busy little town, and growing rapidly. Some of our company bought their flour and bacon here for the journey. The next day we drove 62 miles and camped for night at Sauk Centre, a stage station on Burbank's road. The country on the road from St. Paul to this point is a beautiful rolling prairie with occasional strips of wood-land, is tolerably well settled, and appears to be a good farming county. The farmers were just sowing their spring crops as we passed through. The climate was becoming sensibly colder as our course was nearly due north, and during the next day we passed several small lakes covered with ice, and heavy banks of snow were still lying along the sides of the hills. We camped for the night at Pomme-de-terre, 63 miles from Sauk Centre. The next day's drive brought us to Graham's Point, on Red River, 55 miles from our last camping place. Here we had to remain until Wednesday the 7th of May, as we had overtaken some of those who started before us, and the stage could not carry us all at once. We then started again and drove to Lewiston, another station on Red River, having only made 38 miles. The next day brought us to Georgetown, 25 miles from Lewiston, and 320 from St. Paul. Georgetown is situated on the Red River, at the present head of steam navigation, and only contains a tavern, a storehouse belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, a residence for the H.B. Co.'s agent, a barracks for about 30 U.S. soldiers, and one or two other small houses-all of logs.
Before leaving home we had made enquiries from Messrs. J.C. Burbank & Co., the proprietors of the boat, respecting the navigation of the Red River, and were informed that the new steamer International would positively leave Georgetown, on her first trip for Fort Garry, on the 10th day of May, and we timed our arrival there accordingly. But to our great disappointment upon reaching Georgetown we found that the boat was not yet finished. While we were waiting for the boat Governor Dallas of the Hudson Bay Company, with his family, on their way to Fort Garry, arrived at Georgetown. He visited our camp there, gave us much valuable information respecting the country thro' which we were intending to travel, and kindly offered to do what he could to assist and protect us while within H.B. Territory. I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without thus publicly thanking the H.B. Company, and particularly Governor Dallas, for their uniform kindness to our party while on their way.
During the time we were waiting at Georgetown parties for the overland trip to British Columbia were continually arriving, so that by the time the steamer was ready to sail about 150 were on hand. We did not leave Georgetown until the 20th day of May, having waited there twelve days. The water in Red River at this time was unusually high, with strong currents setting across the points among the timber. The boat being somewhat unmanageable, it was found immpossible to keep her in the channel, and we had not gone more than two miles before she ran among the timber, tearing down both her smoke pipes and damaging her slightly in other respects. This was rather discouraging after waiting so long, but it was only the beginning of our troubles on the Red River. This was about 2 o'clock on the afternoon of the 20th, and the boat was not ready to sail again until 10 o'clock of the 21st. At this time we started again, but had only gone a short distance when, at 3 o'clock, the engine gave out. This being repaired, we made a short run before dark, when, as usual, we tied up for the night. On the morning of the 22nd the wind blew pretty strong, and Capt. Noble did not think it advisable to sail before 4 o'clock, P.M. About 7 o'clock, in backing up to turn one of the short bends, she ran against the bank and damaged her wheel, so that another delay was necessary. The 23d was passed with accident.
The 24th, being Her Majesty's birth-day, was celebrated on board the International, although within United States territory, by raising the Union jack, firing a salute, and by a social dinner, at which toasts, speeches and songs were the order; and the manner in which the celebration was received proves the deep attachment of Canadians, under all circumstances, to our Gracious Sovereign. On the 25th we were delayed two hours by a break in the rudder, and reached Pembina, near the boundary line, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Here we stopped for a short time, and at 5:30 we crossed the 49th parallel and entered the British Possessions. During the day we passed several groups of Indians, who greeted our approach by firing guns, shouting, running, jumping, and other violent gesticulations. These demonstrations were interpreted by some as signals of welcome; by others as tokens of hostility and defiance. From the tragic scenes that have recently been enacted in that neighborhood, it would seem that the latter opinion was correct, although they were probably prevented from making an attack by the presence of so many armed men on board.
On the morning of the 26th we were informed that we were fifty (50) miles from Fort Garry by land, and about 110 miles following the course of the river, and that we should reach the fort during the day. This information appeared to infuse new life into the company, and to revive the spirits of those who had already begun to despair of ever reaching the end of a journey so inauspiciously begun. All parties were accordingly early on the move, arranging baggage and freight for unshipping, or keeping a keen lookout for the expected fort. We met the first portion of the settlement about 30 miles above the fort. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon we sighted the fort, from which a salute was fired, as the boat entered the mouth of the Assiniboine, in honor of the arrival of the new steamer, and bidding a kindly welcome to the "overlanders." As the vessel neared her moorings the salute was answered by a volley from about 150 rifles on board the boat. It appeared as though all "Selkirk," by whom our arrival was expected, were there, in their holiday attire, to receive us; and it was an occasion that will long be remembered by them, as inaugurating a new era in the history of the colony. I ought to have stated that Governor Dallas did not wait for the boat at Georgetown, but proceeded overland on horseback, accompanied by Mr. McKay, the celebrated guide; and, reaching Garry before us, had announced our coming and made preparations for our reception. We were honored with the company of Lady Dallas down the river. We landed at 5 o'clock, having been over six days in making what ought to have been accomplished in two.
Upon reaching the fort we found that, with those who had come down the river in canoes or overland, besides residents of the settlement who were intending to go with us, our company was increased to about 200 souls. Our next business was to gain all the information possible respecting the trails across the plains, and the different passes over the mountains, as we had not yet fully decided which pass we should take. For this purpose we had frequent meetings and consultations among our own company, and several interviews with Governor Dallas; Mr. McTavish [Mactavish], master of Fort Garry; Mr. Christie, master of Edmonton, who happened to be in the settlement; Bishop Tache; Timoleon Love, who crossed the mountains from this country in 1860; John Whiteford [Whitford?l, the guide, and others. After much deliberation it was agreed to make the Edmonton House our next point, and leave the selection of the route beyond until we should know more about it from the people living there.
We now discovered that the delays we had suffered hitherto were rather an advantage than otherwise, and that our only mistake was in leaving home by three or four weeks too early, as the feed on the plains would not have been sufficiently up to have allowed us to have left Fort Garry sooner. Our next care was to procure a guide upon whom we could rely, and as we had so often heard of parties being deserted by their guides in different places, we determined to approach the subject with very great caution. In pursuance of this plan, we made an engagement with one Charles Rochette, a French half-breed, to conduct us to the Edmonton House; and, as he was strongly recommended by Bishop Tache as a trustworthy guide, we supposed we had secured the very man we wanted; but with what results the sequel will show. We were to pay him one hundred dollars for his services, one-half of which was deposited with the Bishop, to be handed to Rochette when he should return with a certificate from us that he had fulfilled his engagement; and the balance was to be paid him upon our arrival at Edmonton.
In the meantime some of our number were engaged in purchasing horses, oxen, harness, provisions, and such things as were necessary to complete our outfit. This was in some cases a rather slow operation, not that there was any scarcity of the articles in the settlement, but the extraordinary demand induced many of them to ask more than we considered them worth. We succeeded in buying horses at an average of about forty dollars each, oxen thirty dollars, carts eight dollars, and harness four dollars. There were a few very good animals among the horses, but the majority were of a very ordinary description. Oxen were however more generally used, and we found them all noble animals, possessed of great endurance, and rapid travellers. The Red River carts were odd looking affairs, constructed wholly of wood, without even a nail for a fastening, and, before we became accustomed to their appearance, were the occasion of many a joke. The harness is made of raw buffalo hide, and served a very good purpose while we kept it dry, but was somewhat troublesome on account of its stretching if it happened to get wet.
Our provision consisted chiefly of flour and pemican, which we bought principally from the Hudson Bay Company at the rate of $3.90 per 112 lbs. for flour, and six cents per lb. for pemican. The flour, which was manufactured in the settlement, was a good, sound, wholesome
article, but somewhat dark and coarse. From the samples of wheat that we saw, the produce of the colony, with proper mills number one flour ought to be made. Pemican is prepared buffalo meat, and is made in the following manner: as soon as the animal is killed the lean portion of it is separated from the fat, and cut into thin strips, which, after being roasted over the fire, are thoroughly dried in the sun until they become quite hard and brittle. It is then spread out on the skin of the animal and beaten with flails until it is quite fine. This is then put into sacks made of the green hide, with the hair side outward, and containing about one hundred pounds, and the fat, after being rendered, is poured over it while hot. The bag is then firmly sewed up, and the pemican is fit for use. Although not a particle of salt is used in its preparation, it will keep in this way for years. But few of our party could eat it at first, its very appearance and the style in which it is put up being apt to prejudice one against it; but all by degrees cultivated a taste for it, so that before we reached the mountains it not only became palatable but was considered, by most of us, an absolute luxury. It is the principal, and in many cases the only food used by the employees of the Hudson Bay Company, and, indeed by all the inhabitants of that territory, and is found to be wholesome and nutritious, and admirably adapted to the country.
We found the Red River Colony a considerable settlement, extending along the banks of the river from about thirty miles above Fort Garry to the mouth of the river, and along the Assiniboine westward for about twenty miles. It contains some ten thousand inhabitants, the great majority of whom are half-breeds. The settlement is under the government of the Hudson Bay Company, and the administration of their laws appears hitherto to have given general satisfaction. But the time has arrived when they are no longer suited to the necessities or desires of the people, and they are earnest and united in their appeals for the establishment of some kind of responsible government in which they can have a voice. They demand that the Imperial, or Canadian, Government shall open up for them some better communication with the rest of the world; and, from the strong feelings so freely expressed to us upon the subject, it is very evident that, unless something be done to change their circumstances, they will seek some other national relationship.
The soil appears to be well adapted to the production of nearly all the cereals and vegetables common to the temperate zones; but one is forcibly struck while passing through the country by the indifferent manner in which it is cultivated, or rather by the total want of cultivation. This unsatisfactory state of affairs is induced by the want of a market for their surplus produce, when they have any, by the absence of all competition, and by the ease with which they can obtain a subsistence without labor, the rich plains affording unlimited pasturage for their herds.
But let them be supplied with a market such as they had for the short time that our party remained with them, and the country would soon present a very different aspect. Society there seems to be in a sort of semiorganized condition, and a great many remains of Indian customs and practices are observable in the habits of the people; indeed it is said that the Indian manners are rather being revived.
From the difficulty experienced in procuring an outfit for so large a party, our start from Fort Garry was likely to be delayed considerably if we waited until every one was ready; it was therefore agreed that as each separate party were ready they should move slowly on in order to obtain good feed for their animals, that they should rendezvous at White Horse Plains, 25 miles from Garry, and there wait for the balance of the company and be prepared to start from that point on Thursday morning the 8th of June. On Sabbath, the first day of June, religious services, specially arranged for our company, were held in the Court House at the fort, and were conducted by the Rev. G.O. Corbet [Corbett], of the English church, in the afternoon, and by the Rev. John Black, of the free Presbyterian church, in the evening. Both these services were peculiarly interesting and appropriate, and very acceptable to the company. An unusual excitement was produced in our camp this afternoon, by a person shouting from the bank of the Assiniboine that a man was drowning in the river. We at first supposed that it must be some one of our own company who had incautiously ventured beyond his depth while bathing, and everyone rushed to the scene of the disaster, each anxiously enquiring after the other, when it was ascertained that the unfortunate man was one Anderson, a servant of the Hudson Bay Company.
On Monday the 2nd day of June, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, according to our arrangement with other parties, we started from Fort Garry, having one ox and cart for every two men, and each loaded with about 800 lbs. We found this rather too heavy a load for our animals where ever the road was rough and hilly, and especially towards night, after a long day's drive, although they could draw it with apparent ease upon smooth and level roads. About 600 lbs. would have been sufficient both for the comfort of the animals and the safety of the cart. Our course was nearly due west from Fort Garry, the trail following up the Assiniboine, but generally at some little distance from the river. The Assiniboine, which flows into the Red River at Fort Garry, is a considerable stream, and is navigable for small craft for some distance above Fort Ellice. Its waters, which are very muddy and run with a strong current, have worn for themselves a deep channel in the soft and mellow soil through which they flow. It, in common with most of the streams in that territory, is bordered by a strip of timber on each side, consisting chiefly of poplar and elm. During the day we passed several very comfortable residences, two of which, namely, those of Mr. James McKay, the guide before mentioned, and John Roan, his brother-in-law, would be a credit to any country. But few of the inhabitants speak the English language; and our attempts to gather information from them were frequently frustrated on that account. They represented the season as being unusually dry and unfavorable for the growth of their crops, which appeared to be about as far advanced as the same crops would be in Canada about the middle of May. They consisted principally of oats, barley and spring wheat. We camped the first night at Sturgeon Creek, 7 miles from Fort Garry. Here we found abundance of feed for our cattle.
We started the next morning, the 3d, at 9 o'clock, having been delayed until that hour in searching for some of our horses which had strayed some distance from our camp, and halted for the night at 6:30, at White Horse Plains, where there is a trading post of the Hudson Bay Company. As this was the place of rendezvous agreed upon, we remained here until 3 o'clock, P.M. on Wednesday, when but few of the parties having arrived, it was thought advisable to move slowly on a short distance further. We were informed by our guide that we would find water about 3 miles from White Horse Plains, and we determined to drive to that point and camp for the night. Not dreaming that there could be any mistake about this information, we did not take the precaution to fill our water-kegs before starting, and having driven seven or eight miles without finding water, it became a question whether we should go on or retrace our steps to White Horse Plains. After some consultation we decided to proceed, hoping that we would soon meet with water, for as the evening was very warm both our animals and ourselves had become very thirsty.
Our road now lay across a wide, open prairie, and as it had become quite dark we were obliged to trust to our oxen to follow the trail. After travelling along in this way for some time we began to entertain serious apprehensions that we were on the wrong track, and at midnight a halt was ordered for a little, to consider what was best to be done. With many of the party the thirst had become almost intolerable, and the majority preferred enduring the fatigue of a still longer march to camping where we were without water. We accordingly moved on, and had marched a considerable distance in silence, every one bearing his trouble like a Briton, when suddenly, above the creaking of our carts, the shrill notes of the sweetest music rang out on the midnight air. It was the song of the bull-frog, that had borrowed its melody from the fact that it indicated our approach to water. These indications were soon confirmed by the welcome word from the front, "Water ahead." Upon coming up we found that we had reached Long Lake, where we camped at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 5th, and though our party were generally considered temperate at home, we might without slander be accused of hard drinking on that occasion. We had travelled eleven hours without rest, and not being inured to walking, we were very tired. After coming into camp we discovered that two of our party were missing, and they did not reach our camp until 9 o'clock. In wandering in search of water they had missed the track, and in the darkness of the night were unable to find it again.
As many parties had now arrived, it was considered prudent to complete our organization before proceeding further. Upon calling a general meeting it was found that the following parties and numbers were present, viz: Queenston, containing 24 men; St. Thomas, 21; Huntingdon, 19; Ottawa, 8; Toronto, 7; Montreal, 7; Ogdensburg, N.Y., 7; Red River settlement, 7, including Mrs. Augustus Schubert and three children; Acton, 6; Whitby, 6; Waterloo, 6; Scarborough, 5; London, 5; Goderich, 5; and Chatham, 3; making 136 in all; and with those who overtook us subsequendy our party was increased to about 150 before reaching Edmonton. The remainder of those who were with us at Fort Garry, comprising the St. Peters, or Doctor Symington's party, the Toronto party, under Capt. Redgrave, and the Huron party, and numbering about 50 men, followed us in two companies, but neither of them succeeded in overtaking us. After considerable deliberation the following regulations were adopted by the company: A captain was to be elected by the whole company, to whom was to be entrusted the general management of the train, so far as the time for starting, the order of the different parties in the train, the rate of travelling, the time for halting, the arrangement of the camp, &c., are concerned; the guide was under his special direction, and he was to be the only means of communication with the Indians, should we meet any on our way. In the discharge of these duties he was to be assisted by a committee composed of one member from each of the separate parties comprised in the company.
T.McMicking, of the Queenston party, was then chosen Captain, and the different parties were represented on the Committee as follows: Queenston, Mr. W.H.G. Thompson; St. Thomas, Mr. Hutchinson; Huntingdon, Mr. Wattie; Ottawa, Mr. Jos. Halfpenny [Halpenny]; Toronto, Mr. Wallace; Montreal, Mr. Morrow; Ogdensburg, Mr. T. Phillips; Acton, Mr. Fortune; Whitby, Mr. Simpson; Waterloo, Mr. Broklebank; Scarborough, Mr. Hough; London, Mr. Urlin, and Goderich, Mr. A.C. Robertson. These matters having been arranged, it was ordered that the largest party should take the lead in the train and that the remaining parties should follow in the order of their size, that the following day the leading party should go to the rear, the second party leading, and so on in rotation until each party had its turn on the lead. The object of this order was to prevent jealousy, the first place in the train being considered the best, both for procuring game and passing over soft places in the road before it was worked up too deep by driving over it.
Everything being ready we started from Long Lake at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, with ninety-seven carts and about one hundred and ten animals, some of them being used under the saddle, besides a few spare ones for relieving those in harness in case of accident. So large a company made a very imposing appearance as it "dragged its slow length along" over the plain, and when marshalled in close order extended a distance of over half a mile. Our march was now conducted with great regularity, and, excepting an occasional break in our carts or harness, we had but few delays. When an accident of this kind happened to anyone he was ordered to turn out of the train and repair immediately, for which purpose we had provided ourselves with tools, and then take his place at the rear of the train, so as not to disturb the order of the rest. We camped that night about sundown, at a small lake on the open prairie, without a single, tree or bush in sight. Our guide expected to find plenty of water here, but owing to the dryness of the season we had some difficulty in getting enough for ourselves and our animals. Nearly all the water we used during the first part of our journey was procured from stagnant ponds, and very little of it was fit to be used without careful straining and boiling.
All parties acquainted with the country, and with whom we had conversed upon the subject, were unanimous in recommending us to use the greatest caution, both upon our march during the day and especially while camped at night, in order to guard against the Indians who are continually roaming over these plains. We were informed that should they make any demonstrations it would be more likely for the purpose of stealing our animals than with any design against our persons. Our camp was therefore arranged in a triangular shape, the carts forming a corral, being drawn up side by side with the shafts outward, and our oxen were tied inside of this enclosure, each to his own cart. The tents were then pitched on the outside, each party occupying the ground opposite to their carts. Six men were appointed to watch at a time, two being stationed on each side of the triangle. The first watch began at 10 o'clock, and was changed every two hours. During the first part of our journey the night was divided into three watches, the camp being roused at 4 o'clock so as to be ready to start at five o'clock, allowing one hour for preparing and eating breakfast. We usually drove till 11 o'clock when we halted for dinner-started again after dinner at 2 o'clock, and camped for night at 6 o'clock, making 10 hours of travelling each day. A little experience however soon convinced us that six hours drive in the forenoon without feed was too much for our cattle, and when the nights became very short we arranged it in this way. We set only two watches during the night, waked the camp at half past 2 o'clock, started at 3 without breakfast, drove till 5, halted 2 hours to feed our animals and breakfast, started again at 7 and drove till 11, when we halted for dinner, making 10 hours a day as before, but [the drive] was performed apparently with much greater ease. Our average rate of travelling was about two and a half miles per hour.
On Friday the 6th we stopped for dinner at Prairie Portage [Portage la Prairie], a trading station of the Hudson Bay Company, and camped for the night at a small lake. So far our road was good, and nearly the whole distance over open prairie. The character of the country passed on Saturday was somewhat different from what we had previously seen. We crossed several small streams of clear, cold water, with high, steep banks, down which we had to steady our carts with ropes, and a few miry sloughs, where it was necessary to put our shoulders to the wheel to assist our cattle through. It was rather amusing to notice the expedients resorted to by the "boys" to obviate the necessity of going into the mud on this their first initiation into this mode of travelling, but I assure you most of us lost all delicacy upon this point before we reached the Fraser; for, after taking the trouble two or three times of stripping off our shoes and stockings, and rolling up our pants above our knees, and then going in up to the middle, we came to the conclusion that there was no use being too fastidious about the matter. The road to-day was pretty rough, a portion of it lying through the heaviest timber we had seen since leaving Fort Garry. We camped on Saturday night on the bank of Soft River, a clear, rapid little stream, with gently sloping banks and shaded at intervals with groves of poplars. As the fire had quite recently passed over this locality we found the feed rather short for our animals.
The next day, the 8th, being the Sabbath we remained in camp. A special article in the constitution of our company provided that we should rest regularly on the Sabbath, unless some urgent necessity should compel an advance; and it is a source of gratification to your correspondent to be able to report that this regulation was scrupulously observed. A portion of the day was devoted to religious worship, a practice afterwards regularly observed throughout our journey. These exercises were generally conducted by Mr. Joseph Robinson, of Queenston, but on this occasion by Mr. A.L. Fortune, of Huntingdon, and consisted of prayer and praise and the reading and exposition of a portion of the Scriptures. Whatever may have been the sectarian differences that prevailed among us at home, it was gratifying to know that here we could meet upon common grounds and present our united petitions for that Providential protection we so much needed. Upon these occasions our friends at home were objects of special solicitude, and a fervent and cordial amen would burst from a hundred hearts as unnumbered blessings were invoked on behalf of the dear ones whom we had left so far behind us. While the vast and lonely plains revibrated with the notes of our songs of praise, the mind was intuitively invited to contemplation, and to enquire whether these sounds might be recognized as the footfalls of advancing civilization, or to wonder as the last echo of these unwonted sounds died away in the distance, whether eternal silence and solitude were again to succeed.
Our road on Monday was very heavy, lying mostly through strips of deep yellow sand. At 10 o'clock we crossed the Points Creek, 110 miles from Fort Garry.24 Shortly after leaving our camp on Tuesday morning the 1Oth, we came to a beautiful creek, but with soft marshy banks, which detained us about two hours in crossing. The, weather up to this time had been exceedingly dry and warm, but a slight thunder shower at 1 o'clock had the effect of materially lowering the temperature. We passed to-day through what our guide called the mountains. They were nothing more however than would be considered in Canada gently undulating lands. We camped this night on the margin of a beautiful little lake, with which this section of the country abounds. At 10 o'clock in the forenoon of the 11th we reached the Little Saskatchewan [Minnedosa River], a branch of the Assiniboine. This is a fine stream, about forty feet wide, and from three to four feet deep at our fording place. Its banks are about two hundred feet high, and enclose a valley of unsurpassed beauty and fertility, stretching away to the right and left as far as the eye can see, and clothed with a rich covering of grasses, fresh and rank in all their native luxuriance. The train occupied forty minutes in fording the stream, when we halted for dinner on the western bank. A number of fishes were taken from the river during the dinner hour.
On Thursday the 12th we halted for dinner at a salt lake about two miles long and one mile wide. Its waters were quite brackish, having a taste very much resembling that of Epsom salts. We were informed by our guide that there were salt springs a little to the north of this place from which considerable quantities of salt had been manufactured. The salt which we bought at Fort Garry for our journey was made somewhere between this place and Lake Winnipeg. We camped for the night at Shoal Lake, a beautiful body of crystalline water, being fed by springs, and abounding in fish. It is the source of a small stream which flows into the Assiniboine. On the 13th we passed through a fine country, pleasantly diversified by hills and valleys, wood and prairie lands; draped in a rich mantle of living green, thickly studded with little lakes, and gaily decked and enlivened by beds of flowers of almost unlimited variety and boundless extent. We dined this day on the Arrow River, a small swift stream twelve to fifteen feet wide, and camped for the night in the valley on the west side of the Birdtail River. This is another branch of the Assiniboine, about thirty feet wide and three or four feet deep where we crossed it. It is one of the few streams in this section of the country that flow over rocky beds.
At 1 0 o'clock in the forenoon of Saturday the 14th we reached the top of the hill overlooking the Assiniboine, at its confluence with the Qu'Appelle River and Beaver Creek. Here a most magnificent and picturesque view was presented to us. The bank upon which we stood was about three hundred feet high; directly opposite to us Beaver Creek could be seen emerging from between hills of equal altitude; away to the right, from between like precipitous banks, the waters of the Qu'Appelle were comingling with those of the "Stony River; " Fort Ellice, a lone habitation, crowned the summit of the hill on the opposite side of the river; while at our feet the Assiniboine, dwindled away in the distance to the proportions of a rivulet, was winding its tortuous course through the valley below. The descent to the river was very steep and rocky, but we managed to get down without more serious accident than the upsetting of a cart or two. Part of our company began crossing the river immediately upon our arrival; the rest set about preparing dinner. The crossing was effected by means of a scow which was drawn backward and forward by a rawhide rope stretched across the stream and made fast at both ends. The scow, although suitable enough for the purpose, was a rude affair, the property of the Hudson Bay Company, and was only large enough to carry a single ox and cart at a time; and as the current at the ferry was very strong, and, considering the great number of times the process had to be repeated, our crossing was a tedious and laborious operation. It was 4 o'clock by the time the last cart was over, when we ascended the hill by a rough and rugged road and camped at Fort Ellice.
We found the fort, which is situated upon Beaver Creek, about a mile and a half from its junction with the Assiniboine, in a rather dilapidated condition, but timber was just being prepared for the erection of new buildings on another site considerably nearer the Assiniboine. Mr. McKay, the master of the fort, is an obliging gentleman, and, in common with the rest of his countrymen, keeps a prudent eye to business, and a sharp lookout after the bawbees. The 15th, being Sabbath, was spent in camp, the weather being cold with a driving rain from the south-cast. The Rev. Mr. Settee, an Indian missionary of Fort Pelly, preached in Mr. McKay's house at 1 o'clock. The rain still prevailing on Monday we remained at Ellice until after dinner, and employed the forenoon in making sundry repairs to carts, harness, &c., and in making such additional purchases for our outfit as two weeks travel and experience had shown to be necessary. From Fort Garry to this point our course was due west, and from Fort Ellice onward our general direction was north-west. We left Fort Ellice at 1 o'clock, P.M., and after driving a few miles reached the crossing of the Qu'Appelle.
In descending the hill, which was very long and steep, several accidents occurred, one of which had well nigh proved fatal. The ox, belonging to Mr. Morrow, of Montreal, having become unmanageable, began running down the hill, dragging Mr. Morrow with him, and the road being very slippery with the rain, he fell under the cart and one of the wheels passed over his head. When first picked up he was insensible, but Dr. Stevenson, who was at hand, having dressed his wound, he soon recovered, and in a few days was able to take his place as before.
We crossed the Qu'Appelle in the same manner as the Assiniboine, but the river being narrow and the current slower, we were able to manage a scow large enough to carry two oxen and carts at a time, so that our transit occupied a much shorter time. For the use of these boats we paid to the agent of the Hudson Bay Company fifty cents for each animal and cart, amounting in all to a trifle over fifty dollars. After crossing we pursued our journey for a short distance up the Qu'Appelle, ascending the hill about two miles above the ferry, and camped for the night at a spring on the top of the bank. It never ceased raining during the whole afternoon, so that when we camped we were thoroughly drenched, and, as we had no opportunity for drying, we were compelled to lie down as we were in our wet clothes; this was the beginning of our experience in such exposures. On Tuesday the 17th we made a very long drive of thirty miles, over a good road and through a beautif ul country, and camped for the night on the western side of Gulch Creek, a tributary of the Qu'Appelle. The weather at this time was remarkably cold, and we were somewhat surprised upon rising on the morning of the 18th to find everything white with frost, and a covering of ice an eighth of an inch thick upon the water in our camp kettles. On account of the frost on the grass our animals did not appear to feed very well, and owing to the long drive yesterday we did not strike our tents until 6 o'clock.
When the train was ready to start this morning it was observed that our guide did not take his place at the head of the train as usual, and, upon making enquiries after him it was discovered that he had borrowed a gun from the late Mr. Patterson [Pattison] for the avowed purpose of hunting at a little distance from the trail, and that he had ridden southward. A change in his conduct towards the company, and an unusual reserve in his intercourse with us had been remembered for a day or two, but we were completely in his power, and in order to retain his confidence it was necessary that we should cultivate a confidence in him, and never betray the slightest distrust in his faithfulness. He was therefore allowed to go as he pleased, without any restraint; yet we were not altogether free from apprehensions respecting his intentions. The day wore on, the dinner hour passed, camping time came, and still no guide; but it was not until after supper, when the company were assembled within the corral to deliberate upon our situation, that we could be brought to believe that we had really been the victims of treachery. Now our worst fears were realized; our guide had deserted us. The heartless villain who could perpetrate such a crime deserves the universal execration of mankind; and we feel it to be a bounden duty now to pass around the name of Charles Rochette that stem retributive justice may yet overtake him. Some grave charges were also laid against Bishop Tache for an alleged complicity with Rochette, for the purpose of obtaining the money; that charity, however, "which thinketh no evil," and a regard for the sanctity of his office, compel us to acquit that gentleman of any connection with, or knowledge of, so monstrous a transaction.
After the guide had gone it was considered prudent to increase our vigilance, lest he or some of his accomplices might be prowling about, watching for an opportunity to steal our animals. We were now thrown entirely upon our own resources, but we had obtained such a knowledge of the country, and of the marks by which the trails across the plains were distinguished, as enabled us to find our way without any very serious difficulty.
The country passed through between the 18th and 24th, was of a very monotonous character, consisting almost entirely of open plains, destitute of timber and living streams, but containing a great many little lakes, the majority of which were of a strongly mineral or alkaline nature. These lakes were literally alive with ducks, but, as it was their breeding season, we shot very few of them. The road, too, for this distance, was uniformly good, with the exception of an occasional slough in the vicinity of these little lakes, some of which we had to fill with brush before we could drive over them. At 9o'clock on the morning of the 24th, we passed a deserted trading post of the Hudson Bay Company, situated among the Touchwood Hills, and at 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day we left the Hills, and descended again into the plains. Some of these hills are elevated to a considerable height above the surrounding plains, and contain some lovely spots, which it seemed a pity should have remained so long waste and desolate. We gathered today the first ripe strawberries of the season. On the 25th we passed an immense, trackless prairie, so absolutely destitute of anything in the shape of a tree that it was impossible to procure a single stick for cooking our food. We were in the habit, however, whenever the country ahead of us appeared to be without wood, of gathering a little which we carried along with us on our carts. On Thursday the 26th we travelled through a magnificent country of alternate woods and prairies, bearing a most luxuriant growth of grass, and traversed in all directions by old buffalo trails. It had evidently at some time been the resort and pasture-land of immense herds of these animals, as their bones were thickly scattered over the whole country. The weather now was exceedingly hot, and the mosquitoes at times appeared in such myriads as almost to darken the air. We found them very troublesome both to our animals and ourselves, the more sensitive of us being almost driven to distraction by their incessant attacks. At 10 o'clock, A.M., of the 27th, about sixty miles west of the Thickwood Hills, we passed three old deserted houses, but we could not find out when, or by whom, they were built, or for what purpose they were used, most likely by some trappers or hunters at a time when game was more plentiful in these regions. We experienced considerable difficulty this afternoon in finding a camping ground, as nearly all the water was either salt or alkaline, and having driven until 9 o'clock, three hours later than our usual time, we pitched our tents by the side of a small lake, the waters of which were strongly sulphurious.
We had now succeeded in establishing such order and discipline in the company, and all our movements were executed with such military precision, that, within fifteen minutes after the order to start was given, and the word, "Every man to his ox," had been passed round the camp, all the animals would be brought in and harnessed, the tents and baggage packed up and loaded, and the whole train would be in motion. On Saturday, the 28th, we came upon an immense valley, enclosed by high hills along which we travelled nearly all day, and camped for the night at another alkali lake.
The fatigues of the journey were now beginning to have an injurious effect upon our animals, as well as upon the tempers and dispositions of the men, and especially towards the end of the week were these effects more apparent, when frequent disagreements and petty disputes or quarrels of a more serious kind would take place, when each was ready to contradict the other, and at the slightest occasion, or without any occasion, to take offence. But to-morrow would be the Sabbath; and no wonder that its approach should be regarded with pleasurable anticipations, as furnishing an opportunity for restoring the exhausted energies of both man and beast, for smoothing down the asperities of our natures, and, by allowing us time for reflection, for regaining a just appreciation of our duties toward one another; and the vigor with which our journey would be prosecuted, and the cordiality and good-feeling that characterized our intercourse after our accustomed rest on the first day of the week, are sufficient evidence to us that the law of the Sabbath is of physical, as well as of moral obligation, and that its precepts cannot be violated with impunity. We certainly have had much reason gratefully to adore that infinite wisdom and goodness that provided for us such a rest.
At 7 o'clock in the morning of Monday the last day of June we reached the South Branch of the Great Saskatchewan River. We found it a noble stream, about three hundred yards wide with a moderately strong current, and flowing between lofty banks; but its waters, like those of the Red River, Assiniboine and Qu'Appelle, are quite muddy, owing to the nature of the soil through which they flow. Here we found a bateau or York boat, belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, with which we conveyed our stuff over. This boat was on the opposite or north side of the river when we came up, and the late lamented Capt. Robertson of the Goderich party, and Mr. Cogswell of Detroit swam across and brought it back. We then unharnessed our animals, and, having unloaded the carts and taken off the wheels, piled them into the boat, carrying about six carts with their loads at a time. An occurrence happened here which for the moment cast a gloom over the whole company. We had to swim our animals across the river, and in driving into the stream some of those that were unwilling to swim, Mr. Robert Kelso, of the Acton party, went beyond his depth, and but for the timely arrival and assistance of Messrs, Strachan and Reid, two expert swimmers, he must have found a watery grave. When taken out of the water he was to all appearance beyond hope, but the usual remedies having been applied he was in time restored to consciousness. The crossing occupied nearly the whole day, and it was 5 o'clock, P.M., by the time the last boat load was discharged.
We camped for the night in the valley of the Saskatchewan, about one mile from the river. At 11 o'clock, A.M. on Tuesday, the 1st day of July, we reached the North Branch of the Saskatchewan, at the Carleton House. The valley, where we crossed it from the South to the North Branch, is about 18 miles wide. We found the North Branch in all respects very much like the South, only a little smaller. At the Carleton House we purchased some fresh buffalo meat that had just been brought in by the hunters; it resembles beef, but is a little coarser in the grain, and more juicy. We relished it very much. Our crossing here was effected in the same manner as at the South Branch; it employed us until after dark, and was accomplished in safety. For the use of the boat here we paid 12 1/2 cents per cart. The country between this point and Fort Pitt was of a somewhat different character from what we had passed hitherto, being more broken and hilly, with more running streams and fewer ponds of stagnant water. The weather, particularly at night, was much cooler than the same season would be found in Canada, with occasional showers of rain, but upon the whole remarkably pleasant. Nothing of special importance occurred on this part of the journey. We passed the Thickwood Hills on the 3d, and the Lumpy Hills on the 4th. On this day also we passed through some immense fields of splendid strawberries, and at supper we treated ourselves to a huge dish of strawberries and cream. Large numbers of wolves were now continually prowling about us-they were very attentive to our company, forming our rear guard while on the march during the day, and entertaining us at night with repeated concerts.
At 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning, the 9th of July, we reached Fort Pitt. This is another Hudson Bay station, and is situated on the north side of the North Saskatchewan, nearly midway between the Carleton House and Edmonton. Between Fort Pitt and Edmonton there are two trails, one on each side of the river; but neither of them is very plain as the Hudson Bay Company travel between these points chiefly with boats. We had not experienced much difficulty in following the trail since we were deserted by our first guide, but the gentleman in charge of Fort Pitt advised us not to attempt the remainder of the road without a guide, and recommended one Mitchelle [Michel], an Iroquois Indian, to serve in that capacity. He also advised us to take the trail on the south side of the river, as it was better and shorter than that upon the north side. We found Mitchelle a faithful and intelligent guide, and were convinced of the wisdom of the course we had adopted before reaching Edmonton, as the trail was so indistinct that it would have been impossible to have found it without a guide. We therefore re-crossed to the south side, our transit being safely accomplished in the same manner as our previous crossing, and camped on the bank where we remained until Thursday morning, when we resumed our journey. An exciting chase after a pair of fawns took place on Thursday afternoon, and served to relieve the monotony of our march although no one was fortunate enough to capture the animals. On Friday morning Mr. John Fannin shot a very large wolf, that had ventured too near to our camp.
Hitherto the weather had been singularly favorable for our purpose; we had not been delayed a single day on account of rain, and altogether our journey had been tolerably comfortable; but now we were to have a change in the programme. At half-past 4 o'clock this afternoon it began raining heavily, and continued, with but little intermission, during the whole succeeding eleven days. We camped for the night at 5 o'clock, after being thoroughly wet, and remained there until Monday morning, the 14th, the rain pouring the whole time. At this time, the weather having cleared up for a little, we struck our tents and pushed forward, as we were desirous of making the best possible use of our time, but had hot proceeded very far when we were compelled to halt again, as the rain was coming down in torrents and wetting everything in our carts. And thus we plodded along, at one time driving on regardless of the rain, and at another time camping in a vain attempt to keep ourselves and our provisions dry. But a new difficulty now presented itself. The country through which we were now passing was traversed and intersected by innumerable streams, tributaries of the Saskatchewan, and these had become so much swollen by the extraordinary floods as to render fording impossible. The only way we could get over was by bridging, and to such an extent had the water risen that between the 18th and 21st we built eight bridges, averaging from forty to one hundred feet in length, besides wading without much ceremony through everything not more than four feet in depth. Upon one occasion, when the water from one of these streams was spread to a great distance over the adjoining plain, and after we had waded for at least half a mile up to our waists, it became a question with some of the company whether it was really the Overland Route, that we were travelling, but all doubt upon the subject was at once removed by an assurance from Mr. Fannin that it was at least three feet Overland where he had tried it.
On Monday, the 21st day of July, at half-past 7 o'clock in the afternoon, we reached the crossing of the Saskatchewan at a point directly opposite to the Edmonton House, the sight of which was the signal for a hearty and tumultuous cheer, which was repeated again and again as the different parties came up, until the surrounding forests reechoed with the sound. During the preceeding eleven days our clothing had never been dry, we had just passed through what we considered a pretty tough time, and the toil-worn, jaded, forlorn and tattered appearance of the company was in striking and amusing contrast with our appearance a few months before; so marked, indeed, was the change that our most intimate friends at home could scarcely have recognized us. But our courage was still unbroken, and, although we had been much longer on the road than we anticipated, we had yet full confidence in our ability to reach the El Dorado of our hopes. All the boats at this point belonging to the Hudson Bay Company had been carried away by the unusual floods a few days before our arrival, so that we had no facilities for crossing, and we were compelled to remain in camp, on the opposite side of the river, until Thursday, the 25th, when those who had been sent down the river after the boats returned with them. We then crossed the Saskatchewan for the fourth time, in the same manner as we had previously done, all getting over safely.
We had often heard and read of the beauty and fertility of the Great Saskatchewan Valley; but after travelling through it for nearly a month we were satisfied that all description had failed to convey to the mind a full and accurate idea of its vast extent, the exuberance of its vegetation, the surpassing beauty of some of its parts, or its fitness and capacity for becoming the homes of a dense population; that, in short, the country must be seen to be appreciated. The Hudson Bay Company cultivate a small portion of land at each of their stations, and from the ample returns they obtain for their labor, and the value set upon flour by the people about the forts, as evinced by the eagerness with which they bought that article from our company, paying any price we might set upon it, it was a matter of surprise to us that more attention was not paid to agriculture, and particularly to the cultivation of wheat. Sufficient, however, was grown to give us an idea of the productiveness of the soil. From Mr. Brazeau, the gentleman in charge of the Edmonton House during the absence of Mr. Christie, the master, we learned that from a field of ten acres they reaped four hundred bushels, or forty bushels to the acre, of prime wheat, equal to an average sample of Canadian wheat, and, what is more extraordinary, that wheat had been grown in the same field year after year in succession, for a period of about thirty years, and that, too, without the application of a particle of manure. The field was under the same crop again this year; it was just headed out when we were there, and promised a fair yield, although it was considerably injured by the drought that prevailed here in the early part of the season, as well as by the recent floods. We observed a field of barley, also, that had just headed out; it looked tolerably fair, having suffered somewhat from the same causes that affected the wheat. They consider about fifty bushels per acre an average yield. Potatoes, as well as other root-crops, grow most luxuriantly; the vines were in full blossom at the time of our visit. From a field containing about five or six acres they dug last year sixteen hundred bushels of potatoes. The rot is unknown.
We had an opportunity here of examining one of the natural resources of this region that will no doubt some day prove of incalculable value to the whole of this region. I refer to the vast beds of coal which crop out in the banks of the Saskatchewan at Edmonton, and extend for several hundred miles in a north-western direction. It appears in the face of the bank in several parallel beds or layers, varying from two to six feet in thickness, and interstratified with a kind of red clay that has the appearance of having been burnt. It is very easily obtained, lying, as it does, upon the surface. Another of the probable resources of this country, and which may yet he a chief agent in attracting hither a large population, is gold. That the precious metal does exist in nearly all the streams flowing through the Hudson Bay Territory, east of the Rocky Mountains, is beyond all question, since we seldom failed to raise the color wherever we prospected; but that it may he found in paying quantities is yet somewhat problematical.
We were, however, assured by several parties living at Edmonton that large nuggets were frequently seen with the Indians, and that at low water the sand in the channel of the Saskatchewan literally glittered in the sun-light; and a person whom we met at Prairie Portage, who had acted for several years as interpreter to the Rev. Mr. Woolsey, Wesleyan Missionary at Edmonton, and upon whom we could place considerable reliance, even went so far as to offer, for a consideration, to take us to diggings within five days walk of the Edmonton House, if he should return before we left the place, which he would guarantee to yield at least fifteen dollars a day to the hand, with rockers, and he would give us an opportunity to test their richness before he would expect his pay. Unfortunately he did not return to Edmonton. before we left, so that we did not get an opportunity to take advantage of his offer as it was our intention to have done. It is not worth while, however, at this time, to indulge in conjecture or useless speculation upon this subject, neither is it pertinent to our present purpose that we should hazard a decided opinion respecting it, in as much as about twenty-five intelligent and determined fellows of our company remained at Edmonton for the purpose of exploring the country and prospecting the rivers nearer the mountains. They were furnished with an ample supply of provisions, and we may look forward with deep interest for a report of their doings, as it will be likely to contain some definite and conclusive information upon this question that may be of vital importance not only to this territory but to British America.
We had now reached the destination for which we set out from Fort Garry, and in the mean time, the end of our journey; and it remained for us now to determine by what route we should next proceed and what pass we should take across the mountains. In the solution of this question we had frequent interviews with Mr. Brazeau, of Edmonton, the Rev. Mr. Woolsey, who had been several years in the country; Thomas Clover, Timolean Love's companion; Mr. Alexander, a clerk in the Hudson Bay Company who had recently returned from the Jasper House; besides a number of Freemen whose names I did not learn, many of whom were born and brought up in the neighborhood of the mountains. All parties with whom we conversed on the subject, both at this time and previously, agreed that the Boundary, Cootanie [Kootenayl and Sinclair Passes were the easiest and presented the fewest difficulties; but recommended the Leather, Cow-dung Lake, or Jasper Pass [all names for what is now called Yellowhead Pass] for our purpose, as being the shortest and most direct way to Cariboo; altho'some of them represented the road as nearly impassable, and foresaw difficulties and dangers which they considered almost insurmountable. After thoroughly examining the matter, and carefully comparing notes, we derided to try the Leather Pass. Our next care was to secure another guide who could lead us safely over the mountains, to the head waters of the Fraser. This we found in the person of one Andre Cardinal, a Freeman of St. Albert, who was born at the Jasper House, where he spent the greater portion of his life; who had passed over the road between his birthplace and Edmonton twenty-nine times, and several times between Jasper and Tete Jaune Cache, at the head of the Fraser, and for whose services we paid fifty dollars in cash, an ox and cart, 1 cwt. of flour and a few groceries. We had been busily employed in the mean time exchanging our oxen and carts for horses and pack-saddles, and in disposing of such articles as we found too bulky for packing. As we were still at Edmonton on Sabbath, July 27th, we had the pleasure of listening to a sermon by the Rev. Mr. Woolsey at 11 o'clock in the fort, and at 4 o'clock in our own camp.
As none of us were accustomed to packing, our preparations here occupied a considerable time, so that we were not ready to leave till Tuesday morning, July 29th, having remained at Edmonton a whole week. At 9 o'clock, A.M. of this day we started again, our party being now reduced to 125, with about 140 animals, having purchased a number of additional horses here. Our animals were loaded with from 150 to 250 lbs. each. We reached the settlement Of St. Albert, at Big Lake, 10 miles from Edmonton, at 1 o'clock, and remained there all night. Settlements were first made here about two or three years ago, and contain now about twenty families, consisting chiefly of Freemen, persons who have fulfilled their term of service with the Hudson Bay Company, and received their discharges. It is a very fertile spot, beautifully situated on the eastern side of Big Lake, which furnishes a plentiful supply of fish, and, what is an important desideratum in this, as in all prairie countries, there is an abundance of timber suitable for building and other purposes in its immediate vicinity. Upon the farm and in the gardens attached to the Catholic Mission at St. Albert we observed a great variety of crops, including wheat, barley, oats, peas, buckwheat, Indian-corn, potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, cabbages, onions, radishes, &c., all of which looked well and some of them promised a most abundant crop. Notwithstanding the great disadvantage at which we saw this part of the country, on account of the heavy rains and the consequent superabundance of water everywhere, we could not help admiring the general fertility.
Two short days drive from this point brought us to St. Arm's Lake [Lac Ste Anne], on the shore of which we camped on Thursday night, having passed over an exceedingly rough road, built one bridge and endured a drizzling rain the greater part of the time. On Friday morning, August 1st, we drove about two miles to St. Ann's settlement, or village, where we again halted. Here we found a trading post of the Hudson Bay Company, and a considerable settlement. It is 50 miles from Edmonton. A few years ago it is said to have contained some fifty families, but a part of them have lately removed to St. Albert, the settlement above described. Here we were fortunate enough to obtain some splendid new potatoes, which, with other vegetables, appear to grow almost spontaneously, and which, for size and quality, I have never seen excelled at this season in any country. The immense quantities and numberless varieties of berries produced here, including rasp, dew, straw and gooseberries, red and black currants, &c., are almost incredible, and the most careful cultivation at home has failed to produce anything, so far as I have seen, that could nearly equal the samples of black currants we saw growing wild. The lake of St. Ann's is a beautiful body of water, about 10 miles long and 4 miles wide, and abounds in whitefish. On Saturday, the 2nd day of August, we left St. Ann's, having abandoned our last cart there.
Our way for the remainder of our journey was totally different from what we had before passed through; for, instead of the hard and level roads with which we had been favored in the first part of our journey, swamps and hills and streams alternated and dense forests, where we were obliged to keep a gang of men ahead of the train to chop out the brush and fallen timber, were substituted for open prairies. We halted this day for dinner on the bank of Sturgeon River, and camped for the night by the Lake of Many Hills [Lake Isle], where we remained until Monday morning, the 4th of August. While we remained here, Mr. W. Sellars[Sellarl, of Huntingdon, who had waited at Edmonton for the arrival of Dr. Symington's party, overtook us, bringing up letters from Fort Garry for some of our number, and a copy of the Toronto Globe of the 16th of May, which was the last intelligence we received from the outside world until we reached the end of our journey.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon of this day we camped on the bank of the Pembina River. The first object of interest that claimed our attention upon our arrival here was the coal, which again crops out, in the banks of this stream, as at Edmonton. It appears here in a single stratum of perfectly pure coal, and where it is visible above water, about twelve feet in thickness. At our crossing place it formed the bed of the river, upon which we walked in fording, and had a considerable inclination toward the surface of the ground as you descend the stream. In the evening bright coal fires were blazing in every part of our camp, and those who were judges pronounced it a superior article. Shortly after camping our notice was attracted by a heavy cloud of smoke which hung along the brow of a hill at a short distance to the left of the trail by which we came down. We immediately ascended the hill to ascertain, if possible, whence the smoke proceeded, and upon reaching the summit we found, to our astonishment, that it was issuing from the top of the hill; that we were actually standing upon a volcano, and that beneath our feet still lay some of the smouldering embers of those mighty subterranean fires that at some remote period of time had caused those terrible convulsions in the crust of the earth that are so apparent throughout a great portion of this region." The crater appeared to be choked up by the loose soil on the surface continuously crumbling down into it, so that the smoke instead of escaping by a single aperture seemed to permeate the whole top of the mound. The earth on the surface is quite hot, destroying all signs of vegetation for some distance around, and when turned up with a spade we were unable to bear our hands upon it. There was a strong smell as of escaping gas perceptible in its neighborhood.
The weather on the morning of the 5th was very clear, and so cold that the dew, which fell very copiously, froze, and hung in small icicles from the leaves. Our crossing here, which occupied the whole of Tuesday forenoon, was one of the busiest and most exciting scenes of our trip, and would have furnished a splendid subject for "our special artist." Part of our goods were carried over in boats made by spreading out our tents and placing our baggage in the centre, and then drawing up the edges with a lariat; another line was then made fast to this, by which two men on horseback towed it across, while two others waded into the water, holding on to the float behind to keep it from upsetting. Another portion of them was carried on horseback, a man mounting the horse and taking the stuff up before him, where, as the water was just up to the horses' backs, he could have a chance to hold it up if it were likely to get wet; and the balance, that could not be injured by being wet, was carried over without unpacking. On the eastern side of the river a number of men might he seen dispatching our goods by these different modes of conveyance, and as many more on the opposite side busily engaged in receiving and re-arranging them in packs, while the river was full of animals going and returning, loaded or empty; here were a couple tugging away against the current with their canvas boat, while the luckless wights, up to their necks in the water, held on behind; there a bewildered equestrian was making a vain attempt to guide his steed across the stream, while his nervous friend, to whom he had given a deck passage, held him firmly in his arms, and put forth many well directed efforts to repay his generosity by ducking them both; and yonder, another bold navigator astride of an ox, sometimes in the water and sometimes out, was boxing the compass in his ineffectual endeavors to persuade his boon companion to shape his course toward sundown. All having got safely over we left the Pembina River after dinner, and camped for the night on Buffalo-dung [Lobstick] River, a tributary of the Pembina. We forded this river soon after starting on the following morning, where the water was about three feet deep.
During the forenoon of Friday the 8th we passed over a portion of the road that language is absolutely inadequate to describe. To say that it was horrible expresses but half the truth. It consisted of an interminable swamp, in which nearly the whole train would be mired at once, and over which we carried a considerable portion of our packs on our shoulders. We halted for dinner on Root River [Carrot Creek], a branch of McLeod's, having passed at 11 o'clock the point from which, on a clear day, the first view of the Rocky Mountains can be obtained. The weather to-day was too hazy. On Saturday the 9th, we made a long drive through a dense forest, consisting chiefly of spruce, pine and poplar, in the middle of which we came upon a solitary grave. From a rude inscription upon the trunk of a tree hard by, we learned that it contained the last remains of one James Mokerty, who died while passing through these wilds in October, 1860. At half-past 4 o'clock this afternoon we reached the crossing of McLeod's River, when we forded it without removing our packs, and camped upon the west bank immediately after. McLeod's River is a considerable stream, about one hundred and fifty yards wide, and a branch of the Athabaska. We had some difficulty in fording this stream, as the current was very strong and the water exceedingly cold, and Messrs. Willox and Gilbert narrowly escaped drowning by being swept off by the current into deep water. Here we remained till Monday morning the 11th. Our trail, which was an extremely rough one, lay for the following three days along the northern bank of McLeod's River, and during this time we forded a great many rapid streams.
On Wednesday, the 13th, precisely at 12 o'clock, noon, as the train emerged from a thick spruce swamp and halted for dinner upon a slight eminence, we obtained the first distinct view of the Rocky Mountains. Although we were yet about one hundred miles from them, their dark outline was plainly visible far above the level of the horizon, and their lofty snow-clad peaks, standing out in bold relief against the blue sky beyond, and glistening in the sunlight, gave them the appearance of fleecy clouds floating in the distance. The company were enraptured at the sight of them; for whatever dangers or difficulties might possibly be in store for us among them, all were heartily tired of the endless succession of hills and streams and swamps, and swamps and streams and hills, and were willing to face almost any danger that would be likely to terminate or vary our toils.
On Thursday our guide had to hunt up an entirely new trail, as the unusual rush of water this year had in many places quite changed the position of the river, and completely washed away all traces of the old trail. After a long, weary drive on Friday, the 15th, we camped for the night on the bank of the Athabaska. This is a beautiful stream of clear, cold water, which takes its rise in the mountains, and is fed by springs and melting snow. Here we met some half-breeds who were on their way from the Jasper House to Edmonton, and from whom we purchased a piece of a mountain sheep which they had recently killed. We travelled for four days succeeding this time along the south bank of the Athabaska, a part of the time over a very good road. We camped on Saturday night, the 16th, on Prairie River [Maskuta Creek], a tributary of the Athabaska, in full view of the mountains, where we remained until Monday morning. One day's drive from this point brought us to the mountains, at the foot of which we camped on Monday night.
If it be true, as has been said, that "wherever there is vastness, there dwells sublimity," we were presented with a view at once sublimely grand and overpowering. On our left, and immediately overlooking our camping ground, a stupendous pile of rocks rose perpendicularly to the height of about one thousand feet; across the Athabaska, and directly opposite to this, Mount Lacomb reared its rocky head to a still greater elevation, and behind us, Mount Mayette [Miettel. with its cold and craggy cliffs crowned with eternal snows, towered proudly far above the whole. Two of our company ascended the rock on the left of our camp, and when they reached the top they were scarcely discernible; they appeared like pigmies, and their loudest shout was scarcely audible to the rest of us at the bottom.
In examining and comparing these apparently confused and disordered heaps on opposite sides of the river, one cannot help remarking the striking similarity in many particulars that exists between them. In the order of their strata, their size or thickness, their dip or inclination, their composition, and indeed their whole geological structure, there is such a correspondence as must convince the most casual observer that at some period in the world's history they formed contiguous and adjacent portions of the crust of the earth; while the present disrupted condition of these huge masses of rock, and the violent contortions to which they have evidently been subjected, will convey to the mind some faint idea of the irresistible power of those internal fires, that mighty agency by which these terrible convulsions have been effected. And from a consideration of these terrestrial objects, the meditative mind, by a natural and easy gradation, will rise to the contemplation of that almighty and infinite Being, who makes all these powers subservient to His will, who spoke a world into existence,-at whose sovereign fiat a universe was created.
During the night of the 18th we were visited with a thunderstorm, the effect of which was greatly heightened by our close proximity to the scene of the elementary conflict, and the recollection of which shall never be effaced from my memory. A heavy black cloud, that appeared to hang below the mountain tops, slowly floated across our zenith, completely shutting out the heavens and enveloping us in impenetrable darkness. Presently all the surrounding objects were highly illuminated for an instant, while the liquid fire coursed along the cloud, or darted from peak to peak, to be succeeded the next moment by a still deeper gloom, and followed immediately by deafening peals of thunder, which were re-echoed again and again from all sides of our amphitheatre, producing such a scene of terrific grandeur as I shall not attempt to describe.
On Tuesday the 19th we passed one of the most dangerous portions of our road. Our trail lay over a pretty high mountain, and near the top consisted of a very narrow pathway, with a perpendicular wall of rocks on one side, and a steep declivity down to the edge of a precipice several hundred feet high on the other. Here a single blunder, one false step for either man or beast, and no human power could save him from instant destruction. The whole train passed it in safety. When we were on the top of this mountain we could see the Jasper House, a perfect picture of loneliness and solitude, away below us in the valley on the opposite, or north side of the Athabasca River, where from our elevation it appeared no larger than a hen-coop. This is another Station of the Hudson Bay Company, which some of their agents visit annually, at a certain season, for the purpose of trading with the Shoushwaps and other Indians of the Rocky Mountains. It was shut up at this time.
We halted for dinner this day on the shore of White-fish Lake [Talbot Lake], being surrounded by Russian Jack, the Black Mountain and Smith's Peak, and camped for night on a flat near the Athabaska after having climbed two or three very rugged mountains. At 8 o'clock in the morning of the 20th we reached the crossing place of the Athabaska River. We immediately set about building rafts, with which we floated ourselves and goods over, swimming our animals. We took dinner on the northern bank of the river after all were safely over. The river here is about one hundred yards wide and fifteen to twenty feet deep, with a strong current. Here we found prospects which, according to the judgment of some Californian miners who accompanied us, would yield from three to four dollars a day. These were the most encouraging returns we met with, although it is quite possible we may have passed near by, or even over, rich diggings, since our prospecting was confined merely to washing a pan or two of sand, taken from the surface along the edges of the streams at whatever point our road might chance to cross them, without looking for any more promising localities; entrusting the important duty of making a more thorough examination to those of our number who remained behind us.
At 8 o'clock on Thursday morning the 21st, we passed the ruins of Henry's House, a deserted trading post of the Hudson Bay Company. It is situated on the north side of the Athabaska, near its confluence with the Mayette. Shortly after this we reached the Mayette River, which we followed until we struck the head waters of the Fraser. Our progress along this stream was rather slow, both on account of the great quantity of fallen timber that obstructed our path, and the number of times we had to ford the stream. It is a mountain torrent that rushes down a rocky gorge, and our trail lay for a short distance on one side, and then on the other, so that in the short space of two hours we waded through it no less than seven times, while the water threatened to sweep us off our feet, and "Oh! how cold." During the forenoon of the 22nd we crossed the Mayette twice, and camped for the night on the shore of Cow-dung Lake [Yellowhead Lake].
At 4 o'clock this afternoon we passed the heights of land or dividing ridge between the waters which flow to the east and those which flow to the west of the Rocky Mountains. We were somewhat surprised to find the weather in the valleys of this elevated region so mild and warm, surrounded as they were on every side with immense heaps of perpetual snow, while some of the vast glaciers extended far down toward them. There was a clearness, a. lightness and salubrity about the atmosphere that was really delightful. Shortly after we passed the dividing ridge we struck the mighty Fraser at a point where we crossed it at a single step.
During the first part of our journey we found such rich and abundant pasturage for our animals that some of our oxen, that left Fort Garry in very ordinary condition, were fit for beef by the time we reached Edmonton; but ever since we left the Saskatchewan the feed had been gradually failing, and for several days past there had been but very little for them to eat, so that they were rapidly giving out, and two or three were abandoned nearly every day, being unable to travel any further. When we started from the Selkirk Settlement we expected to reach the end of our journey in about two months, and provided ourselves with what we considered a plentiful supply of provisions-168 lbs. of flour and 50 lbs. of pemican, besides a variety of other articles to each man; but we had been nearly three months already on the way, and were yet in the middle of the mountains without any certain knowledge of what was before us, and our stock of provisions was running so low that, as a precautionary measure, we had been for some time upon short allowance. Here we ate our last pemican, when we found it necessary to kill an ox. Our supply of salt was nearly exhausted, and we had to cure our meat by cutting it into thin strips and drying it over the fire.
On Saturday the 23d our guide intended to camp for the night on Moose Lake, but owing to the desperate condition of the roads we were unable to reach it; we camped upon the Fraser within about four miles of it, where the feed was very scarce. We were compelled to move from this spot on Sabbath the 24th in order to obtain pasturage for our animals, and camped again at the western end of Moose Lake. Feed still very indifferent. We dined this day upon a dish so delicate and rare that it might have tempted the palate of Epicurus himself; so nice, indeed, was it, that I have some little hesitation in naming it, lest we might be censured for living too luxuriously by the way. It was a roasted skunk, which our guide prepared and served up to us in true Indian style. After we had finished our repast, which all appeared to relish, we wondered that we had not discovered its good qualities sooner, and unanimously resolved, that his skunkship had been a slandered and much abused individual. Although it is not my province at this time to moralize, yet I cannot help remarking that this incident may serve to remind us how often we allow our prejudices to deprive us of the enjoyment of substantial good; and that we are creatures of comparison, and governed in a great measure by external circumstances, knowing nothing of absolute good or positive pleasure but by a comparison with its converse, and relishing under certain conditions what we would nauseate under others. Our trail this day followed along the shore of Moose Lake, which is nine miles long. The weather [was] still remarkably fine.
On Monday the 25th we drove for two hours and fifteen minutes when we came upon a beautiful valley, bearing the most luxuriant crop of grass we had seen for many a day, where we halted to feed our hungry animals, and took dinner, treating ourselves to-day to a piece of porcupine, which was also esteemed a great delicacy. During the day we found vast quantities of huckleberries of extraordinary size. We camped this night in the woods on the side of a mountain, where there was not a mouthful of feed for our animals excepting what they browsed from the trees. The long drives we were compelled to make over such a road without sufficient feed now told fearfully upon the poor beasts, which were failing rapidly, and it was fortunate that we were nearly over, as it was evident they could not endure such treatment much longer. We noticed a considerable change in the character of the timber since we began to descend the mountains; for while that upon the eastern slope consisted exclusively of spruce, pine, poplar and small willows, upon the western side we met cedar, hemlock, balsam and soft maple, in addition. The Fraser had now become a large stream, and was continually receiving fresh additions from numberless tributaries, which we met at every little interval rushing down the declivities of the mountains with fearful impetuosity.
About mid-day on the 26th we passed a dangerous spot, very much like that opposite to the Jasper House on the Athabaska. We did not venture our horses across it loaded, but unpacked them and carried our provisions over on our shoulders. During the afternoon we crossed a great many streams of intensely cold water, and camped for night in a kind of amphitheatre surrounded on all sides with lofty snow-capped peaks. We were early roused from our slumbers on Wednesday morning by our guide shouting through the camp, "Hurrah! for Tete Jaune Cache," and were informed that we should reach the Cache, if no misfortune befel us, some time during the day; an announcement that was received by the company with unaffected enthusiasm.
Accordingly, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon of this day, we were delighted with a view of the welcome and long-looked-for spot. We had now completed the second stage of our journey; and it only remained for us to undertake the third and last. By the time we reached the Cache, our stock of provisions was nearly exhausted, some parties being entirely out of flour, and living solely upon beef without salt. We were very glad, therefore, to find a camp of Shoushwap Indians here, from whom we got some dried salmon and berry cakes in exchange for amunition, shirts, handkerchiefs, needles, thread or any article almost we might choose to part with. The cakes were made of huckle and june or service berries, which grow here in very great abundance, by bruising the berries to a pulp and then spreading them out upon thin sticks to dry.
A fine plain extends to some distance on the south side of the Fraser at this point, producing some fine pasturage, and an open valley which we found on the north side furnished an abundance of feed for all our animals while we remained at the Cache. The weather during our stay here was remarkably pleasant.
Up to this point we had either been accompanied by a guide, or had such information respecting our way, that we could proceed with safety, but regarding the concluding portion of our journey it was all doubt and uncertainty. In our agreement with Andre Cardinal, our guide, it was stipulated that if he could find a Shoushwap here, who was acquainted the trail into Cariboo, he was to hire him as a guide, and that Cardinal himself would accompany us as interpreter. But the Indians whom we met here knew nothing of any trail in that direction, nor even of the place we wished to reach. They were in the habit of hunting in the direction of the Columbia and Thompson Rivers, and fishing for a short distance down the Fraser, which they represented as very dangerous, a representation which, unfortunately, we found to be too true. We were therefore left to rely upon our own judgment as to the best way to proceed, or to depend merely upon blind chance. After fully considering our situation, and the probable difficulties that might be in our way, we decided to build rafts and canoes and float down the Fraser, taking a few animals with us as a security against starvation, and to send the remainder of our horses across the country southward, toward the head waters of the Thompson, in the hands of a few of the company who volunteered for that purpose. Messrs. A. Thompson, Fannin, Putnam and Fortune volunteered from the Queenston party, there being about twenty in all. In pursuance of this determination we built a number of rafts, about 40 feet long, and 18 feet wide; and several canoes, some of which were lashed together in pairs to prevent them from upsetting. Besides these we procured some others from the Indians, in exchange for horses. As we were rather short of axes, and other tools, our preparations here occupied considerable time, so that we were detained until Monday, the 1st day of September. At 3 o'clock P.M. of this day, after taking leave of our companions, whom we had but little hopes of meeting again, and in regard to some of whom our worst fears have been realized, we committed ourselves to the mercy of the Fraser, amid the sorrowful exclamations of the Indians, "Poor white men no more."
The raft which carried the Queenston party was put in charge of Mr. Robt. Harkness. The river for some distance below the Cache is very crooked, and in some places pretty narrow, and the current being very swift, we had some difficulty in keeping the raft off the rocks. The mountains along this part of the stream are very rugged, and approach close to the river on both sides, leaving but a very narrow channel through which the waters wind their way, following a peculiarly serpentine course around the bases of the hills. We estimated the current to be about five miles an hour. The weather during the whole time that we were upon the Fraser, until we reached Fort George, was very wet, cold and uncomfortable. We usually floated as long as we could find the channel, cooking our meals on the raft, and running from daylight till dark.
On Tuesday afternoon, when, according to our reckoning, we had made 70 miles from the Cache, we came upon a portion of the river which flows through an exceedingly level country; and where the sluggish stream, widening out the distance of fully a mile, does not run at a faster rate than two miles an hour. The mountains here recede to a considerable distance from the river, and at times disappear altogether, leaving a wide valley of nicely timbered land, with here and there an occasional opening. The soil appeared to consist principally of an alluvial deposit, which had accumulated during the successive ages of time, from the debris of the mountains above. We did not go ashore to examine its character or condition particularly, and all our observations were made from the raft as we floated down the stream, but it appeared to be fertile. Here we met Mr. Andrew Holes [Hales) and four or five others of the St. Thomas party, who subsequently came down the Thompson River, returning from a prospecting tour some distance down the Fraser. They washed the sand at a great many places along the shore, and examined several streams that empty into the Fraser from both sides, but they did not succeed in finding any prospects as encouraging as what we discovered upon the Athabaska.
The character of the river and of the country through which it flows continued much the same during the following two days, Wednesday and Thursday, the 3d and 4th September, interrupted only by two or three slight rapids. Our progress here was so slow that, in order to accelerate our motion, we had side oars rigged upon our raft, by means of which we doubled our speed. We also passed through, on the 4th, what the Indians had attempted to describe to us as a lake, but which was nothing more than a considerable expansion of the river. On Friday the country became more broken, and the current of the river much swifter. Hitherto our progress had been uninterrupted by any misfortune; we had been sailing steadily onward for five days, and were just beginning to entertain feelings of security, and to congratulate ourselves upon our good fortune in having escaped the dangers we dreaded. But at half-past 5 o'clock in the morning of Saturday, the 6th, we were suddenly startled by an unusual roaring noise that broke the stillness of the morning, the cause and source of which was soon explained by the lookout shouting, "Breakers ahead!"
We had reached the big rapids, and we were already so near them and were being swept toward them by the current so rapidly that we had barely time to row ashore and make fast before we were drawn into them. After landing we went some distance along the shore to examine the place before we should attempt to run it. We found that the rapids consisted of three distinct stretches, with small bays or eddies of comparatively quiet water between, which had evidently been formed, at some remote period of time, by the stream breaking through as many parallel ridges. The banks on both sides are very rocky and precipitous, and the channel, which is very narrow, and obstructed in many places by pointed rocks, contained six sharp angles through which the pent-up and maddened waters rushed with violent and resistless impetuosity. It seemed like presumption to think of risking our lives through such a perilous place; but we saw no alternative, we had either to run the rapids or starve where we were. We found a passage by which we could make a portage around the first two stretches, but were unable to get over the rocky bluffs of the third.
At length Mr. Harkness decided to try it, if we would lighten the raft by a number of us making the portage, leaving only men enough aboard to man the oars. About ten men remained on the raft, and the balance of us stationed ourselves along the shore where we might possibly be able to render some assistance if it were required. Everything being ready the ropes were untied and the frail bark pushed into the current. Onward they swept like an arrow. They seemed to be rushing into the very jaws of death. Before them on the right rose a rocky reef, against which the furious flood was lashing itself into foam, threatening instant and unavoidable destruction, and on the other side a seething and eddying whirlpool was ready to engulf in its greedy vortex any mortal who might venture within its reach. With fearful velocity they were hurried along directly towards the fatal rock. Their ruin seemed inevitable. It was a moment of painful suspense. Not a word was spoken except the necessary orders of the pilot, which were distinctly heard on shore, above the din and tumult of the scene. Now was the critical moment. Every one bent manfully to his oar. The raft shot closely past the rock, tearing away the stern row-lock, and glided safely down into the eddy below. The agony was over. The gauntlet had been run, and all survived. The issue of the ordeal was announced by an involuntary cheer from the brave hearts aboard the raft, which was heartily responded to by those on shore.
The last part of the rapids was less dangerous than what we had already passed and we ran through it in safety, all hands being aboard. The scene we have described was re-enacted as each raft arrived at the canyon, and notwithstanding the imminent dangers that surrounded them, all succeeded in escaping them. Less fortunate, however, were those who attempted to run the rapids in canoes; and here the saddest part of my narrative begins.
A canoe, carrying three of the Toronto party, Messrs. Carroll, McKenzie, and Patterson, was the first to leave Tete Jaune Cache, and, as it ran considerably faster than the rafts, it arrived at the rapids two days before the first raft. Those who first reached the place after them were surprised to find this party still there. Their canoe, which contained their provisions, tent, clothing, blankets, and even their coats, had foundered while they were attempting to let it down the canyon by means of a lariat, and everything belonging to them was swept away by the current. During the interval that elapsed between this occurrence and the arrival of the raft they were exposed to all the inclemency of the weather, which at the time happened to be very cold and rainy, without food, clothing, or shelter. Mr. Patterson, one of the party, had been complaining before he left the Cache, of some slight affection of the throat, which was greatly aggravated by exposure.
This canoe was followed by two others, fastened together, carrying Messrs. Robertson, Warren, and Douglas, of the Goderich party, who shared even a worse fate than those who preceded them. They had only reached the first ripple when their canoes were suddenly caught by one of the whirls and capsized, throwing them and all their goods into the river. Mr. Robertson, being a good swimmer, immediately quitted the canoes and struck out for shore, at the same time advising the others, who could not swim, to cling to them. This they found to be a very difficult matter, as the canoes were kept continually rolling over and over in the rapids. They however succeeded in maintaining their hold and as they came to the surface at each revolution of the canoes, they could see Mr. Robertson still manfully contending with the angry waves, while at each opportunity he would encourage them to hold fast, apparently more concerned for their safety than about his own welfare. At length the canoes drifted upon a shoal by which they were enabled to make a small island in the middle of the stream. After regaining their feet their first thought was to look after their companion. But he was no where to be seen. He had sunk to rise no more in this life.
He was a young man of great promise, and was universally respected throughout the company. By his general intelligence, by his kind and manly and generous deportment at all times in his daily intercourse with his fellow travelers, and by the unaffected urbanity of his manners, he won the esteem and secured the affections of every member of the company, and the tidings of his melancholy death were received by all with feelings and expressions of profound regret. And while we all deeply deplore his untimely end, we cordially sympathise with his parents and friends at home in this sad bereavement.
The remaining two threatened to be even worse, as they had no means of escaping from the island upon which they had been cast; and but for the timely arrival of the rafts of the Huntingdon party, who rescued them from their perilous situation, they must have perished also. I would fain wish that my record of fatal disasters might end here; but the chapter of accidents at this unfortunate spot is not yet concluded. Of the parties that succeeded us, two, namely: Mr. Carpenter, of Toronto, and Mr. P. Leader, of the county of Huron, Canada, were drowned by the upsetting of canoes under similar circumstances.
Immediately after passing these rapids the channel again widens out and the current becomes quite sluggish. The country, too assumes something of the same aspect as that above the canyon. So placid indeed was the stream during the whole of Saturday, and presented such a marked contrast with its turbulent character at the rapids, that we were induced to float all night. I mention this instance as an example of that condition of security, of recklessness and of blind confidence, into which men are apt to fall, who have long been accustomed to meeting dangers in various forms, and encountering difficulties of different kinds. Fancy a party of twenty-three men, who had but recently escaped so many imminent perils, and without any knowledge of the dangers that might be before them, spreading their beds on the raft and lying down to sleep, at the mercy of the current, with as much composure and as little concern for the possible consequences of such a course as though they were safely resting upon terra firma.
But the occurrences of the following morning awakened us to a keener sense of the risk we had been running. Daylight had scarcely dawned when we were aroused by the watch with the intelligence that the raft was running much faster than usual; and upon taking observations from objects upon the shore we discovered that we were going at a fearful velocity. We had reached a long stretch of rapids which continued for a distance of about fifteen miles; and, although there was an abundance of room while we followed the right track, and no portion of it was particularly dangerous, yet the channel was full of rocks standing here and there, which would have knocked our float into single sticks in an instant if we had chanced to run against them in the darkness of the night. Notwithstanding our caution about 8 o'clock we ran upon a sunken rock, where we stuck hard and fast until 1 o'clock. In order to extricate ourselves from this uncomfortable situation three of our party, Messrs. W.H.G. Thompson, Wood and McKenzie swam ashore, carrying with them a line which they made fast to the shore, and by means of which we drew the raft off the rock, after half cutting it in two.
After we got afloat again we proceeded without further difficulty through a tolerably open and level country, and arrived at Fort George at 8 o'clock on Monday morning, the 8th day of September. Fort George is situated on the north side of the Fraser, at the great bend, and near the mouth of Stuart's River, which flows into the Fraser from the north. By the time we reached this point Mr. Patterson, who had been continually growing weaker since his severe exposure at the rapids, was found to be in a very critical condition. He was removed from the raft into the Fort where he received every attention at the hands of Dr. Stevenson and others; but the trial had been too severe, for he sank rapidly, and died at 9 o'clock in the evening of the day of our arrival. We buried him near the fort on the following day, the 9th.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down.
We found a great many Indians camped near the Fort, from whom we procured some provisions, such as potatoes, turnips and berries, with bear, beaver and badger meat. We considered ourselves fortunate in meeting these natives, as our provisions were nearly out, and there was nothing for us to buy at the Fort. This was the most northerly point reached during our journey. Mr. Charles, the master of Fort George, was at this time down the river for winter supplies; and, as he was hourly expected, we waited for him until Wednesday morning the 10th, being desirous of obtaining all the information we could respecting the character of the river and its mining prospects, and the distance and direction to Cariboo.
As he had not arrived at this time, we started again, accompanied by an Indian whom we hired to pilot us through the rapids, which he represented as very dangerous. We reached the place at 10 o'clock, about fifteen miles below Fort George. We found the river here divided into a number of streams by huge rocks rising in the channel, against and between which the water rushed with considerable violence, but as they were far less difficult to navigate than those we had already passed, they gave us but little trouble. The channel is obstructed in this manner for a distance of half-a-mile, and the broken and rugged banks, with their overhanging cliffs, bear a striking resemblance to those of the great canyon above Fort George. The most dangerous part of it consisted of a shelving rock in the centre of the principal channel, upon which a large body of water was propelled to some distance, and, falling off at both sides, formed a double whirlpool below. All passed through them in safety. Immediately below the rapids we fell in with a company of miners, all Chinamen, who were working with rockers upon a bar on the left bank of the river. These were the first mining operations we saw; but from this point all the way down the river we were continually meeting small parties working in the same manner, at intervals of every three or four miles.
We camped on Wednesday night where a party of Chinamen were working, who informed us that they were making from two to five dollars per day. On the following morning we left our moorings, and proceeded on our way in the midst of a dense fog. During the morning we passed several rapids; but as we had no previous intimation of their existence we were generally into them or through them before we had time to think whether we were going. As our course for two days had been directly southward, and as we were rapidly descending from the mountains, we observed the climate becoming perceptibly warmer.
But the happy time for which we had long been waiting at last arrived. At 2.45, P.M., on Thursday, the 11th day of September, we arrived at the Mouth of the Quesnelle, all heartily glad at having reached our destination, and delighted that so long, difficult and dangerous a journey was at length concluded. But it was only after we had been allowed a little time for reflection, and had an opportunity to take a retrospective view of all the way by which we came, to consider the innumerable perils to which we had been continually exposed, through all the vicissitudes of our journey, during a period of nearly five months, and to talk of our numerous hairbreadth escapes, that we could fully realize or entirely comprehend the magnitude of the work we had accomplished.90
The following is a brief account of the adventures of those who came down the Thompson River, for the particulars of which we are indebted to Mr. John Fannin, of the Queenston party; Mr. R.P. Mead, of the St. Thomas party; and others. (As I have already stated, this party consisted of over twenty men, together with Mrs. Schubert and family, who came by this way for the purpose, if possible, of bringing through our horses.)
On Monday, the 1st day of September, the day upon which we left the Cache with our rafts, they crossed the river with the animals and camped on the south side of the Fraser. On the following morning, the 2d, they began their doubtful and wearisome march southward, being accompanied by a Shoushwap, who engaged to show them a trail to the head of the Thompson, and Andre Cardinal, our late guide, as interpreter. For the first two days after leaving the Fraser they found a tolerably good road; but after that time the Indian was unable to find a trail at all, so that they had to make one for themselves. Finding their guide of no further use to them they sent him back and trusted to the skill of Andre, a most faithful and intelligent guide, to pilot them safely through. After toiling along for about two weeks, during which time they could only travel five or six miles a day, they reached the North Branch of the Thompson; and only those who are accustomed to making new trails through mountainous, broken and heavily timbered countries, can have any idea of the difficulties they must have encountered.
Here the mountains approach so near the river that they could proceed no further without crossing and re-crossing several times. They therefore determined to abandon all the horses except a few of the best, and to undertake to bring them down upon rafts. They, accordingly, built a number of rafts and canoes, but their progress down the river was very slow as the channel was obstructed in many places by heaps of driftwood. through which they had to cut their passage. After running in this way, with variable fortune, for seven days, during which four of the party, Messrs. A. Thompson, Fannin, Hugill and W. Fortune were fast upon a snag for two days and one night without any provisions, they reached a long and impassable rapid.
Here Mr. Strachan, of the London party, was drowned while attempting to swim ashore. Several others, who were also drawn into the rapids before they observed them, narrowly escaped the same fate, some by jumping ashore, and two, Messrs. Thompson and Fannin, by clinging to a rock in the middle of the stream, against which their raft was dashed to pieces, and from which they were rescued about an hour afterward by Mr. Andrew Holes, with a can.
Here they were obliged to make a portage of about eight miles, which was accomplished with some difficulty. Having reached the foot of the rapids they were under the necessity of constructing another set of rafts before they could proceed. While they were building these rafts a company of four miners came up the river, prospecting, from whom they received such information respecting their situation as they needed. They had only gone about forty miles with their new rafts when they came to another series of rapids, which were also impassable. From this point they found a good trail to Fort Kamloops, a distance of some 120 miles, which they reached on the 11th day of October. They had a very hard time of it, as their provisions were all exhausted, and but for the field of potatoes which they found by the way, some of them must have perished with hunger.
In performing this journey Mrs. Schubert has accomplished a task to which but few women are equal; and, with the additional care of three small children, one which but few men would have the courage to undertake. By her unceasing care for her children, by her unremitting and devoted attention to their every want, and by her never-failing solicitude about their welfare, she exemplified the nature and power of that maternal affection which prompts a mother to neglect her own comfort for the wellbeing of her child, by which she rises superior to every difficulty, and which only glows with a brighter intensity as dangers deepen around her offspring. The whole family reached Fort Kamloops in safety, and another was added to their number the day after their arrival.
It now becomes my painful duty, in closing this part of my narrative, to add still another name to the long list of mortality. Mr. Frank Penwarden, of the St. Thomas party, was drowned by the upsetting of a canoe in the Thompson River, about twenty-five miles below Fort Kamloops, while his five companions were almost miraculously rescued by two Indian lads who happened to be near them.
Thus six of those who left their homes with us, whose hopes for the future were as bright, whose expectations were as boundless and whose prospects for a long life were as promising and brilliant as our own, are now numbered with the dead. The Supreme Disposer of all events, in the exercise of His inscrutable wisdom, has disappointed their earthly hopes; and I trust that those of us who were exposed to the same accidents, and who still survive the same or like dangers, will not fail to acknowledge His goodness in the preservation of our lives, and to recognise His providential care over us through all the vicissitudes of the following statement will exhibit in a condensed form the total expenses of our trip, as well as the different articles of our company outfit:
Fare from Queenston to St. Paul by R.R. and
" " St. Paul to Fort Garry by Burbank & Co.'s
stages and Str. International, $25.00
Outfit, including share of
Dishes and cooking utensils, 2.00
Mining tools, 2.00
Ox, cart, harness and pack-saddle, 25.00
168 lbs., Flour, $6.00
50 " Pemican, 3.00
Beans, codfish and dried apples 1.50
Groceries, consisting of
Tea, Coffee, Sugar, Pepper, Salt, Mustard,
Bak'g Soda, Vinegar and Matches,
Incidental expenses, comprising
payment of 4 guides, $2.00
Board at St. Paul, Georgetown and
Fort Garry, 5.00
Charges for use of H.B. Boats, &c., 1.00
Total expenses, $97.65
Our mining tools were the only articles in the above list that we found to be unnecessary. They were also very troublesome to carry, particularly after we began packing, and the price of them would have been much more judiciously expended in an additional supply of groceries.
The following table of distances has been calculated from a system of dead-reckoning which we adopted, and does not pretend to be absolutely correct, and should therefore be accepted with some allowances; but from the scrupulous care with which a record of our daily progress was kept, it is believed that this computation will be found to be a very close approximation to the actual distances. That portion of it between Fort Garry and Tete Jaune Cache cannot vary more than a few miles at most, but the data from which we estimated the distances down the Fraser are more liable to error, since the current flows much faster in some places than in others and it is very difficult to arrive at an average rate upon which to base a calculation.
From Queenston to St. Paul, 5 days. 4 days 900 miles
St. Paul to
Georgetown, 11 5 320
Georgetown to Fort
Garry, 18 6 430
Totals by public
conveyance 34 15 1650
Fort Garry to Fort
Ellice, 19 12 250
Ft. Ellice to Touchwood
Hills, 9 7 172
Touchwood Hills to
South Saskatchewan, 7 6 125
South Saskatchewan to
Carlton House, 1 1 18
Carlton House to
Ft. Pitt, 8 7 153
Ft. Pitt to
Edmonton House, 12 9 200
Total distance with
Carts, 56 42 918
Edmonton House to
Pembina River, 14 6 95
Pembina to McLeod's
River, 5 5 86
McLeod's R. to foot
of Mts., 9 7 135
Foot of Mountains
to Tete Jaune Cache 9 9 143
Total dist. with
pack horses 37 27 459
Tete Jaune Cache to
the Big Rapids, 9 5 280
Big Rapids to Fort
George, 3 3 155 Fort George to
Mouth of Quesnelle 3 2 85
Total distance with
rafts, 15 10 520
Quesnelle 142 94 3547
It is rather unfortunate for our present purpose that we were not provided with some philosophical instruments with which we might have taken more extensive and accurate observations of the climate, its temperature, humidity, &c., of the altitude of the mountains and the elevation at different points of the road by which we came over them, with the grades in ascending and descending the various slopes; of the currents of the different streams, and other matters respecting this Territory that are likely soon to become of paramount importance. The facts that have been given in the foregoing account were gathered merely from personal observation, and are consequently liable to inaccuracies.
Although the journey was performed at considerable sacrifice of time, and unfortunately with loss of life also, and is not likely to be attended with any direct personal advantage to those who survived it; yet, in a public and national sense, I think we may reasonably entertain a hope that it will not be without a practical and beneficial effect. It has at all events demonstrated the practicability of the route, not only for men but for horses and oxen also, some of which were brought through by both Fraser River and Thompson River routes. It will also serve to awaken public attention in Canada, the country that would be most directly benefited by the opening up and colonization of this territory, since every corner of Canada was represented in our company, numbers of which will convey to every neighborhood some goodly report of the land.
The mineral resources of this region, which have been merely hinted at in the preceding pages, in connection with the rich deposits that are known to exist upon the western side of the mountains, may yet this territory in the vanguard of the nations, when once they are fully developed. But it is to its agricultural capacity that I wish at this time to invite special attention. During our journey across this territory we followed, as nearly as we could judge, making due allowance for the advance of the season, an isothermal line of the northern counties of Western Canada. On both sides of our trail, but particularly on the south side, between our path and the 49th parallel, are tens of thousands of acres of the most fertile land which, in the exuberance of its productions, even in a state of nature, almost rivals tropical vegetation. In a sanitary point of view I think it will not suffer from a comparison with the most favored sections of the world. That so large a company, selected at random and without any special reference to soundness of constitution, some of whom, indeed, were suffering from chronic diseases, which were greatly alleviated or entirely removed, should be exposed to all the hardships necessarily encountered upon such a trip, for so long a period of time, without a single man, even for a day, upon the sick list, is certainly very remarkable, and is a standing proof of the healthfulness and salubrity of the climate.
Why, then, should the crowded cities of Europe still continue to be overburdened with a redundant population, while upwards of two hundred thousand square miles of such land, with such a desirable climate, are lying waste and uncultivated and inviting occupation? Besides, but few of the hardships incident to the early settlement of heavily timbered countries would here be encountered. Here a home is already prepared for the pioneers of the country. The fields are ready for putting in the plough, while the immense herds of buffaloes that feed upon the plains would furnish a certain and abundant supply of food until a crop could be gathered from the soil. The scarcity of timber for building purposes in many localities would no doubt be an impediment to the settlement of the country; but the great river already described the great arteries which contain the very life-blood of the territory-rise in regions densely covered with magnificent timber, whence it could easily be floated to nearly every corner of the land. Ale hostility of the various Indian tribes, upon whose hunting grounds settlements would necessarily encroach, may be urged as another difficulty. We did entertain grave apprehensions upon this point before we set out upon our journey, and armed ourselves accordingly; but we found the red men of the prairies to be our best friends, and before we reached the end of our trip we were only too glad to meet them.
But if the country we have attempted to describe is really so desirable, the question would immediately arise, what facilities for transportation would an immigrant here be likely to meet with? I answer that, when once in the country, natural facilities sufficient for the want of a young colony already exist. In the first place the level and unbroken nature of the country presents but very few obstructions to the progress of wheeled carriages in any direction, and almost to any distance that may be desired. Then, Lake Winnipeg and the Great Saskatchewan Rivers offer an almost unbroken line of communication from the Selkirk Settlement to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Again, the Assiniboine and Qu'Appelle Rivers on the south of this line, and the Pembina, McLeod's and Athabaska on the north, with numerous subsidiary streams, divide whole North-West Territory into convenient sections. A line of communication following Lake Winnipeg and the North Branch of the Saskatchewan to the Acton House and thence across the mountains, by the Vermillion Pass, has already been described in one of the maps accompanying the report of the exploring expedition sent out by the Canadian Government, in 1858. After passing over the ground I can see no insuperable obstacle to the carrying out of the designs therein contemplated. But another route, involving still less land travel, might be obtained by pursuing the lines indicated on the map as far as the Edmonton House; thence by land to the Pembina, a distance, according to our estimates, of 95 miles; thence by the Pembina and Athabaska Rivers to the upper crossing of the Athabaska, from which point a wagon road could easily be built to Tete Jaune Cache, a distance, by the trail, of a little over 100 miles, making 200 miles in all. From the Cache the Fraser is navigable the whole way into Cariboo, with the exception of the rapids we have previously described, around which short portage roads might be constructed with but little difficulty.
In thus pointing out these different roads across the continent, I do not wish to be understood as recommending, or in the least degree encouraging, the "Overland Route" as a means merely of reaching the gold fields of British Columbia, in the present condition of the country. It is certainly cheap, healthy and practicable; but these advantages are more than counterbalanced by the difference of time between this and the ocean route. The only obstacle, then, that prevents the immediate occupation and settlement of this magnificent tract of country, is the want of proper communication between the Red River Colony and Canada, and a sufficient outlet for its bountiful and munificent productions. But let sufficient transit facilities be established between Fort Garry and Fort William; let the flood gates once be lifted between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg, and a living stream would immediately pour in which would soon overflow the whole land. The wonder is that the tide of immigration has been so long restrained Then, this preliminary step having been taken in the right direction, the great, crowning work, towards the achievement of which the attention of thousands is at the present time eagerly directed-the construction of a great inter-oceanic railway that will connect the Atlantic with the Pacific-will follow as a national necessity.
Many of the apparent difficulties that at present surround the accomplishment of this gigantic enterprise are owing to the distance of the standpoint from which all our observations are taken. But let the light of science and civilization shine in upon the proposed track and these obstacles will speedily disappear. If, then, as present appearances indicate, this vast interjacent territory be destined to become the very heart and centre of the great British American Empire, that will unite in one grand confederation the present widely separated provinces, it is alike the duty and interest of all parties concerned to pursue towards it such a line of policy as will most surely and effectually hasten the accomplishment of so desirable an end. Then our highly favored country will take its place among the nations, and become one of the great highways for the commerce of the world. Then Canada, our borne, with her golden fields, and Columbia, the land of our adoption, with her fields of gold, shall become one and the same country, indissolubly united by a common nationality, and cemented by a community of commercial interests-one of the strongest links in that chain which binds together the great brotherhood of nations.
That this may be the proud destiny of our common country, and that we may be privileged in our own day to witness its glorious consummation, is the earnest wish of
Your obedient servant,