It is unfortunate that Mackenzie's notes of his voyage down the Fraser River are not clearer and fuller than they are. It is difficult to follow him and accurately recognise preciselyº all the localities of which he makes mention. This is rendered more difficult by his omission of well-known landmarks. It is possible that the mists that hung about the river in the early hours of the morning, generally about three or four o'clock when he began the day's travel, so obscured the shores that he may not have seen those local characteristics that would have made it so easy to follow his every movement. As it is, it is more or less guesswork to attempt to define his position from day to day. It is very evident that, after negotiating the difficulties of Bad River (James Creek), an affluent of Herrick Creek, the north branch of the North Fork of the Fraser, he camped at the junction of those two small streams, that confluence being a few miles from the broader North Fork itself, now named M'Gregor River.
Embarked in the cranky, scarcely sea‑worthy canoe, now so heavy by repeated repairs as to be no longer "easily carried •three or four miles by two men without resting," as when the expedition departed from Fort Forks on the Peace, the descent of the "great river," the Fraser, began. A very short distance carried them to M'Gregor River, and soon they entered a cañon, the p136 current being "very strong but perfectly safe," which bore them swiftly down‑stream to its junction with the South Fork, the main Fraser, which takes its rise in Tête Jaune Pass. The distance covered from the point of embarkation to the confluence is given by Mackenzie at •about thirty-seven miles, which is •ten miles too much. There they found the river, •half a mile wide, with a slack current and a depth of •sixteen feet. So far all is perfectly clear. There can be no mistake about the place at which they had arrived. "Here was the great fork of which our guide had informed us, and it appeared to be the largest branch from the south-east," the explorer notes in his journal. Then follows a detailed account of his courses, which show that after passing the confluence of the two main branches he travelled another •thirty‑two miles before making camp for the night. In that distance of thirty‑two miles two small rivers (Toy Creek and Salmon River) were seen flowing into the Fraser from the right‑hand (north) side, and at the last of these they saw smoke, presumably from Indian camp fires; but Mackenzie was unwilling to order his men to return up‑stream in order to visit the camp, and decided to postpone interviewing those natives until he was homeward bound.
The following morning — foggy again — embarkation took place at three o'clock, the murkiness of the atmosphere being increased by smoke from forest fires, the air being filled with the "strong odour of the gum of cypress and spruce‑fir". After travelling •twenty-eight miles, Mackenzie's estimate, "the rocks contracted in such a manner on both sides of the river as to afford the appearance of the upper part of a fall or cataract." A landing was made, a not very clearly defined trail followed — they conjectured it was traced by Indians making portages at that place; and upon examining the river before them, the travellers decided that "the rapids were of considerable length and impassable for a light canoe." p137 Whereupon the faintly marked Indian trail was widened to admit the passage of the canoe, which was carried on the shoulders of the men to the foot of the rapids. The weight of the craft was such that it cracked and broke as they carried it. The distance of the portage was only •half a mile, but it took four hours to accomplish i! "The labour and fatigue," declares Mackenzie, "beggars description, when we at length conquered this afflicting passage over a rocky and most rugged hill." While the canoe was being repaired, Mackenzie took an observation which gave him 53° 42′ 20″ N. latitude. Once more launching their craft, •a quarter of a mile took them to another carrying-place, a rocky point about twice the length of the canoe.
It was characteristic of Mackenzie to describe obstacles and difficulties he encountered in the mildest and most modest language. His description of this part of the cañon of the Upper Fraser is an instance of it. He says: "From the extremity of this point to the rocky and almost perpendicular bank that rose on the opposite shore is not more than forty or fifty yards. The great body of water, at the same time tumbling in successive cascades along the first carrying-place, rolls through this narrow passage in a very turbid current, and full of whirlpools." That is all. The next sentence is in such striking contrast that it is almost amusing. "On the banks of the river there was great plenty of wild onions, which when mixed up with our pemmican was a great improvement of it, though they produced a physical effect on our appetites, which was rather inconvenient to the state of our provisions."
What rapids are these described by Mackenzie in such bald fashion? There is no doubt but that the place referred to by the explorer is the Fort George Cañon, where the river divides into three channels, separated by masses of rock, rocky islets standing in mid‑stream, through which the water flows at a high velocity. In p138 support of this assumption the latitude given by Mackenzie, 53° 42′ 20″, is practically that of this situation. Setting the question of latitude aside, however, there are other circumstances that should be considered. Taking the forks of the Fraser as the starting-point, the distance travelled by Mackenzie from there to the rapids on the 18th and 19th totals •sixty miles according to his journal, an estimate that is •three miles short of the actual distance to Fort George at the mouth of the Nechaco River. As the rapids are •eighteen miles below the Nechaco, Mackenzie underestimated the distance from the Forks of the Fraser to the rapids by •over twenty miles. It is •eighty‑one miles from the Forks to Fort George Cañon.
Within comparatively recent years the Dominion Government has caused some of the obstacles to steamboat navigation of the Fraser at Fort George Cañon to be removed by blasting, so that the rapids are not to‑day identical with what they were in Mackenzie's time, though they are still sufficiently formidable. The writer has both run and ascended them since the "improvements" were made, and there is nothing to deter experienced boatmen from undertaking their passage without trepidation, although the novice may feel grave uneasiness. Other travellers, however, ran the rapids before the blasting was done. Four Canadians in 1862 made the passage in a canoe without portaging, and in the diary kept by one of them the incident is noted: "Past the rapids, thank God, in safety, and I think with not a great deal of trouble." And these men were not veteran voyageurs but townsmen, whose former experience with a canoe was paddling about the lakes in Ontario. Their canoe was a sound one, however. Perhaps had Mackenzie been possessed of one in like condition he would have run the rapids, and not obliged his men to carry the heavy, patched, and broken vessel with the lading over half a mile portage so rough and difficult to traverse that it occupied four long hours of unremitting labour!
p139 After travelling for •thirty-five miles below Fort George Cañon another rapid was encountered. "Here the river narrows between steep rocks, and a rapid succeeded, which was so violent that we did not venture to run it," says the journal. "I therefore ordered the loading to be taken out of the canoe, but she was now become so heavy that the men preferred running the rapid to the carrying her overland. Though I did not although approve of their proposition, I was unwilling to oppose it. Four of them undertook this hazardous expedition, and I hastened to the foot of the rapid with great anxiety to await the event, which turned out as I expected. The water was so strong that, although they kept clear of the rocks, the canoe filled, and in this state they drove half‑way down the rapid, but fortunately she did not overset; and having got her into an eddy they emptied her, and in a half-drowned condition arrived safe on shore. The carrying-place is about half a mile over, with an Indian path across it." There is no doubt as to this place: it is the Cottonwood Cañon, •about seventy-five miles below the mouth of the Nechaco.
The other party already mentioned, who descended the Fraser in 1862 in a canoe, had a similar experience at the same place, as is told in the following extract from a journal kept by one of them: "Had not gone more than •three or four miles when we came to the Cañon. We found it much worse than the other (Fort George Cañon) — high rocks on both sides. After hard work clambering along rocks and in the water we got her (the canoe) past the worse of it. We then came to a perpendicular cliff with no beach, so that we found were obliged to run her down what remained. We got in her, and were carried broadside by the force of an eddy right into the middle of the swell and very nearly filled; but, thanks to the Almighty, though she shipped considerable water, we got to shore. We then baled her out, and ran down the remainder without accident." p140 This is a better description of these rapids than that given by Mackenzie. The worst water occurs at the head of the cañon. In the cañon itself the walls of solid rock rise vertically from the water, the channel being very narrow. Between the walls of rock the river whirls and surges in eddies and whirlpools. Simon Fraser experienced a good deal of difficulty at the same place.
The following day, June 21st, the summer solstice, Mackenzie came to "where a large river flowed in from the left, and a smaller one from the right." The large river on the left is Quesnelle River, so named after Jules Maurice Quesnelle by Simon Fraser fifteen years later. The small river on the right is Puntataencut River.
Mackenzie did not halt at Quesnelle River, but, continuing the journey down‑stream, at the place afterwards named Deserter's River a canoe was seen drawn up the bank. While the travellers were taking a note of this, a second canoe containing one Indian emerged from a small stream. No sooner did the solitary boatman observe the strangers bearing down upon him than he gave a loud cry to alarm his friends. The response was immediate: a number of men, armed with bows, arrows, and spears, appeared on the river bank, and threatened instant death to Mackenzie and his companions should they attempt to land.
Since their guide deserted them at Bad River, Mackenzie had had no speech with any natives. During the descent of the river Indian encampments had been passed, and at one of these, after passing the rapids at Fort George Cañon, Mackenzie's hunters had overtaken some natives, who had fled into the woods as soon as they perceived the strangers' canoe. Notwithstanding the efforts made to convince them of their friendly intentions, the natives refused to listen, not only threatened them but discharged a number of arrows, which were only avoided by taking refuge behind trees. In their haste the natives had left their camp fires burning and p141 their baskets containing fishing-tackle and other articles, which the voyageurs examined with much curiosity. Mackenzie naïvely remarks: "I prevented my men from taking any of them; and for a few articles of mere curiosity, which I took myself, I left such things in exchange as would be more useful to their owners."
On the 20th, •eighteen miles below their camping-place of the night before, they had landed at a deserted native house, the first permanent habitation they had seen west of the mountains. It is described by Mackenzie as being •thirty feet long and twenty wide, with three doors each measuring •three feet high and a foot and a half wide. Inside were three fireplaces, with sleeping places on either side of them. The walls were •five feet in height, the roof being supported by a ridge pole resting on two upright forked poles •ten feet high. Poles stretched across the building were provided for the drying and smoking of fish. There also Mackenzie saw a large fish-trap, cylindrical in form. Everything was in excellent condition, from which he concluded its owners intended to return to it. Farther down the river they had seen two houses on islands, the last signs of the country being inhabited until they saw the Indians below Quesnelle.
On the same day, before their arrival at Cottonwood Cañon, they had passed a river, Blackwater River, on the right. Little did the explorer dream that his way to fame lay in the direction whence that stream flowed.
The canoe was in such a wretched condition that Mackenzie decided it had served its purpose, and a new one must be made as soon as possible. To this end he sent four men into the woods to secure a supply of birch bark, and at noon they returned with a quantity sufficient to make the bottom of a canoe •thirty feet long.
Resuming the narrative at the place — about midway between Quesnelle mouth and Alexandria, afterwards named Deserter's River — where the unfriendly natives had appeared on shore brandishing their weapons and p142 making hostile gestures, Mackenzie instructed his interpreters to make peace overtures. These produced no other result than threats of instant death should a landing be attempted, the threat being emphasised by the discharge of a flight of arrows, none of which, fortunately, did any harm. Unwilling to expose his men needlessly to danger, and equally unwilling to pass on without placating the natives, Mackenzie landed on the opposite side of the river abreast of them. In the meantime two natives set off in a canoe down‑stream to spread the alarm to the people below, and probably with the intention of returning with reinforcements. Mackenzie comments: "This circumstance determined me to leave no means untried that might engage us in a friendly intercourse with them before they acquired additional security and confidence by the arrival of their relations and neighbours, to whom their situation would be shortly notified. I therefore formed the adventurous project which was happily crowned with success. I left the canoe and walked by myself along the beach, in order to induce some of the natives to come to me, which I imagined they might be disposed to do when they saw me alone, without any apparent possibility of receiving assistance from my people"; but not to expose himself unnecessarily to undue risk, he posted one of the interpreters, armed with two guns, in the woods, with instructions to kill any native who might attempt to shoot him. "I had not been long at my station," recounts Mackenzie, "and my Indian in ambush behind me, when two of the natives came in a canoe, but stopped when they got within a hundred yards of me. I made signs for them to land, and, as an inducement, displayed looking-glasses, beads, and other alluring tickets. At length, but with every mark of apprehension, they approached the shore, stern foremost, but would not venture to land. I now made them a present of some beads, with which they were going to push off, when I renewed my entreaties, and p143 after some time prevailed on them to come ashore and sit down by me." Acting upon instructions given beforehand, the interpreter now joined them and conversed with them. Mackenzie invited them to accompany him to his camp, but they declined, and when they saw some of the voyageurs approaching they requested Mackenzie to send them back, which he promptly did. Soon afterwards they embarked in their canoe, recrossed the river, and rejoined their own people, who received them with great joy. They displayed their gifts to their friends, and after a consultation together an invitation was extended to Mackenzie to visit their encampment. So promptly was the invitation acted upon, the voyageurs displaying unusual alacrity, that the fears of the natives were again partly aroused, but this uneasiness was soon dispelled: trinkets were distributed among the adults, and sugar given to the children.
Seizing the opportunity to ascertain some information about the country, Mackenzie instructed his interpreters to make inquiries. From the answers received the explorers learned that the river ran south, and that white people were building houses at its mouth. In this statement they were, of course, wrong. Fraser River, as such, had not been "discovered," and no white men had as yet entered or visited its mouth, both Captain Vancouver and the Spanish navigators having failed to find it. The tales these Indians had heard, carried from tribe to tribe from the coast to the interior, had reference to the settlement at Nootka on Vancouver Island.
Mackenzie learned also that farther down‑stream the river was absolutely impassable in three places from falls and rapids, which were infinitely higher, more rugged and dangerous than anything he had yet encountered. In addition to the difficulties of navigation, there were dangers from their neighbours, whom they represented as a "very malignant race, who lived in large subterranean recesses." Their neighbours were the Shuswaps, p144 Lillooets, the Thompsons, and the subterranean recesses were the habitations known as "Keekwillie houses," abodes half excavated and half superstructure, in which they lived while at their permanent or winter quarters. They were much concerned when the travellers told them of their intention to continue their journey until they arrived at the sea, and strove to dissuade them from making the attempt, assuring them that they would be killed by the natives, who were possessed of iron, arms, and utensils obtained through the medium of the Indians of the coast from white people who came in great canoes.
None of these tales discouraged Mackenzie. So far from being dissuaded from continuing his journey, he persuaded two of the natives to accompany him. Before this could be carried into operation a canoe containing three men came into view from down the river, relatives of the people the travellers were then with, and who had been told of the arrival of the strangers by the two men who had hastened down‑stream to spread the alarm. So fearful were they that, although they must have observed the amicable relations that had been established between the white men and their relatives, they assumed a threatening attitude. Their fears, however, were soon removed, and they landed. One of them, who is described as middle-aged person, who appeared to command the respect of his fellows, and who, upon learning the nature of the errand of the travellers, advised them to delay their departure until all the people among whom the alarm was being communicated should arrive; for if they attempted to push on, they would assuredly meet with opposition, and that the presence of two of the natives would not help them, doubtless because it would be assumed they were being held as slaves, or at any rate detained against their wills. Thinking that by further delay he might ascertain something more about the country, Mackenzie ordered the canoe to be unloaded and his tent pitched. Here, as at other places, he found p145 that once a footing of friendship was established the natives became uncomfortably familiar, and he was obliged to let them know he wished to be alone and undisturbed. From the man who appeared to be a sort of leader among them, Mackenzie succeeded in obtaining a rough sketch, drawn on a piece of bark, of a plan of the course of the river.
Mackenzie conversed with these people a good deal during his sojourn among them. They numbered seven families, containing eighteen men. He described them as being clad in leather (buckskin) and handsome beaver and rabbit-skin robes. They had come there to fish for the winter supply, and, says the explorer, "the fish which they take are large, and only visit this part of the river at certain seasons." This fish is the salmon, which run up that river and its tributaries on their way to the spawning grounds. The Indians make a practice of catching large numbers of them, which they split, dry in the sun, and sometimes cure by smoking, for winter consumption. Mackenzie thought the natives at that camp but little, if any, different in manners, appearance, and language from "Rocky Mountain Indians."
As none of the people expected from far down the river arrived at the camp, Mackenzie decided to continue the voyage on the morning of June 22nd, which fell on a Saturday. Before leaving he told them that if he found what they had been told to be correct, he would either return himself or send some other person to them with a supply of such goods as they might wish to have.
Taking two of the natives with them — one in a small pointed canoe with Mr Mackay, the other in the larger canoe with Mackenzie, — a start was made at six o'clock. The river was here bordered by the "benches" which are characteristic of part of the valleys of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. After covering •about eleven miles they landed near a house "the roof of which alone appeared above ground," one of the keekwillie houses p146 already referred to. The house did not contain any people, but on the bench above several men were seen, "who displayed the same postures and menacing actions as those we have so lately described." The two hostages, or guides, were sent to them, but it was not until after a prolonged discussion that one of them was persuaded to visit the strangers. Shortly afterwards the remainder of the party, seven in number, followed his example. They carried their bows and arrows in their hands ready for instant use, their garments being so arranged as to leave the right arm uncovered and free for action. A cord fastened a blanket or leather covering under the right armpit, so that it hung upon the left shoulder, and might be occasionally employed as a target that would turn an arrow which was nearly spent. As soon as they had recovered from their fears, ten women joined them, but they had left their children at a distance where they could not be harmed. A few presents and the assurance of friendly intentions put them all on a good understanding. The use of firearms was explained and demonstrated. "At the same time," says Mackenzie, "I calmed their astonishment by the assurance, that, though we could at once destroy those who did us injury, we could equally protect those who showed us kindness."
•Three miles farther on several more natives were seen on the high ground, a landing was made, and the guides sent to them as before; but so wild and ferocious did these people appear that fears were entertained for the safety of the messengers of goodwill and peace. At length, however, they were persuaded to adopt a more friendly attitude and to visit the strangers, which they did one after another, sixteen men and several women, Mackenzie shaking hands with each, a form of salutation they had not seen before, but which the interpreters explained to them as a sign of friendship. The natives invited the strangers to pass the night at their lodges, which were not far distant, promising to send two of their p147 young men with them the following day to introduce them to "the next station, who were very numerous, and ill‑disposed towards strangers."
As Mackenzie was about to embark, with the intention of proceeding to the lodges of these natives, one of the women spoke several words in the Knisteneaux language, a term which Mackenzie appears to use as comprehending almost all of the Indian inhabitants of the plains east of the Rocky Mountains. As his interpreters understood that tongue, they were able to repeat her tale to the explorer. She told them that her people dwelt at the forks of that river, what Mackenzie calls a Rocky Mountain Indian, and that she had been taken prisoner by the Knisteneaux — probably on a war expedition — and had been carried by them across the mountains, where she had spent the greater part of a summer before she could make her escape, and, having recrossed the mountains, hoped to reach her own country and friends. Instead, she had fallen into the hands of the people with whom she now was, and who had visited her country as a war party, and driven her friends from the river into the mountains. She had no cause to complain of her present husband, but expressed a strong desire to return to her own people. Mackenzie requested her to go to him when he arrived at the native lodges, which she promised to do, but failed to keep her engagement, doubtless being prevented from so doing by the man who had taken possession of her.
Mackenzie arrived at the encampment before his hosts, but they soon joined him, with a greater number of women than had appeared before, but of the female prisoner he saw nothing. There were twenty-five people at the camp, too many to permit of a lavish distribution of gifts. Among the men were four from the neighbouring nation, and one Rocky Mountain Indian who had been with them for some time. By using him as an intermediary interpreter Mackenzie was successful in learning all p148 those people could tell him of the country and the river. He interpreted in his own tongue what the natives replied, and Mackenzie's own interpreters, who understood his language, interpreted to their leader. Selecting an elderly man from among the four inhabitants of the adjoining country, whose countenance prepossessed him in his favour, Mackenzie again explained the object of his journey, and asked their assistance in giving him information. At Mackenzie's request this person drew a sketch of the country upon a large piece of bark. He described the river as running to the east of south, receiving many rivers, and every six or eight leagues broken by falls and rapids, some of which were dangerous, and six of them impracticable. The portages, he said, were of great length, passing over hills and mountains. He told of three other tribes who spoke different languages. Beyond the countries they inhabited he knew nothing, save that it was a long way to the sea; and that, as he had heard, there was a "lake" which the natives did not drink. Few of these people ever came to the river, and then only at certain seasons to fish; that they procured iron, brass, copper, and trinkets from the westward, and that formerly those articles were obtained from the lower parts of the river. A knife was produced which had come from that quarter: its blade was •ten inches long and an inch and a half wide, with a horn handle. It was said to have been "obtained from white men long before they had heard that any came to the westward." "One very old man observed," says the journal, "that as long as he could remember, he was told of white people to the southward; and that he had heard, though he did not vouch for the truth of the report, that one of them had made an attempt to come up the river, and was destroyed." The "white people to the southward" were, no doubt, the Spaniards who had settled in California and Mexico. It is amazing with what rapidity news filtered through nation after nation, p149 travelling immense distances and losing little of its original import in the process.
These people told Mackenzie that the distance across the country to the sea, the "Western Ocean," was very short. His own opinion was that it could not exceed five or six degrees, in which supposition he was quite within the mark. "If the assertion of Mr Mears be correct," comments Mackenzie, "it cannot be so far, as the inland sea which he mentions within Nootka must come as far east as 126° W. longitude."
The Mr Mears here mentioned was Captain John Meares. He had served as lieutenant in the Royal Navy in the war between Great Britain on the one side and Spain and France on the other. At the conclusion of the war he took command of a merchant ship to Calcutta, and while there decided to venture in the fur trade on the north-west coast of the American continent. As commander of the Nootka, a vessel of two hundred tons he had purchased together with the Sea Otter of half the tonnage, he sailed to Unalaska in 1786. Wintering in northern waters, his men suffered severely from scurvy, many of them perishing. Next year he sailed for China after a successful summer of trading. In 1788 Meares returned to the north-west coast with two other vessels, the Felice and the Iphigenia, he being in personal command of the first-named, and visited Nootka. It is not necessary in this place to enter into his activities and difficulties there; suffice it to say that after vainly searching down the coast for the river, which the Spaniards alleged they had discovered and named Rio de San Roque, he declared: "We can now with safety assert that there is no such river as that of San Roc, as laid down in the charts." It was, however, up that river that Captain Gray sailed in 1792 and named the Columbia. Having failed to find that stream, Meares sailed north again with the intent of exploring the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and, and sent his mate, Duffin, in the longboat to p150 penetrate the strait up which Captain Barkley had sailed the previous year. This was the so‑called "inland sea . . . within Nootka" referred to above, but which extends farther to the east than the position Mackenzie assigned to it.
The natives assured Mackenzie that the road to the sea by the way they indicated was not difficult, as they avoided the mountains, keeping in the lowlands between them. According to them, their trail was well-defined from being travelled so often, and followed streams and a chain of lakes. To reach the people with whom they traded furs and buckskin for brass, iron, beads, &c., took them six days. These other people were the Bella Coola Indians, who obtained the metals, beads, &c., from white people who "were building houses at a distance," by which Nootka was meant. Hoping to learn from the female prisoner he had conversed with the previous day, definite information of the country "beyond the forks of the river, as well as of the pass through the mountains, from them," Mackenzie made inquiries about her, but received such evasive replies that he came to the conclusion her guardians feared his intention was to take her from them.
To all of this the members of the expedition had listened with keen attention, and they decided that it would be madness to continue journeying down the river through so hostile a country. The murmuring of the men, the scarcity of provisions — enough for no more than thirty days, — the small quantity of ammunition remaining, caused Mackenzie much perturbation, but did not deter him from his purpose of reaching the ocean. He decided, however, to change the manner of achieving his object by following the route just described to him. He was influenced in coming to this decision not only by the attitude of his men and the other circumstances mentioned, but because he now was of the opinion that the river he was following would not take him to where p151 he wished to arrive. "The more I heard of the river," he says, "the more I was convinced it would not empty itself into the ocean to the north of what is called the river of the west, so that with its windings the distance must be very great."
It has been supposed that by "the river of the west" here alluded to, Mackenzie referred to the river Captain Meares had looked for unsuccessfully, but which the Spaniards claimed existed, and which was "discovered" by Gray in May 1792, the Columbia. Mackenzie could not have heard of that discovery. Captain Gray did not return to Boston until July 1793, and it is very unlikely that intelligence of the discovery, even if known in London or Boston in 1792, could have reached Mackenzie before setting out from Fort Chipewyan for Peace River. It was not, therefore, the Columbia River Mackenzie had in mind when he wrote of the "river of the west," but of that other river of which he had learned when ascending the Mackenzie in 1789. His observations of latitude would give him sufficient evidence to convince him the river he was on could not empty itself into the ocean north of that stream, which he believed poured its waters into or near Norton Sound. The same evidence would tell him, if he had known of its existence, that the Fraser must necessarily reach the sea to the north of the River Oregon, that river of the west Jonathan Carver had written about. It may, therefore, be reasonably assumed that Mackenzie was thinking of Cook's River or the Yukon.
After a restless night, most of it spent, doubtless, in anxious thought over the problems that confronted him, he endeavoured to elicit further information from the Indians, and they told him that the place where they left the Fraser to reach the people to the westward with whom they traded was where another river flowed into it from that direction, and that they ascended that river in their canoes for four days, and, beyond that, two nights saw them at their journey's end.
p152 Mackenzie realised that the psychological effect of a retrograde movement upon his men would not be good, but there seemed no help for it. Calling them together he diplomatically commended them for their patience, fortitude, and perseverance, telling them of the shorter route he had decided to pursue, but at the same time demanding of them a pledge that should this shorter way prove unfruitful they would return with him to the Fraser and continue the original route, and concluded by solemnly declaring that he would not abandon his design of reaching the sea if he had to make the attempt alone.
The result of such an address to the impressionable emotional voyageurs was precisely what one would look for from such people and under such circumstances — they unanimously professed their willingness, now as they had ever been, to abide by his decisions, and to follow him wherever he should go. This matter satisfactorily settled, Mackenzie requested them to prepare for immediate departure, and notified the natives of his intention, as well as informing the one who was to accompany them as guide. Before leaving that camp, Mr Mackay carved Mackenzie's name and the date upon a tree. At the last moment the guide-to‑be suggested that he should proceed by land to his lodge to make preparations to go with them. His reason for proposing it was that he would reach his abode before them, and would be ready to embark when they arrived. Mackay and the two interpreters went with him.
At ten in the forenoon Mackenzie embarked, and made much faster time against the current than he anticipated possible in such a wretched craft. Arriving at the rendezvous, their new guide announced his intention of again going on by land, and Mackenzie could only acquiesce. He took the precaution, however, of sending the same companions with him.
Short after resuming the voyage up the river, Mackenzie p153 observed a canoe containing three men coming down. As soon as the natives saw the travellers they made for the shore, hauled out their canoe, and concealed themselves in the woods. The canoe was recognised as one they had seen before at the Indian houses. Soon afterwards they passed another canoe drawn up stern first on the shore. Camp was made that night at nine o'clock near a native encampment of two families whom they had seen at the houses. Mackenzie went to their camp immediately, and sat down with them. They gave him some roasted fish, and two of his men who had followed him were also treated to some of their provisions. The younger of the two male natives soon afterwards went away and did not return, and when Mackenzie retired to his own tent he felt some surprise that the other native did not accompany him; at their former meeting when going down the river he had been with Mackenzie day and night. Although he thought the conduct of these two men very strange, the explorer did not attach any great importance to it, nor suffer any apprehension for the safety of Mackay and those with him. Next day, however, continuing the journey, when they came in sight of the place where they first saw the natives, Deserter's River, about half‑way between Alexandria and Quesnelle, the travellers were much surprised and disappointed to see Mackay and the two Indian hunters emerge alone from the shelter of a half-ruined house. Their countenances betrayed alarm, and as soon as Mackenzie landed, they told him "that they had taken refuge in that place, with the determination to sell their lives, which they considered in the most imminent danger, as dear as possible."
It appeared that shortly after they had set out with the native from his house after parting with the canoe party, they had met a party of Indians, whom they had seen where they now were on the occasion of the downward voyage, and who appeared on this occasion to be p154 in a state of extreme anger and with arrows fitted to the string and bows bent threateningly. Their guide asked these men some questions, and upon of receiving their answers, which none of Mackay's party understood, set off at his utmost speed. Mackay, however, followed by his men, ran after him until he overtook him, exhausted with running. In reply to Mackay's demand for an explanation of his conduct, the native said that some treachery was designed against them. Having told them this tale, the guide again began to run, taking them "through very bad ways"; nor would he slacken his pace when asked to do so, alleging his haste to rejoin his family so that he might prepare moccasins and other necessaries for the journey. He kept this up until ten at night, when they all rested on the ground, cold, wet, and hungry, and arrived at the lodges to find them deserted. The guide made several trips into the woods, calling aloud and bellowing like a madman, and wound up by running away in the direction whence they had come, and had not been seen since. As Mackenzie was not at that rendezvous, Mackay feared the canoe party had all been destroyed, and he and his companions had already planned to take to the woods, and try to reach Peace River by following as direct a line in that direction as best they could — a wild scheme that could only have resulted in disaster. The hour of noon had been fixed upon as the limit of time they would wait for the arrival of Mackenzie. If he failed to appear then, they would have started on their perilous and hopeless venture.
At hearing this recital all Mackenzie's men became panic-stricken, and were for immediately abandoning further prosecution of the expedition. Mackenzie calmly faced the grave situation. He totally ignored the mutterings and terrors of his companions, coolly ordered them to unload the canoe all but six packages, and when this p155 was done he left four men in charge of the unloaded goods; and embarking in the canoe with the remaining men, returned to where he had camped the previous night, where he hoped to find the natives whom he had seen there. In this he was disappointed: they had flitted away in the silence of the night, and left every article of their property behind them, and he returned to where he had left the cargo and four men.
These strange circumstances perplexed him. Of their safety in case of attack he had no fear, not even if all the natives they had encountered combined against them. The superiority of firearms over bows and arrows ensured their ability to successfully resist an onslaught by much greater numbers, but he feared that the natives might so harass and annoy as to render a continuance of the journey to the sea impossible. That possibility disturbed him infinitely more than the prospect of a pitched battle. And not only had he this anxiety, but his own followers clamoured for immediate return to the Peace River. Mackenzie had no such intention. He was made of stouter stuff. The very presence of danger and difficulty seemed but to serve as a stimulus to his determination to persevere. He neither temporised nor expostulated with his timorous associates, but peremptorily bade them unload the canoe and take it out of the water. Upon examining the goods they found that the natives had stolen an axe, two knives, and the hunters' medicine‑bag.
Mackenzie did not fail to realise the gravity of the situation. He had no intention of being caught napping, and immediately took steps to ensure their safety. He selected a position that he considered best calculated for defence, ordered the arms to be put in proper condition, served out a hundred bullets — the whole remaining stock, — and set some of the men to melt down shot to make more. While so employed they saw an Indian come down the river in a canoe and land at the native lodges, p156 which he carefully examined. Upon perceiving the white men he stood still as if uncertain what to do. Mackenzie took advantage of his state of mind to despatch one of his interpreters to interview him, but no arguments would persuade him to have confidence in the strangers; on the contrary, he threatened he would hasten to his friends, who would come and kill them all. He then disappeared.
The canoe was in need of repair, but they had no gum with which to patch it, nor had any of the company sufficient courage to venture into the woods in search of any. If they had to use it, it must be as it was, leaky and broken. To prepare for any emergency Mackenzie had the craft loaded again, and securely fastened to the shore by stout pickets. A constant watch was kept day and night, and a sentinel, who was relieved every hour, was placed at a distance. He himself snatched sleep when he could, always keenly alert, watchful that none relaxed in the performance of his duty.
The next day, June 25th, Mackay told him that the men had expressed their dissatisfaction to him without reservation, and had declared their determination not to follow the explorer any farther. Mackenzie, however, ignored these additional signs of discontent among his followers, and continued to employ his thoughts in contriving some way of reconciling the natives, without whose assistance as guides he would not be able to proceed, "when," he says in his journal, "my darling project would end in disappointment."
At noon that day they saw a man coming down‑stream on a raft, but as soon as he espied the strangers he landed on the opposite shore, and instantly disappeared in the woods. Even in the midst of such immediate danger, unrest, and anxiety, Mackenzie did not fail in the exercise of his duty, for he then took an observation, and calculated his position at 52° 47′ 51′ N. latitude. While he was thus engaged his men prepared the canoe without p157 being ordered, and Mackenzie believed they had decided to begin the return journey without waiting for his commands. Again exercising his wonderful self-restraint, although he must have been extremely angry with them, he pretended not to have noticed what they were doing, and fortunately at that moment an incident occurred that diverted the attention of all the company. The Indian interpreters saw some one moving at the edge of the woods, and so reported to Mackenzie, who at once sent them to discover who it was. They soon returned with a young woman whom Mackenzie recognised as one of the natives he had seen before. She explained that she had come to take some things which she had left behind. Mackenzie treated her with kindness, gave her food, and a present of such articles as he thought would please her. When she expressed a wish to leave them, she was allowed to go, Mackenzie hoping that her reception would be the means of inducing the natives to return to their lodges.
That night, shortly after midnight, a rustling noise in the woods caused fresh uneasiness. Upon investigation the cause was found to be an old blind man, too infirm to join the general flight of the natives from that place, who had been driven out of his hiding-place by the pangs of hunger. Mackenzie fed him, treated him with kindness, and so far gained his confidence that he explained the cause of the alarm among his people. Mackenzie gathered from him that some Indians from above had brought word that the strangers — Mackenzie's party — were enemies, and their unexpected return up the river had appeared to substantiate the report. Mackenzie improved the occasion by explaining the real reason for their return, and at the same time admitted the impossibility of proceeding with his plans unless the services of one of the local people could be secured to guide them. The old man protested that if he had his sight he would willingly accompany them.
p158 At sunrise (Wednesday, June 26th) a canoe containing one man was seen on the opposite side of the river, and at Mackenzie's request the blind man called to him to come to them, but he made no reply, save to hasten on his way down‑stream. From the old fellow it was learnt that a number of the people who had been at the place on their former visit had gone up the river. Deeming it useless to remain there any longer, Mackenzie decided to continue the journey and to take the old man with him, telling him that he depended upon him to persuade any of his friends or relatives whom they might fall in with to act as their guide westward. The poor old man did not relish the prospect, and begged to be excused, but Mackenzie felt he was their one hope, and refused to accede to his request. In view of the fact that the place they were about to leave, and where they had encountered such unlooked‑for anxieties, was where the native who had agreed to be their guide had deserted them, Mackenzie named it Deserter's River or Creek. It is a stream of some volume flowing into the Fraser from the west.
Leaving Deserter's River at seven o'clock in the morning, they were obliged to carry the blind man into the canoe, so reluctant was he to go with them, the first act during the expedition, states Mackenzie, "that had the semblance of violent dealing." As they were doing this the old man spoke in a very loud voice and in a tongue the interpreters did not understand. He explained that he was telling his wife, who was in hiding near the camp, to go for him to the carrying-place, where he supposed he would be released.
During the forenoon, at the foot of a rapid, they saw another canoe descending the river. It contained two men, who, as soon as they perceived the white stranger, avoided them by directing their canoe into the very heart of the rapids, and escaped without replying to the words addressed them by the blind man.
At three o'clock they saw "a lodge at the entrance p159 of a considerable river on the right, as well as the tracks of people in the mud at the mouth of a small river on the left." These streams were the Quesnelle and the Puntataencut Rivers, which they had passed going down on the 21st. The lodge was deserted, nor did they see any natives at either place.
Mackenzie must have frequently felt exasperated by the childish conduct of his men. All that day, for example, they had been in an extremely ill humour, but as they dared not vent their feelings upon their leader they quarrelled among themselves. When, however, about sunset, the canoe struck a snag and tore a large hole in the bottom, they cast aside all restraint and displayed their ill‑temper without stint. Mackenzie left them to their own devices as soon as they landed, in a frame of mind not difficult to conjecture, and passed the night in an abandoned keekwillie house, a prey to anxiety, but hopefully expectant of finding his men more docile after a night's rest, which proved to be the case.
They embarked at half-past four the following morning, June 27th, and, by landing at several places on the way up‑stream, succeeded in collecting sufficient bark with which to make a new canoe, the need of which had now become imperative. At five in the afternoon they came to a place suitable for the construction of the craft, a small island not thickly wooded, and on the mainland near by an abundance of spruce for the manufacture of the frame. The position of the island was found by observation to be 53° 3′ 7″ N. latitude and 122° 48′ W. longitude. It is situated a few miles below Cottonwood Cañon, near the left bank of the river, only a narrow channel separating it from the mainland. There they remained four days, engaged in building their new vessel.
On the second day of their sojourn Mackenzie lectured his men and took them to task for their conduct. "The conductor of the work, though a good man," remarks the explorer, "was remarkable for the tardiness of his operations, p160 whatever they might be, and more disposed to eat than be active." The lecture was directed pointedly at this man, though also intended for all the others, who, of course, heard every word. He reproached this fellow for his general inactivity, and found fault with all of them "for their want of economy in the article of provisions." He told them that he knew they had been grumbling among themselves, and from what he knew he believed they wished to put an end to the voyage. If that were the case he asked them to tell him so frankly and explicitly, but he assured them that irrespective of whatever they might decide to do, it was his unalterable determination to proceed, despite every difficulty or danger that might threaten him. The man addressed was very much mortified at being singled out in that manner, and protested that he did not deserve the lecture any more than the rest of the men. Mackenzie, however, said no more. He had made himself perfectly clear, and that was all he had intended to do.
In the afternoon of that same day a canoe with two Indians came to the island, and, much to Mackenzie's surprise, one of them was the native who had promised to guide them but had deserted them at Deserter's River. He apologised profusely for his conduct, but asseverated that his whole time had been occupied in searching for his family, who had been seized with the general panic caused by the false reports of the natives who had first fled from the white strangers. He also told them that the two men seen in the canoe the previous day had just returned from trading with the people at the sea coast, and had brought a message to the guide from his brother-in‑law, whom he expected to meet at the other end of the carrying-place, that he had a new axe for him, and that he had in his canoe a dressed moose-skin he was taking to the relative in payment. While this was all very agreeable, Mackenzie took care to set a watch over the guide so that he might not again escape. But notwithstanding p161 his precautions, he succeeded in leaving the camp.
It came about in this way. One of the hunters told Mackenzie that the blind man intended making his escape that night, Sunday, and offered to sit up with his leader. To this the explorer agreed, and, sitting in a darkened tent, they kept an eye on the old man. About midnight the old fellow began creeping on hands and knees towards the river. The others followed him noiselessly to the canoe, with which he would have gone away had he not been prevented. At first he protested that he had only gone to the water to drink, but afterwards acknowledged the truth. The guide upbraided him for his conduct, and boasted that he himself "was not a woman," and would never run away through fear. Leaving Mackay in charge with strict injunctions to keep alert, Mackenzie retired to his tent to sleep. When he awoke next morning, however, the guide and his companion were gone. They had departed unseen by Mackay, and had told some of the men that they had gone on to their friends, and would wait at their camp for him.
That afternoon, July 1st, the canoe was completed, and the following morning at an early hour they embarked. As the old man did not wish to go any farther, or be conveyed to where he expected to find his friends, he was given a few pounds of pemmican and left on the island, which Mackenzie named Canoe Island. During their stay there the sand-flies and mosquitoes had caused them great annoyance, and, what still further displeased the voyageurs, all hands were placed on rations, and only two meals eaten a day. One of the meals consisted of pounded dried fish roes, boiled in water and thickened with flour. The roes they found in the lodges at Deserter's River. As they were about to start, Mackenzie gave the men a dram of rum each, which treat restored their equanimity, a commodity so easily disturbed.
In the forenoon they reached the Cottonwood Rapids. p162 The foreman, who had been alarmed on descending them, again showed signs of fear, and suggested carrying canoe and cargo past the place. Mackenzie ridiculed his fears, proposed taking the post of foreman himself, and pointed out that the water having fallen •four feet since their previous visit, the force of the current was considerably lessened. It was decided to make the ascent on the west side, where the flow seemed less rapid, but it was soon discovered they could not manage without the line. Mackenzie sent two of his men with a line •seventy fathoms in length to pass above the rocky cliffs, with instructions to attach one end of the line to a roll of bark, and let it float down the river. This was done, and the free end of the line attached to the canoe, which was then warped up. This operation was repeated, a portage made at two cascades, and the rapids thus cleared in two hours.
They had expected to fall in with some natives about that place, where they frequently resorted for fishing. The river seemed to be alive with salmon, which were everywhere leaping out of the water as they made their way against the swift current. No Indians were met with, however. An additional disappointment was experienced also when the hunters, who had been landed with Mackay before beginning the ascent of the rapids, came in empty-handed.
At ten o'clock next morning, July 3rd, they came to the river flowing in from the west which they had been told to ascend, and to which Mackenzie gave the name of West-Road River, marked on the maps as Blackwater River. The guide was not there. Again confronted by a grave situation, Mackenzie took his companions into his confidence: he told them this was the spot whence they were to start for the sea overland, and that he was determined to make the journey, even without the guide, should he fail to appear, which, however, he might yet do. To his pleasant surprise some of them at once fell in with his plan, while others suggested they should go p163 a farther distance up the river in expectation of meeting the guide or encountering some natives from whom another might be obtained. Mackenzie immediately agreed to the suggestion, but before leaving he sent some of the men into the woods to reconnoitre, while he examined the river in person. He found it only navigable for small canoes, and his men discovered a well-beaten trail leading into the interior.
Although Mackenzie does not express in his journal what was his state of mind at this juncture, he must have been highly elated at the thought that he would soon reach the Pacific Ocean. He deliberately turned his back upon the great river, as he calls the Fraser, by following which he had at first hoped to reach the coast (and which would have carried him there as readily as it afterwards did Simon Fraser had he persisted), and substituted in its place a journey through a region of which he knew nothing. He trusted entirely to what the Indians told him. They said he would reach the sea by that overland route, and he believed it would conduct him there. When, after ascending the Peace and its tributary, the Parsnip, he had arrived at the large river flowing towards the mid‑day sun, he had thought that, beyond possible hostility from the natives, and such natural obstacles as "rapids and cascades," which he was accustomed to encounter on the waterways on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, there would be no hindrance to a speedy realisation of the object he had set out to accomplish. But that hope having been dashed to the ground by the information supplied him recently by the natives, who had told him of the impassable impediments ahead of him did he continue to journey down the great river, he had abandoned the original route and adopted this new one, firm in the hope and belief of imminent success.
He knew of the position of the San Roque River as given by the Spaniards. He must have realised ere this p164 that the route he was now pursuing would take him to the sea south of that other and northerly river of the west which he had set out to find in the first instance. He must have further realised that he would not now be likely to fall in with Russian traders, and it is not unreasonable to presume that he expected to find this way would, if pushed to the extreme, carry him to Nootka. Perhaps he had some hope of participating in the trade in furs at that place, not on this voyage possibly, but ultimately. It is not difficult to conceive that in thus so jauntily undertaking the land journey he may have believed he was doing much more than finding a pathway to the Pacific Ocean; that, indeed, he was about to open up a trade route with Nootka that would prove remunerative to the North‑West Company.
In detailing Mackenzie's route westward from the Fraser River, it is commonly held that he ascended the Blackwater — his West-Road River — in his canoe. The writer differs from that opinion. There is nothing in his narrative to indicate that he took his canoe up that stream. His journal entry of July 3rd makes this quite clear if carefully read. Mackenzie's words are: "At four in the afternoon we left this place, proceeding up the river." They were encamped at the mouth of the Blackwater, and the words "this place" meant that camp, the starting-point that day. It has hitherto been stated that the words "up the river" have reference to the Blackwater. The writer, on the contrary, is firmly convinced that the Fraser River is indicated, and that Mackenzie simply continued his journey up the main stream he was then on.
When, earlier in the day, he had consulted with his men what their next move should be, some of them "suggested that it might be better to proceed a few leagues farther up the river, in expectation of finding our guide, or procuring another, and that after all we might return thither. This plan I agreed to, but before p165 I left this place, to which I gave the name of West-Road River, I . . . went some distance up the river myself, which I found navigable only for small canoes." Surely this can only mean one thing — namely, that, finding the Blackwater too shallow for their large canoe, they proposed to proceed — and did — farther up the Fraser. Mackenzie's own words must be heeded. He distinctly says that it was proposed they should "proceed a few leagues farther up the river." As they had not gone up the Blackwater, they could not go "farther" up a stream they had not ascended. They had, however, been ascending the Fraser, and the expression going "farther up" undoubtedly has reference to the Fraser and that only. Furthermore, inasmuch as they were agreed to journey westward to the sea, why, if the river they proposed to ascend were the Blackwater, should they speak of returning "hither" — i.e., the mouth of that stream — instead of keeping right on? Assuming, however, that the Fraser River is intended, the reason for their return to the mouth of the Blackwater is readily accounted for. That was the place of rendezvous with their guide, and it was quite reasonable that they should return to that point if their excursion a "few leagues farther up the river" (the Fraser) failed to produce a guide.
Another and cogent reason against their ascending the Blackwater is the river itself. Mackenzie described it as "navigable only for small canoes," and his was a large one, •twenty-five to thirty feet in length, and loaded with a cargo weighing fully a ton in addition to the weight of ten men in it. The Blackwater takes its rise in small lakes far to the west of its outlet into the Fraser. Its main source is about 53° N. latitude and 125° 49′ W. longitude, approximately three degrees west of its mouth. It receives in its course many affluents, the chief of which is the Nazco River, which joins it •forty miles west of the Fraser, and whose own source is •seventy miles south, and the Euchiniko River which flows in from the p166 north, rising in Chootanli Lake at an elevation of •3600 feet above sea‑level.
At its mouth the valley of the Blackwater is gorge-like, which character it retains for a distance of •twenty miles up‑stream, the river in this part of its course flowing between perpendicular rocky cliffs more than •one hundred feet high. This portion is known as Lower Blackwater Cañon. Farther west the rugged aspect of the valley gives place to one less severe, terraces or benches of glacial drift and silt, characteristic of so many valleys in the interior of British Columbia, being substituted for the rocky precipices of the lower reaches. The very appearance of the gorge at the mouth of the Blackwater must have warned Mackenzie against venturing too rashly into the frowning cañon. The safer and wiser plan — and he knew he must act circumspectly to preserve the lives of his companions and to preserve their supplies of provisions, now reduced to a perilously small quantity — was to keep to the Fraser until he obtained a guide. Additional reasons for believing that Mackenzie never ascended the Blackwater in his canoe will develop as this narrative proceeds.
Having decided to proceed farther up the Fraser they did so, and in less than an hour they fell in with two canoes coming down‑stream. They contained the guide and half a dozen of his friends. They all landed, and the guide, who was attired in a handsome painted beaver robe that almost rendered him unrecognisable, immediately demanded an acknowledgment from Mackenzie that he had kept his promise. The explorer thought it politic to improve the occasion by presenting the fellow with a jacket, a pair of trousers, and a handkerchief. Every one being in good humour, they camped together for the night.
The natives accompanying the guide examined the white men with minute attention, and two of them, belonging to the band first seen at Deserter's River on p167 the occasion of their journey down the Fraser, told Mackenzie that they were so terrified at that time that they did not venture near their houses for two days afterwards, and that when they did so they found that the greater part of their property had been destroyed by fire, which had spread from a neglected camp fire. They told Mackenzie that they were "Nascud Denee," "though," comments the explorer, "I found no difference in their language from that of the Nagailas or Carriers."
Mackenzie was not familiar with the ethnology of the natives west of the Rocky Mountains nor of their final distribution, otherwise he would not have fallen into the several errors that occur in his observations in this connection. In speaking of the Indians with whom he sojourned before turning back up‑stream to West-Road River, he gives a list of a few words in the language "of the Nagailer or Atnah tribes." It is obvious on the face of it that the Nagailas encountered in company of the guide and the Nagailer of lower down the river are one and the same people, the name being differently spelled by Mackenzie. Nagailas is a self-bestowed nickname employed by the Takelne or Carrier tribe, which is widely distributed, extending over a territory including Alexandria in the south and the upper end of Stuart Lake in the north. This explains why Mackenzie could detect no difference in the language of the natives he was then with: they were all of the same tribe, but of separate bands or subdivisions, all speaking the same tongue.
The word "Dene," sometimes spelled "tinneh or tenne," and by Mackenzie given as Dinais, is not the name of a tribe. It means "people." Thus the term Nazku'tenne or Nazku'dene means the Nazku people, just as we speak of the English people or British people; and, like the British people, the Denes include several tribes or divisions. When, therefore, some of the Indians told Mackenzie they were "Nascud Dinais," they were p168 merely telling him that they were Nascu'denes or Natzu'denes, which is the term applied to that branch of the Carriers or Takelne whose habitat is about Quesnelle and the mouth of the Blackwater, the locality where he then was. The term Atnah, used by Mackenzie, is not the name of either tribe or band. It is a word meaning "stranger" or "foreigner," the term being applied to any other tribe save their own. Thus the Shuswaps, Lillooets, and Chilcotins were all Atnahs or foreigners to the Carriers or Nagailas, to use Mackenzie's own expression. The Carriers at his turning-back place, Alexandria, are Lthau'dene, and those occupying the basin of the Blackwater and along its course are the Nutca'dene, although Mackenzie calls them by another name.
There is a considerable amount of difficulty in representing in printed characters the vocal sounds employed by the Indians, whose gutturals and explosives are by no means easy of rendition. So much depends upon the ear of the listener. One endowed with an acute sense of hearing will better grasp the sound of the spoken word than one whose hearing is less keen. This accounts for the substitution of "t" for "d" in the word Dene when it is rendered as tenne or tinneh, and for other differences and variations in spelling employed by those who attempt to reproduce in type the spoken word of the natives.
Early on the following morning, July 4th, they all proceeded to the landing-place from which ran the trail to the lodges inhabited by the friends of the guide, that being declared to be the shortest road. By sending Mackay on ahead with the guides and his companions, Mackenzie was enabled to make a cache of part of their provisions — •ninety pounds of pemmican, two bags of wild rice, and a gallon keg of gunpowder. Following in the canoe the others who had gone on ahead, they found them awaiting their arrival at the mouth of a small p169 rivulet. There the canoe was taken out of the water and placed upon a staging erected for this purpose, shading it from the sun with branches of trees. In a low hut made of green logs they deposited all the goods they did not require to take with them on the overland journey.
At noon all their preparations were completed, and the long tramp began. They were well weighted down, for they had to carry •four hundred pounds of pemmican, Mackenzie's instruments, a parcel of goods for presents weighing ninety pounds, and an equal weight of ammunition. Each of the Canadian voyageurs carried on his back a pack weighing ninety pounds, in addition to gun and ammunition. The two Indians hunters carried •forty-five pounds of pemmican each, and grumbled greatly thereat, while Mackenzie and Mackay were each burdened with a pack of •seventy pounds, Mackenzie in addition having his telescope slung across his shoulders.
Thus encumbered, they plunged into a rugged timbered country, hitherto unknown to and untrodden by civilised men. A steep ascent of •about a mile at the outset led them away from the valley of the Fraser, and, gaining the heights, conducted them by a well-defined trail over a rough ridgy country. As if the heat of the day and the toil of the journey with such heavy loads upon their backs were not trials enough, it began to rain, and even when it ceased, the dripping from the trees increased their already sufficient discomfort.
In the first afternoon's tramp they covered •twelve miles before camping for the night at an Indian encampment of three fires, where they found their elusive guide comfortably established among his friends. At sunset four other natives joined the party, one of whom, an elderly man, carried a lance resembling a sergeant's halberd, which he said he had received in trade from the coast Indians, who had obtained it from white men. According to this person, eight days' march would suffice to reach the coast, and he generously promised to send p170 two young men in advance to prepare the natives for the coming of Mackenzie and his party. The explorer bestowed small presents upon the couriers with the hopes of enlisting their good offices.
The natives with whom Mackenzie passed that night were unable to sell any provisions to the travellers, a few dried fish being their sole provender. They were well supplied, however, with several articles of European manufacture, and one of them had a strip of sea‑otter fur, which he sold to Mackenzie for some beads and a brass cross.
Tired out with the toilsome journey of the day, the travellers lay down to rest, and slept soundly, with no fear of those with whom they were for the time being associated. No sooner had they retired to rest than the Indians began to sing in a manner very different from anything Mackenzie had heard before. "It was not accompanied either with dancing, drum, or rattle, but consisted of soft plaintive tones, and a modulation that was rather agreeable. It had somewhat the air of church music," is how the explorer described it.
On the following morning, Friday, July 5th, when requested to prepare to take the trail again, the guide coolly informed Mackenzie that he did not intend to accompany the expedition any farther, offering as his reason for his defection the statement that as the two young men who had consented to go on ahead to herald the approach of the strangers knew the country, they would answer the purpose just as well! Mackenzie had by this time taken the measure of the fellow, and knew him to be one of those capricious beings with whom to argue would be useless waste of time, and perhaps this assumed indifference accomplished what reasoning or a tirade of abuse would have failed to bring about.
Contenting himself with telling this changeful man that one of his people had lost his dagger, Mackenzie asked him to endeavour to recover it. What follows is p171 told by Mackenzie in a few words: "He asked me what I would give him to conjure it back again, and a knife was agreed to be the price of his necromantic exertions. Accordingly all the dags and knives in the place were gathered together, and the natives formed a circle around them, the conjurer also remaining in the middle. When this part of the ceremony was arranged, he began to sing, the rest joining in the chorus; and after some time he produced the poignard, which was stuck in the ground, and returned it to me."
To Mackenzie's surprise, when they were all ready to start, the vacillating guide again changed his mind, and announced his intention of resuming his office, and did as far as a small lake, where they found another native camp of three families. There Mackenzie exchanged two copper coins, halfpence, "one of his present Majesty, and the other of the State of Massachusetts Bay, coined in 1787. They hung as ornaments in children's ears." He was glad to leave that camp, inasmuch as the men there declared that his two hunters belonged to a tribe inhabiting the mountains who are their natural enemies, and one of the natives showed a scar as proof that one of their relatives had stabbed him!
Following the shore of a lake •about three and a half miles in length, they crossed a creek and entered upon a worn trail through an open country with scattered trees. Two more lakes were passed later in the day, as well as several "winter huts." The two young men who were acting as guides carried no burden save their beaver-skin robes and bows and arrows, yet when they were asked to relieve one of the men who had a violent pain in his knee of part of his encumbrance, they pretended not to understand. A deluge of rain obliged them to camp on the banks of the last of the lakes they had come to. To ensure the guides would not leave the party in the lurch, Mackenzie suggested that the youngest one should sleep with him, to which he readily consented. "These people," p172 says the explorer, "have no covering but their beaver garments, and that of my companion was a nest of vermin. I, however, spread it under us, and having laid down upon it, we covered ourselves with my camblet cloak. My companion's hair being greased with fish‑oil and his body smeared with red earth, my sense of smell, as well as that of feeling, threatened to interrupt my rest; but these inconveniences yielded to my fatigue, and I passed a night of sound repose."
Taking the lead in the march, as he had done the day before, "in order to clear the branches of the wet," Mackenzie set the pace through a level country with but little undergrowth, and at half-past eight in the morning of the 6th they came to the trail which they had first intended to have taken from the great river (the Fraser), and which Mackenzie thought "must be shorter than that which he had travelled." The trail alluded to is that discovered by his men at the mouth of the Blackwater, and this reference to it in this way proves conclusively that Mackenzie did not take the Blackwater trail but another and more circuitous one. "The West-Road River was also in sight," continues the explorer, "winding through a valley. . . . There appeared to be more water in the river here than at its discharge. The Indian account that it is navigable for their canoes is, I believe, correct." Here again is additional proof that Mackenzie did not ascend the Blackwater in his canoe. Now for the first time since leaving its mouth they came in sight of it, and his comments upon its depth at that point as compared with that at its outlet can be explained in no other way but that he had had no previous opportunity of putting to the test what the natives had told him about its navigability.
The two guides now informed Mackenzie that as the trail was good and well-defined, they would go in advance and inform the next band of their approach. He suggested that one of them should remain with him, and p173 two of the voyageurs should go on with the other; but this they would not hear of, and immediately took their departure. Instructing one of his hunters to lay aside his pack and take only arms and blanket and follow him, Mackenzie hastened after the guides, bidding his men travel as quickly as possible. Mackenzie and his companion overtook the two guides at a camp of a native family, a man, his two wives, and six children. One of the women was a native of the coast, corpulent, face oblong, flattened nose. She wore a tunic and a robe of matted bark, fringed round the bottom with sea‑otter skin, had bracelets of brass, copper, and horn, and was decorated with beads in her hair, ears, and about her neck, presenting an appearance different from any seen among the women west of the Rocky Mountains. She confirmed the statement that the sea was not far distant. These people were on the way to the Fraser to fish for salmon.
Soon the other members of the party arrived, and after a short rest the march was resumed. The elder of the two guides, however, refused to go any farther, but said a boy, one of the family they were then with, would accompany his brother, Mackenzie considering himself fortunate that they did not all desert him. Two hours after leaving the camp they fell in with two native families, who, after the boy had spoken to them, received the travellers hospitably. Mackenzie, with an eye to the charms of the gentler sex, observed that one of the women had a tattooed line along the chin. It was now the turn of the two boy guides to decline to go any farther, but they told Mackenzie that the two men, the heads of the families, could act as guides; and as one of them resided among the coast Indians, doubtless the exchange occasioned little or no regret. This man stated that they were nearing a river which discharged into a bay of the sea, where in the spring "a great wooden canoe, with white people, arrives," a reference to a vessel of one of the maritime traders.
p174 After leaving the encampment with the two new guides, the party encountered an uneven trail over a hilly and swampy country strewn with fallen timber. A heavy downpour of rain drove them to camp at five in the afternoon, and Mackenzie became so engrossed in questioning the guides that he forgot to wind his watch, "the only instance of such an act of negligence since I left Fort Chipewyan on the 11th of last October," he explains apologetically. To what must have been his extreme personal discomfort, and for the same reason as before, he again shared his bed with one of the guides.
So far, the trail taken by the expedition was much the same as that used by Indians to‑day. From the Fraser it follows the general direction of the Blackwater, but at a distance from it to avoid the Lower Cañon, only coming in contact with the river again at a point several miles about the upper end of the cañon, where the bench formation replaces the rocky defiles. Continuing along the valley, which opens out considerably, forming a wide, flat-bottomed, well-wooded area, the trail leads to the Euchiniko River, and at that point the Blackwater, which has run in an east to west direction, turns sharply to the south, and, after proceeding in that direction •some ten or twelve miles, receives the waters of the Nazco River, its most considerable affluent, and immediately makes another sharp bend in a north-westerly direction. To save the longer journey around the bend, the trail follows along the Euchiniko valley a short distance, and then crosses the ridge between it and the Blackwater, again falling upon the latter near longitude 124°, where the river gradually veers towards the west. This trail Mackenzie followed, and he refers to crossing the ridge between the Euchiniko and the Blackwater in his entry of July 7th: "and proceeded across two mountains covered with spruce, poplar, white birch, and other trees. We then descended into a level country, where we found a good road, through woods of p175 cypress. We then came to two small lakes. . . . Through them the river passes, and our road kept in a parallel line with it on a range of elevated ground."
On this trail they met a native family, and later in the day fell in with another and larger party, consisting of seven men, as many women, and several children. From them a new guide was obtained. Three hours later, at six in the evening, they crossed the Blackwater, which was knee-deep at the fording place and a hundred yards wide. At the urgent solicitation of the new guide, Mackenzie pushed on until, at half-past seven, they came to the lodge of his friends, by whom the travellers were hospitably received and presented with some dried fish.
One of the characteristics of the Blackwater is its frequent expansion into lake-like bodies of water. From its junction with the Nazco westward it expands at numerous points into long narrow lakes, the principal of which are the Kluscoil, Euchiniko, Cushya, and Tsa‑cha. It receives tributary streams from the Clus‑cus lakes and from the Tse‑tzi, Klooch‑oot‑a, and Tsil‑be‑kuz lakes. West of the latter it bears the name of Uhl‑ga‑ko River, which flows through a series of lakes, the largest being the Eliguck at an elevation of •3575 feet. In fact, the whole of this section of the interior of British Columbia is studded with lakes, which increase in area towards the north, and vary in size from a small pond to beautiful sheets of water up to •a hundred and more miles in length.
The lodge near which Mackenzie camped that night of July 7th was on the banks of one of the smaller expansions of the Blackwater. It rained so heavily that it was not until eight o'clock in the morning of the 8th that they felt disposed to resume the journey, after a breakfast of boiled fish supplied by their courteous hosts, and served on platters of bark. At two o'clock in the afternoon they "arrived at the largest river that they had seen since leaving the Fraser," and which forced its way between and over the huge stones that opposed its p176 current. Following a south-south-west course, they journeyed •"sixteen miles along the river, which might here justify the title of a lake." This "largest" so‑called river is another expansion of the Blackwater, Euchiniko Lake. The trail being good, they pushed on despite the rain which fell during the greater part of the day, and, after covering an additional •ten miles, they encamped for the night by the side of the lake — or river, as Mackenzie called it. Mackenzie formed the opinion that the "river" was a new one altogether. Referring to it, he says: "This river abounds with fish, and must fall into the great river farther down than we had extended our voyage." No doubt the sharp and long sweep to the south made by the Blackwater misled him. He did not long labour under his erroneous impression, however, for, upon taking an observation two days later, he found the latitude to be 53° 4′ 32″ N, "being not so far south as I expected," he comments.
Owing to the marked absence of game in that district, Mackenzie thought it best to make some provision for the return journey, and on the morning of the 9th, Tuesday, having first taken the precaution to send on ahead all his companions except two voyageurs, he concealed half a bag of pemmican by burying it under the ashes of the camp fire, thus being assured of sustenance that might be sorely needed when they returned.
The trail followed the north shore of Euchiniko Lake for some distance, and at five o'clock in the afternoon they arrived at a place where the water contracted to a width of only •ninety feet. There, opposite the confluence of the Clus‑cus creek, which flows from the south-west out of the Clus‑cus lakes, they found a raft, by whose means the natives were accustomed to make the crossing. There they camped for tonight, and ferried the lake the next morning, five trips being required to take them all across. On the south side of the lake they picked up the trail, which conducted them southward along the creek p177 for •about a mile, and then turned westward along the northern shore of the Clus‑cus lakes. The lower lake is •six miles in length, and is separated by a stream of •about a mile and a half long from the upper lake, which is only half the length of the lower, but slightly wider. Clus‑cus creek is •about twenty feet wide and two feet deep in high water, and has a drop of •forty feet from the lower lake to Euchiniko Lake, a fall of one foot in ten. On the banks of the lower lake Mackenzie found two Indian houses, temporarily vacant, "that occupied a most delightful situation." At a much later date the Hudson's Bay Company had a small trading post at that point, which was for a long time a rendezvous of the natives for an extended radius. It is a pretty spot, the country along the north side sloping gently with an undulating surface to the water, and dotted with groves of aspen poplars and spruce where not covered with a luxuriant growth of grass.
Continuing on their way they came at the west end of the first lake to two lodges, where they found thirteen men, who, says Mackenzie, "called themselves Sloua-Cuss-Dinais," which he understood to mean Red‑Fish Men. They were cleaner, more healthy-looking, and more agreeable than any of the natives the travellers had passed. Mackenzie correctly believed them to belong to the same tribe, the Carriers. Some of them told him it would take four more days to reach the sea, others fixed the time at six days, while still others said eight days would be found necessary.
On the 4th of the month Mackenzie had been told by the natives with whom he camped on that first night after leaving the Fraser that eight days' travel would suffice to take him to the sea. It was the 10th when they were at Clus‑cus lakes; they had been six days on the trail, and yet they were, according to these people, still the same number of days of travel from their goal. This unreliability, or perhaps it would be more charitable to p178 say the lack of preciseness, is characteristic of the Indian. What does a day or two more or less matter since time is so abundant and so cheap!
Observing some huts about a mile away, Mackenzie visited them, accompanied by one of his men, one of his hunters to act as interpreter, and the guide. The occupants received their visitors hospitably, and presented them with a dish of boiled trout. While there the guide informed Mackenzie he could not go any farther with him, and the explorer promptly engaged two of the natives, his hosts, to take his place. At four o'clock in the afternoon the journey was resumed, "by the side of the lake, till six, when we came to the end of it. We then struck off through a much less beaten track." After leaving the Clus‑cus lakes the trail cut across country to Cushya River, the Indian name of which is Tsan‑tsed‑a‑ko, a small stream •fifteen feet wide and knee-deep, with a swift current, which empties into the Blackwater above Cushya Lake. Between the lake and the mouth of Cushya River the Blackwater descends at a leap of fifteen feet over a bed of grey columnar basalt. The waterfall is curtain-like, with water of a dark amber colour.
They passed a miserable night, tormented with flies during the earlier part, and afterwards deluged with rain. Night after night rain had poured down upon the scantily sheltered men, soaking their garments, wetting them to the skin. Morning after morning they had disrobed and dried their dripping clothing before the camp fire. This they were obliged to do on the morning of the 11th ere they could proceed. The trail conducted them through a morass, and as that part of the country had been swept by fire their progress was incommoded by fallen timber and half-burnt logs, which cumbered the ground. "A high rocky ridge stretched along our left," observes Mackenzie. This ridge lies to the south of the trail, the northern front of a basaltic p179 plateau appears again as a low broken cliff of columnar basalt.
At half-past three in the afternoon they "came in sight of a lake," the land at the same time gradually rising to a range of mountains whose tops were covered with snow. This is Tsa‑cha Lake, the name meaning great stone or mountain, having reference to the rocky hill on its northern shore. The trail follows the south side of the lake for •three miles, crossing three streams in that distance, the largest being •about ten feet wide and two deep, with a fall of one in ten. Altogether that day Mackenzie's party crossed "seven rivulets and a creek." At intervals it rained, and at five o'clock they were all so wet and cold that they were constrained to stop for the night. Then came a recurrence of the old trouble: the guides complained of the haste made, and threatened to leave them, and, to make matters worse, Mackenzie's own Indians, the interpreters and hunters, expressed their dissatisfaction; and to render the lives of the pertinacious travellers still more uncomfortable, their leader decided, in view of the distance from the sea being farther than he had been led to believe, that another cut must be made in the rations, which were accordingly reduced to two‑thirds of their present allowance.
On the 12th, again taking the trail, they came to Tse‑tzi Lake, a mile long, •eight miles beyond Tsa‑cha Lake, and after passing several small ponds, a short distance farther on to Klootch-oota Lake, a mile and a half in length and discharging into the former. Between these two lakes the trail to Bella Coola turns off, but Mackenzie did not take it, keeping straight on, through swampy meadows of considerable size. About a mile beyond Klootch-oota Lake they came to Tsil‑be‑kuz (sometimes called Cultus Coolee) Lake, "and soon reached a river, which our guide informed us was the same that we had passed on a raft. . . . At this place it was upwards of p180 twenty yards across, and deep water. One of the guides swam over to fetch a raft which was on the opposite side, and having increased its dimensions, we crossed at two trips, except four of the men, who preferred swimming." This was indeed no other than the Blackwater again, which here, after receiving a small stream that flows into it from Tsil‑be‑kuz Lake, swing abruptly southwards, making a hook-shaped bend, enclosing this and the other lakes before named. Where they found the raft is known as the Third Crossing, and there the Blackwater, instead of flowing in a deep valley as before, is found almost on a level with the general surface of the plateau, whose altitude is •about 3500 feet. Mackenzie made the crossing at the time of high water. Later in the season the river may be forded easily. From the north bank, to which they crossed, a good view is obtained of the Il‑ga‑Chuz range of mountains, whose peaks have an elevation of •7000 feet above the sea.
Mackenzie again experienced trouble with his guides, who threatened to desert, and only by the gift of presents and the promise of more were they induced to continue their services. This difficulty disposed of, the march was resumed, the trail continuing westward along the valley of the Uhl‑ga‑ko River, an important tributary of the Blackwater. Once more the conduct of the guides caused some alarm, for they hurried on ahead so rapidly that the burdened men could not overtake them. This was done, however, by one of the interpreters, to whom they explained that they were only hastening to apprise some natives farther on of the approach of the strangers.
That night they camped at seven o'clock, and as they were gathering firewood, a "cross-road" was discovered that bore signs of having been recently used by a number of people. Intense excitement followed this discovery, and was only alleviated by the persuasive tongue of the explorer. Mackenzie estimated they had travelled at least •thirty‑six miles that day over a barren stony country p181 that lay in ridges with swamps intervening, a trail that tested the endurance of the hardy travellers to the utmost. It must be remembered that these men carried heavy loads day after day. A pack of •seventy to ninety pounds is no light burden under any circumstances, but when it is there every day and all day, rain or shine, up and down hill, none but those inured to the work can withstand the terrific strain on heart and muscle.
On the 13th they sighted a house by the side of the Uhl‑ga‑ko, which is •some fifteen feet wide and two feet deep, a sluggish stream. Being in advance of the others of the party, Mackenzie had almost reached it ere the inmates perceived him. Instantly all was confusion. The women and children cried out in alarm, while the only man made good his escape by the back door, which Mackenzie reached just in time to prevent the other occupants from following his example. A few presents relieved the anxiety of the women and their charges. Presently the cowardly head of the household ventured to show himself at the edge of the wood in which he had taken refuge. After some coaxing he returned to the house, and ultimately agreed to show them the way to the sea. These people had some fish-traps set in the river, from which the travellers obtained a welcome supply of fresh fish. An observation taken at noon showed their position to be 52° 58′ 53″ N. latitude. Perhaps the most welcome information obtained from these natives was told by one of the women, "that from the mountains before us, which were covered with snow, the sea was visible."
Leaving this camp at seven in the morning of the 14th, with the man and his two sons as guides, Mackenzie and his companions again took the trail, "and proceeded along a lake west •five miles." This was Eliguck, or Uhl‑ghak Lake, whose length is three miles, and has a rather prominent rocky hill on its north bank. "We then crossed a small river," says Mackenzie, the stream being p182 the same Uhl‑ga‑ko, flowing into the lake they had just left. Gaining the summit of a hill, they enjoyed an extended view to the south-east, from which direction "a considerable river appeared to flow at the distance of •about three miles." As the only river of any consequence in that direction is the Salmon River, it was probably that stream to which the explorer referred, although the distance from the hill is greater than that he mentions. From another hill they obtained a view of the coast ranges, whose peaks were covered with snow.
Passing Malaput Lake, and crossing a small stream flowing out of it into Gatcho Lake, at one in the afternoon they came to a house more carefully built than any they had yet seen since leaving Forks Fort, of logs, squared on two sides and with a long ridge-pole projecting •eight or ten feet beyond the gable, the end of the pole being carved to represent a snake's head. Inside the house Mackenzie observed carved figures and hieroglyphics painted red. Near at hand were some graves, each marked by a painted pole. The carving and painting indicate the influence of the Indians of the coast, whose artistic carving and painting of the totem poles found at every coast native village are so well known to all who have visited the north-west coast. Within a short distance of the house a weir thrown across the stream gave accommodation to fish-traps, which were always an object of interest to the explorer. Dr G. M. Dawson of the Canadian Geographical Survey, who visited Gatcho Lake in 1876, saw both the house and the graves, and says of the former, "the house being the best built of any I have seen in the interior, and through repaired for a great potlatch this summer, bearing marks of very considerable antiquity."
The "hills" crossed by Mackenzie after leaving Lake are part of an elevated ridge (summit •3730 feet) which forms the watershed separating the head-waters of the Blackwater from those of the Nechaco to the north p183 and from the Salmon River to the south and west, a few miles only lying between the sources of these several streams. Out of the Malaput and Gatcho lakes, together with several smaller ones, flows the Uhl‑ghat river, a large tributary of the Entiaco, one of the larger feeders of the Nechaco River which empties into the Fraser at Fort George. Salmon River comes from the south in close proximity to the sources of the Bella Coola, and receives several affluents, one of which is shown on the maps under several names, Takia, Tanyabunkut, or Tai‑a‑taeszi River. It is with this branch that we are at present most concerned. Both the Salmon River and the Bella Coola empty their waters into the Pacific, the former into Dean Channel at its head, the latter into the North Bentinck Arm.
Leaving the house on Gatcho Lake, they crossed the Uhl‑ghat, which was the river where they saw the weir and fish-traps, and, proceeding •nine miles along a good trail, came to a small lake and a river running out of it, a small feeder of the Salmon River. At nine o'clock that night they crossed the Salmon River on rafts and then camped, thoroughly exhausted after a hard day, but greatly encouraged and heartened by the assurance of their guides that two days more of similar exertion would bring them to the country of the coast Indians.
The following forenoon, Monday, 15th, they were on the way again at five o'clock, following the course of a stream which they eventually forded, knee-deep. An hour before noon they fell in with a party of natives, consisting of five men and their families, who received them in a friendly spirit, and examined them with interest. "They must have been told that we were white," remarks Mackenzie, "as our faces no longer indicated that distinguishing complexion. They called themselves Neguia Dinais, and were come in a different direction from us, but were now going the same way, to the Anah‑yoe Tesse p184 or River, and appeared to be very much satisfied with our having joined them."
Mackenzie expected that his guides would leave him now that he had made friends with these other natives, but, contrary to his expectations, they said they were so happy in their present company that they would spend another night with them.
Mackenzie was very favourably impressed with the personal appearance of their new travelling companions, which contrasted favourably with that of other natives they had previously met. The hair of the women was neatly parted in the middle and plaited and loosely knotted over the ears, some of them using beads as hair ornaments. The men were clad in buckskin, wore their hair nicely combed, and had fairer complexions or cleaner faces than the general run of Indians. Instead of dark eyes, theirs were grey with a tinge of red. One of the men was •over six feet in height, possessed of affable manners, and an unusually prepossessing appearance. He was about twenty-eight years of age, and was treated with marked respect by his associates. Each man, woman, and child carried a burden of furs and dressed deer-skins, which latter they had procured from the Sekenais, or Rocky Mountain Indians. They told Mackenzie that the sea‑coast Indians prefer the moose-skins to all others, and that some of their own people had preceded them to the coast to barter their furs with the natives there, who in their turn trade them for goods brought by white men in ships.
Mackenzie was pleased to have fallen in with such pleasant and useful companions, and did not regret in the least the more leisurely rate of progress the presence of the women and children entailed, and all hands were delighted to have the assurance of these people that they would reach the end of their journey in three days.
"Huy! huy!" cried the leader of their new friends, when, after a rest and the full discussion of their plans p185 had been enjoyed, he gave the signal to resume the march. Passing over a winding trail across hills and marshes and a narrow river, they encamped at five in the afternoon by the side of a lake, after, so far as Mackenzie's party was concerned, a comparatively easy day's journey of •twenty miles. No sooner was camp made than the guide and one of the new band of natives engaged in gambling, of which all Indians are passionately fond. The game consisted of concealing in a bundle of dry grass an unstated number of small pieces of polished wood about the size of quills. Each took turns in rolling up the sticks, the other guessing the number, and if correct he was declared the winner, or conversely, the loser. The guide lost, and forfeited his bow and arrow and several articles given him by Mackenzie.
With the stupidity characteristic of too many people who labour under the idea that it is "smart" to make offensive remarks, one of the voyageurs came within an ace of destroying the entente cordiale. One of the strangers, impelled by a very natural curiosity, asked a number of questions about the white men and their country, to which the voyageur in question gave such replies as were not credited by the natives, and when they told him so, the fellow angrily demanded whether they took him for a liar, like the Sekenais. As one of that tribe was among the Indians, he quickly resented the insult, and a lively quarrel ensued. Fortunately some of the others intervened, and restored peace before it had reached a stage that might have been attended with serious consequences.
Next morning the natives seemed in no hurry to resume the journey, and would have delayed much longer had not Mackenzie urged them to proceed, giving as his reason a shortage of provisions. When the march was resumed, he left two men behind to cache a further supply of pemmican, •about twenty pounds weight, in anticipation of their return.
p186 After proceeding •two miles, to the end of the lake, to his dismay the natives told Mackenzie that they had changed their plans, and instead of accompanying him to the sea they would proceed thither by following another stream which flowed out of the lake. "It was my wish," says Mackenzie, "to continue with them whatever way they went, but neither my promises or entreaties would avail . . . and when I represented the low state of our provisions, one of them answered that if we would stay with them all night, he would boil a kettle of fish-roes for us. Accordingly, without receiving any answer, he began to make preparation to fulfil his engagement."
The roes were bruised between two stones and soaked in water. A fire being made, stones were placed in it to heat, while the man's wife squeezed the roes through a handful of dried grass, and poured them into a vessel nearly full of water. When the stones were heated they were one by one dropped into the vessel until the contents boiled, the woman stirring them till the mess thickened. The stones were then taken out, and a quantity of rancid oil added. Mackenzie could not eat the preparation, but his men had no difficulty in disposing of it.
While they were thus engaged four natives, of whose arrival the others were in expectation, joined them. They belonged to two tribes not before known to the explorer, and, after some discussion, they suggested that he should divert his route to pass their residences. The guide, however, told him that to do so would lengthen his journey, and his object being to reach the sea‑coast as speedily as possible, he prevailed upon them to guide him along the route already marked out for him. They had no hesitation in accepting his proposal, and pointed out to him the pass through which he would travel.
In view of their friendly attitude towards Mackenzie, it is difficult to understand why the Indians refused to allow him to accompany them to Salmon River. Had p187 he done so he would have reached Dean Channel instead of Bentinck Arm, though at no great saving of either distance or labour.
At four in the afternoon Mackenzie and his men, with the new guides, bade the friendly Indians good‑bye, and immediately forded the Takia River, at that point •about twenty feet wide only, to the south bank. Turning southward, at right angles to their former course, they entered the woods, and soon forded another stream, Tsul‑tel‑ako River. Trudging laboriously through swamps and over fire-swept forest land, they soon began to climb towards the pass over Tsi‑tsul mountain, continuing the ascent until nine o'clock at night. Since crossing the Takia that afternoon they had tramped •fourteen miles, although in a straight line the distance would not be more than •ten.
Low as was the stock of provisions, another portion of pemmican was concealed before leaving camp on the 17th, in the same manner as before, in a hole dug under the ashes of the camp fire. Mackenzie ever kept in mind the necessity of providing for the return journey. Little as they had then, they might have still less when they made their retreat. It was owing to the lack of such forethought that disaster attended Franklin's first land expedition to the Arctic.
Taking the trail before sunrise, they "descended into a beautiful valley watered by a small river," the Kohasganko, but soon began to ascend again. The guides killed several ground hogs (the American marmot, Arctomys monax), which they skinned, retaining the pelts and giving the flesh to the travellers. They also dug up the tuberous roots of the Claytonia sessifolia, which when cooked "had the colour and taste of a potato." Still ascending, they at last reached the summit of the pass. Before them rose a "stupendous mountain, whose snow-clad peak was lost in the clouds." The mountain, called by the natives Chil‑a‑thlum‑dinky, was on the south side of the Bella Coola River, to which they were going, and which p188 they would reach by the Kahylktst River, now known locally as Burnt Nonrigid Creek, which empties into the Bella Coola from the north. All about them was snow which had drifted into the pass, and in it they saw tracks of deer. The guides and Mackenzie's Indian hunters immediately went in pursuit. During their absence a violent storm of wind, with hail, snow, and rain, drove the travellers to such shelter as the lee side of a large rock might afford. The hunters brought back from the chase a doe, and as soon as sufficient dry wood could be gathered to make a fire, some of the venison was cooked, and all enjoyed a heartier and more satisfying meal than they had partaken of for many a day.
Taking advantage of the stop, Mackenzie shaved the beard he had allowed to grow, and changed his linen, the men following "the humanising example." Resuming the trail, they came to a small pond, near which they had their first view of a totem pole, erected beside a grave, on which "two figures of birds were painted, and by them the guides distinguished the tribe to which the deceased person belonged."
The late Dr Dawson of the Geographical Survey of Canada defined in 1876 the greater part of the route followed by Mackenzie after leaving the Fraser River, and another portion, that over the Tsi‑Tsutl Mountains, was located by Captain R. P. Bishop during survey operations in 1923.
The trail descended rapidly into the valley below, and from a height, what Mackenzie terms a precipice, the river lay at their feet and on its banks a native village. In two hours they reached the bottom of the valley, and were at once sensible of a total change of climate, owing to the change in altitude and nearness to the sea. The sun was about to set when the guides, not being hampered with heavy packs, left the party to follow as best they might, and hastened to the village, indicating the trail by breaking of branches of the trees as they passed. p189 Darkness fell, and it became exceedingly deficiency to make any progress owing to the dense growth and masses of rock, which they could pass only by wading in the stream. Clearing the dense wood at last they continued with greater ease, and soon had the satisfaction of arriving at the village, called Nutleig by the natives, and which Mackenzie named Friendly Village on his return journey, at the confluence of the Kahylktst River with the Bella Coola River. Thither the four guides had preceded them, and prepared the way for their arrival.
The manner of reception there given the travellers is best told by quoting Mackenzie's own words:
"I arrived at a house, and soon discovered several fires, in small huts, with people busily employed in cooking their fish. I walked into one of them without the least ceremony, threw down my burden, and, after shaking hands with some of the people, sat down upon it. They received me without the least appearance of surprise, but soon made signs for me to go up to the larger house, which was erected on upright posts at some distance from the ground. A broad piece of timber with steps cut in it led to the scaffolding even with the floor, and by this curious kind of ladder I entered the house at one end, and having passed three fires, at equal distances in the middle of the building, I was received by several people, sitting upon a very wide board, at the upper end of it. I shook hands with them, and seated myself beside a man the dignity of whose countenance induced me to give him that preference. I soon discovered one of my guides seated a little above me, with a mat spread before him, which I supposed to be a place of honour, appropriated to strangers.
"In a short time my people arrived, and placed themselves near me, when the men by whom I sat immediately rose and fetched . . . a quantity of roasted salmon. He then directed a mat to be placed before me and Mr Mackay, who was now sitting by me. When this ceremony was p190 performed, he brought a salmon for each of us, and half a one to each of my men."
Mackenzie ordered his men, after they had eaten, to make a fire outside,
"that we might sleep by it. When he (the master of the house) observed our design, he placed boards for us, that we might not take our repose on the bare ground, and ordered a fire to be prepared for us. We had not been long seated round it when we received a large dish of salmon roes, pounded fine and beat up with water, so as to have the appearance of a cream. Nor was it without some kind of seasoning that gave it a bitter taste. Another dish soon followed, the principal article of which was also salmon roes, with a large proportion of gooseberries, and a herb that appeared to be sorrel. Its acidity rendered it more agreeable to my taste than the former preparation. Having been regaled with these delicacies, for such they were considered by that hospitable spirit that provided them, we laid ourselves down to rest, with no other canopy than the sky, but I never enjoyed a more sound and refreshing rest, though I had a board for my bed and a billet for my pillow."
When Mackenzie awoke the next morning, 18th, he found that the villagers had lighted a fire for their guests, and as soon as the host saw he was awake, he brought him a breakfast of berries and roasted salmon and dried fish roes. His fellows followed his example, and the travellers broke their fast plentifully. A weir built across the stream, which was fifty yards wide, obliged the ascending salmon to leap over the obstruction, and such as fell back were caught in traps set beneath it, thus ensuring the villagers an abundant food-supply during the season.
It required some persuasion to induce the friendly host to provide canoes for the party, until Mackenzie discovered that it was the carrying of venison in the vessel that was the cause of hesitation, the natives holding the superstitious belief that the salmon would smell the flesh and p191 abandon the river. This difficulty was promptly removed by presenting the offending meat to a visiting Indian whose gustatory prejudices did not extend to roast venison. Two canoes were produced, and in them the travellers placed their effects, and embarking, committed themselves to the current.
Prior to their departure, fifteen armed men, who, being at a distance when the four guides had reached the village to herald the coming of the white men, had immediately been sent for, arrived at Friendly Village. They were of the same tribe, and had the same customs, dress, and personal appearance. Such garments as they wore, chiefly a robe tied over the shoulders, were made of shredded cedar bark, sometimes with strips of sea‑otter fur interwoven. High cheek-bones, most marked in the women, a general inclination to corpulence, and grey eyes were their physical characteristics. The women wore the hair short, the men plaited theirs. Mackenzie found the latitude of the village to be 52° 28′ 11″ N. A few presents to his host and others who had shown them kindnesses were made before embarkation.
It was one in the afternoon when the two canoes left Friendly Village. The current ran at a velocity of •six miles an hour, and bore them seaward at a great rate. Coming to a fishing weir the natives who were in charge of the canoes landed their passengers, and then took the vessels over the dam without shipping a drop of water; and Mackenzie says, in admiration of the dexterity shown on this and subsequent occasions that the natives of that district in the management of their canoes: "I had imagined that the Canadians who accompanied me were the most expert canoe‑men in the world, but they are very inferior to these people, as they themselves acknowledged, in conducting those vessels."
A run of two hours and a half took them to near a village which was known to the Indians as Nusk'Elot, and is situated at the mouth of Tsatleanootz River. The p192 natives with them told the travellers to land and walk to it. This they did, with their packs on their backs, and, following their guides along a well-marked trail, were soon apprised of the arrival of their heralds at the village by the sound of loud talking that reached their ears. As soon as Mackenzie appeared in the open and the villagers saw him and his companions, they ran from house to house, arming themselves with bows and arrows, spears or axes. Nothing daunted by these hostile signs, Mackenzie boldly walked up to the houses, and many of the villagers, seeing this resolution, laid down their weapons and went to meet the new‑comers. Mackenzie shook hands with those nearest to him, and while so engaged an elderly man broke through the crowd surrounding him and took him in his arms. His son and others followed this example, and afterwards Mackenzie learned those embraces were tokens of regard and friendship. So closely did the natives throng about him that he could not move forward, but presently an opening was made, and a young man, another son of the chief, approached him. Mackenzie at once stepped forward and held out his hand, whereupon the young man broke the string of a handsome sea‑otter robe he wore and placed it on Mackenzie's shoulders.
The chief then conducted the travellers through a coppice for several hundred yards to a large house built on the ground, his own residence. Mats were at once spread before it, on which they were told to sit. In front of them the chief and his council sat on other mats, and behind the guests the men of the village ranged themselves as spectators. Soon a roasted salmon was placed before each of the visitors. They ate their fill of this dish, and were then regaled with several others, of which salmon oil was a principal ingredient. One of these was a cake made of the inner bark of the hemlock tree, pressed into shape and dried. When required for use it was soaked in water, teased apart, and liberally sprinkled with the p193 salmon oil. This is considered a great delicacy, and their principal host, the chief, ate of it with avidity.
The feast lasted for three hours, the natives looking on all the time with intense interest and curiosity. At its conclusion the voyageurs erected a shelter for the night. Before retiring, however, Mackenzie gave a blanket and other articles to the young man who had presented him with the fur robe, and bestowed gifts to others who had been attentive to him. Among the gifts to the old chief were a pair of scissors, which were at once applied to clipping the old fellow's long beard.
Mackenzie made a tour of the village, which he named Great Village, and his description of the houses is interesting, and shows that little change has been made in the architectural methods used by the coast Indians at that time and the present. Some were built on piles, others on the ground, of logs, and measured from •a hundred and twenty feet and about forty feet wide. At this place he observed more totem poles, carved and painted.
"Near the house of the chief," writes Mackenzie, "I observed several oblong squares of •about twenty feet by eight. They were made of thick cedar boards, which were joined with so much neatness that I at first thought they were one piece. They were painted with hieroglyphics and figures of different animals, and with a degree of correctness that was not to be expected from such an uncultivated people. I could not learn the use of them, but they appeared to be calculated for occasional acts of devotion or sacrifice, which all these tribes perform at least twice in the year, at the spring and fall. I was confirmed in this opinion by a large building in the middle of the village, which I at first took for the half-finished frame of a house. The ground-plot of it was •fifty feet by forty-five; each end is formed by four stout posts, fixed perpendicularly in the ground. The corner ones are plain, and support a beam of the whole length, having three intermediate props on each side, but of a larger p194 size, and •eight or nine feet in height. The two centre posts at each end are •two feet and a half in diameter, and carved into human figures, supporting two ridge-poles on their heads at •twelve feet from the ground. The figures at the upper end of this square represent two persons with their hands on their knees, as if they supported the weight with pain and difficulty; the others opposite to them stand at their ease, with their hands resting on their hips. In the area of the building there were the remains of several fires. The posts, poles, and figures were painted red and black, but the sculpture of these people is superior to their painting."
After Mackenzie had retired to rest, "the chief paid me a visit," he records in his journal, "to insist upon my going to his bed companion and taking my place himself, but, notwithstanding his repeated entreaties, I resisted this offering of his hospitality."
The following morning, 19th, the chief again came to the explorer's lodging, complaining of a pain in his chest, and Mackenzie ministered to him with his cure‑all, Turlington's Balsam, a few drops on a piece of sugar. It is apparent that the natives attributed wonderful powers to the white chief, for he was taken to see a sick man so worn by a foul ulcer on the back that he appeared not far from death. Mackenzie declined to undertake his cure, but could not withstand the temptation to administer a dose of his favourite remedy. Shortly afterwards the shamans, or medicine men, took the unfortunate patient in hand. They blew on him, pressed their extended fingers with all their strength on his abdomen, squirted water from their mouths into his face, kindled a fire against his back, and scarified the ulcer with a dull instrument. "The cruel pain of which operation the patient bore with incredible resolution. The scene afflicted me, and I left it," says Mackenzie.
When he returned to his own lodge he saw four great heaps of salmon, each containing three or four hundred p195 fish, which sixteen women were cleaning and preparing for future use. These fish are afterwards strung up on poles in their houses to dry.
Paying a visit to the chief at his own residence, Mackenzie was again presented with a roast salmon, and the chief opened one of several wooden chests, out of which he took a garment of blue cloth decorated with brass buttons, and another of flowered cotton, believed to be of Spanish make. He was also showed copper, brass, and iron, which the natives manufacture into bracelets, earrings, collars, anklets, daggers, and other articles. The chief also told him that ten winters before he went in a big canoe with forty of his people a considerable distance towards the south ("the mid‑day sun"), when he saw two vessels full of such men in appearance as Mackenzie. They were the first white people he had seen, and they had treated him kindly. Mackenzie thought that this might have been Captain Cook, but it might just as easily have been Meares or Dixon. The chief showed the canoe in which he had voyaged, and Mackenzie measured it. It was •forty-five feet long, four feet wide, and three and a half feet deep, painted black and decorated with white figures representing fish. The gunwale, fore and aft, was inlaid with the teeth of the sea‑otter. The altitude of Great Village, according to Mackenzie, is 52° 25′ 52″ N.
A canoe was provided for the travellers in which to continue their journey to the sea, now within measurable distance, and they were about to embark when it was discovered that an axe had been stolen from them. Mackenzie calmly sat down, his gun and pistols at hand ready for instant use, and demanded the immediate return of the missing article. His men took exception to this procedure, but their leader knew the advantage of firearms. He feared that if he permitted this fault to pass, the natives would regard his complaisance as evidence of timidity, and they might not only proceed to rob the p196 party of all their possessions but of their lives as well. The village immediately became a scene of uproar and confusion, but, impressed by Mackenzie's resolute air, the axe was restored, and at one o'clock in the afternoon the voyage down the Bella Coola was resumed, four of the villagers accompanying them. Something else that Mackenzie lost at Great Village was not returned, his dog, nor does he appear to have made any complaint about it, yet he remarks that the loss was "a circumstance of no small regret to me."a
After travelling for an hour they landed at a small village where lived a person of some importance, who regaled them in much the same manner as had been done at Friendly and Great Villages. At another house lower down the river they were treated to a dish of berries of various kinds, and there they saw a woman with two pieces of copper in her lower lip, after the fashion described by Captain Cook and other navigators of the north-west coast.
Bella Coola River Delta.
Still farther down‑stream, after passing a fall, they arrived at another village (named by Mackenzie Rascal's Village), consisting of six very large houses erected on piles rising •twenty-five feet from the ground. From these houses Mackenzie saw the mouth of the river and its discharge into a narrow arm of the sea, Bentinck Arm. His goal, the Pacific Ocean, lay before him.
Mackenzie was not, however, the first white man to visit Rascal's Village, or to gaze out upon the wooded slopes that hemmed in the far‑reaching arm of the great Pacific Ocean. Had he arrived there six weeks earlier he would have met in that out‑of-the‑way place the Englishman James Johnstone, master of the ship Chatham, under Lieutenant Broughton, the consort of the Discovery, in command of Captain George Vancouver, sent out from England to negotiate with the Spaniards for the transfer of Nootka to the British. This expedition, after leaving Nootka in the spring of 1793, sailed for the north, and p197 surveyed nearly the whole of the north-west coast. Arrived in the vicinity of Dean's Canal and Burke's Canal, the Discovery anchored in Restoration Bay, and boats were despatched under various officers to survey those waters; and Johnstone, who was in charge of one boat, landed at the village on June 3rd where Mackenzie arrived on July 19th. How joyous that meeting would have been had it taken place! No very vivid imagination is required to conjure up the scene that would have ensued had the fur‑trader and the navigator, both explorers, and the jolly Jack Tars and the volatile French-Canadians, forgathered on that distant shore.
It being half-past six in the evening when Mackenzie arrived, he decided to remain there for the night. Taking possession of one of the unoccupied houses, they supped on the remains left over from the previous meal, the natives declining to supply them with any fish. Rising early on Saturday morning, 20th, another, but by no means new, difficulty confronted them. Two of the four men who had accompanied them from Great Village peremptorily refused to proceed any farther when he proposed that they should go with them in the canoe down the arm. The other two, however, consented to remain with them, and, having obtained a larger canoe from the natives of the village, they crossed the river bar, and were at last upon the bosom of the Pacific. How the details of the welcome scene must have appealed to Mackenzie, to whom, as the son of the spindrift, the salty air, the fresh smell of the seaweed left exposed by the receding tide, were all so familiar! Almost could he believe he was again at his beloved Stornoway. The odours reminded him of it, as did also the fog that hid the timbered walls of the deep‑sea channels that opened to his vision as he advanced farther down the arm. Sea‑otters, porpoises, gulls, ducks and other living creatures sported in and above the waters.
Paddling down North Bentinck Arm, they passed the p198 entrance of the South Arm. At two o'clock in the afternoon an adverse wind and a heavy swell, together with a leaky canoe, obliged them to seek shelter, and they found it in a small cove, in Green Bay, named Porcupine Cove by Mackenzie, because one of the party, the son of the chief of Great Village, had killed, cooked, and eaten — with the help of two voyageurs — a porcupine the night before. Opposite to where they landed lay the entrance to South Bentinck Arm, and in the mouth of it an island, named Kinkilst Island, sometimes erroneously spoken of as King Island; but it must be distinguished from the larger King Island, which lies to the west of Labouchere Channel near by.
During the evening the two natives became restive; they wished to return to their friends, and one of them made his escape. His companion and Mr Mackay went after him and brought him back, but as Mackenzie did not now need his services, he was given a small supply of provisions, a pair of moccasins, and a silk handkerchief, and bidden rejoin his people, and to tell them the travellers would be with them again in three days. The young man then left him, and his companion went with him.
The supply of provision now left to the party was so small as to excite the lively concern of the leader. The stock consisted of •twenty pounds of pemmican, fifteen of rice, and six of flour, a scanty quantity for "ten half-starved men, in a leaky vessel and on a barbarous coast."
There, at Green Bay, they camped and passed the night, and it is not difficult to imagine Mackenzie's feeling as he lay down to rest upon the beach, striving to compose himself to sleep while there raced through his mind the glorious thought, despite so many hindrances and hardships, he had at last actually attained his desire: he was camped on the shores of the western sea, so much sought after, with the sound of the lapping of the waves and the murmur of the surf ringing in his ears. Whether he slept much or little he does not say, but in any event p199 he was astir at an early hour next morning. He was not content to rest upon his laurels. He determined to proceed still farther seaward.
Leaving Porcupine Cove, now known as Green Bay, at six o'clock, and passing Menzies Point on the west of South Bentinck Arm, they steered west-south‑west for •seven miles and opened Burke Channel, whose width Mackenzie estimated at •two and a half miles, and down which he could see for •ten or twelve miles.
He did not know how far the open sea was distant, and being uncertain whether "we were in a bay or among inlets and channels of islands, I confined my search to a proper place for taking an observation." In other words, he was looking for a place where, in lieu of the open sea, he could have an uninterrupted view over water for a number of miles to properly check the behaviour of his artificial horizon, a southerly aspect being preferable for that purpose. Turning Masatchie Point, facing down Burke Channel, he followed Labouchere Channel to where he thought he saw an island, just as Captain Vancouver when he explored Burrard Inlet took Stanley Park, part of the city of Vancouver, B. C., for an island. What Mackenzie really saw is a peninsula bearing a strong resemblance to an island from a distance: "And from thence directly across to the land on left (where I had an altitude)." The land he made when he thus crossed Labouchere Channel was Point Edward, but which in a footnote he erroneously named Menzies Point. "From this position," he continues, "a channel, of which the island appeared to make a cheek, bears north by east." This is Dean Channel.
Near Point Edward (on King Island) they fell in with three canoes containing fifteen men, one of whom with an insolent air informed Mackenzie that "a large canoe" had lately been in that bay, that one of the white people in the vessel, and whom he called "Macubah" (Vancouver), had fired on him and his friends, and that "Benzins" p200 (Menzies) had struck him on the back with the flat part of his sword. Mackenzie comments: "I do not doubt but he well deserved the treatment which he described." From the fellow's conduct and appearance Mackenzie was anxious to get rid of him, but when he prepared to part from the natives they turned their canoes about, and persuading their guide, the son of the chief of Great Village, to enter one of their canoes, they bore the explorer company, much to their chagrin.
This unruly savage was probably the individual encountered by Vancouver's party on June 2nd near the head of Dean Channel, and who, to avoid them, poled his canoe up a small creek, at whose mouth Vancouver left some trinkets. The story of his being fired upon was a myth; he was doubtless so terrified that he imagined it.
Rounding Point Edward and coasting along King's Island down Dean Channel, they met a canoe with two boys in it, who were despatched by the troublesome natives to summon the people of that part of the coast to join them. The obnoxious individual who had so much to say in complaint of his treatment by "Macubah" and "Benzins" forced his way into Mackenzie's canoe, "and pointed out a narrow channel on the opposite channel that led to his village, and requested us to steer towards it, which I accordingly ordered," states Mackenzie. The unbidden and unwelcome passenger was very importunate, demanding to know the use of everything he saw, and insisting upon examining every article they had. Continuing their way, "at some distance from the land," states the discoverer, "a channel opened to us, at south-west by west, and, pointing that way, he made me understand that 'Macubah' came there with his large canoe."
The two "channels" here mentioned by Mackenzie are Cascade Inlet and Elcho Harbour, the entrance to each of which could be readily seen as the canoe skirted along the shore of King's Island. Cascade Inlet is the opening first fallen in with on going down Dean Channel p201 towards the open sea, the narrower one, Elcho Harbour, being the more westerly of the two. The Bella Bella Indians had a village on Elcho Harbour at that period, but Vancouver makes no mention of having seen any native settlement anywhere on Cascade Inlet, which he explored from outlet to head, but refers to a village south of the point on the west side of the outlet of that inlet. Mackenzie was approaching Elcho Harbour.
"When we were in mid‑channel," continues Mackenzie, "I perceived some sheds or the remains of old buildings on the shore; and as from that circumstance I thought it probable that some Europeans might have been there, I directed my steersman to make for that spot."
He landed to examine the buildings, and "found the ruins of a village in a situation calculated for defence. The place itself was overgrown with weeds, and in the centre of the houses was a temple of the same form and construction as that which I described at the large village. We were soon followed by ten canoes, each one of which contained from three to six men. They informed us that we were expected at the village, where we should see many of them. From their general deportment I was very apprehensive that some hostile design was meditated against us, and for the first time I acknowledged my apprehensions to my people. I accordingly desired them to be very much upon their guard, and to be prepared if any violence was offered to defend themselves to the last.
"We no sooner landed than we took possession of a rock, where there was not space for more than twice our number, and which admitted of our defending ourselves with advantage in case we should be attacked. The people in the three first canoes were the most troublesome, but, after doing their utmost to irritate us, they went away."
View of the rock from the south, showing the canoe-landing.
The conduct of these natives must indeed have been flagrantly bad to have driven Mackenzie to the length of p202 instructing his men to prepare for the worst, and to sell their lives as dearly as possible. There is little doubt but that if the natives, who numbered about fifty men, had attacked them, the Canadians would have fought like brave men, and inflicted severe punishment before being overcome by sheer weight of numbers. When danger threatened only, still in the offing, so to say, they might quail; but when it had to be faced they did not shrink from it, be it what it may. This incident shows how thoroughly Mackenzie kept his temper in subjection. The provocation was great. His fingers must have itched to administer sound chastisement to the rascally wretch who made so many complaints about "Macubah" and made himself so objectionable. But he curbed his anger, knowing that he must exercise restraint if he wished to extricate himself and those with him from a perilous situation. How well he succeeded is apparent to all who read.
Holding fast to his rock, Mackenzie learned with indignation that his irritating visitors had taken with them several small articles; but as he did not wish to deliberately provoke a contest, he permitted the thieves to go unreprimanded. The rest of the natives, finding that their pressing invitation to visit their village had no effect, left them about sunset. Not yet, however, were they to be left quite alone. Another canoe with "seven stout well-looking men" in it arrived, and officered to trade "a very fine sea‑otter skin and a goat skin that was beautifully white," but demanded more than the fur‑trader felt disposed to give. Mackenzie naïvely remarks, "they actually refused a yard and a half of common broad cloth, with some other articles, for the (sea‑otter) skin, which proves the unreflecting improvidence of our European traders." These natives also told of "Macubah" having been there. They said he had left his ship behind a point of land (Restoration Bay) in the channel to the south-west (Burke's Channel), from whence he had visited their village in boats. Presently p203 the natives paddled away, and the adventurers lighted a fire for warmth; "and as for supper," comments Mackenzie — and one can almost visualise the wry smile with which he wrote the words — "there was but little of that, for our whole daily allowance did not amount to what was sufficient for a single meal." That little partaken of, they lay down to rest, the men keeping watch by turns in pairs.
On the morning of the next day, 22nd, soon after eight o'clock, Mackenzie took several observations to find his position. Soon two canoes came with several men, and among them their guide, who had gone with them the previous evening. He urged Mackenzie to leave at once, declaring that the natives had hostile intentions, and would attack them if they persisted in remaining. He represented them as being of very malignant character, and as numerous as mosquitoes. These representations were not without their effect upon the voyageurs, who added their entreaties for a speedy departure; but Mackenzie was obstinate. He declared that he would not stir until he had accomplished his object and ascertained their precise position. He calmly went about his work of taking observations; nor did the arrival of two more canoes from down Dean Channel, apparently the forerunners of others from the same direction, who had come in response to the messages carried to them by the two boys the previous afternoon, suffice to make him swerve from his determination. The guide, however, urged instant flight, and was so agitated that he foamed at the mouth, and the Canadians repeated their entreaties, demanding whether he intended to remain there to be sacrificed. Mackenzie was not far from apprehension himself, but took care not to show to his men that he felt any uneasiness. He told them, however, as a placebo that they might place their goods in the canoe, and thus be ready for departure. The two canoes from Dean Channel came to the shore and landed five men and their p204 families, who examined with astonishment the various instruments Mackenzie was using in taking observations. He took several, and fixed his position at 52° 20′ 48″ N. latitude and 128° 2′ W. longitude; and he adds: "I had now determined my situation, which is the most fortunate circumstance of my long, painful, and perilous journey, as a few cloudy days would have prevented me from ascertaining the final longitude of it." Cloudy weather had almost had the effect he feared. While encamped at Green Bay only two days before, he had been disappointed in his hope of deciding his position. "I had flattered myself," he states, "with the hope of getting a distance of the moon and stars; but the cloudy weather continually disappointed me, and I began to fear that I should fail in this important object." Having found and recorded his position, he knew that he had completed his self-imposed mission. In a footnote added to his journal at the time of its publication, he says: "This I found to be the cheek of Vancouver's Cascade Canal," a statement that misled those who subsequently sought to discover the spot where he stood when he made his calculations.
One cannot but admire the aplomb of this determined man during the trying hours of his sojourn in the vicinity of the offensive coast Indians. His men in a fever of unrest, fearful lest they should be attacked and exterminated, on the one hand; the young man from Great Village, presumably on tenterhooks lest his association with the strangers might draw down upon his people the displeasure of these truculent neighbours, on the other, urged him to immediate and precipitate retreat. They enjoined him in effect to —
"Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once!"
Mackenzie refused to be hurried, or stampeded into leaving the place, before he was fully prepared to do so. p205 He had set his mind upon making certain observations while conditions were propitious, and nothing they might say would move him from his purpose. While the guide and the voyageurs fretted and fumed and fidgeted uneasily, with cool deliberation he completed his appointed task. When it was finished, and not until then, he gave the order to go, to return as they had come. This was no act of bravado, no mere exhibition of dogged obstinacy. Engrossed with the one overwhelming desire, to accurately decide his whereabouts, he concentrated all his energies upon the fulfilment of that object, the final crowning of his great exploit.
On Whale Island in the Arctic, Mackenzie had erected in 1789 a wooden post, suitably inscribed, as a silent witness of his visit. Now, on the Pacific, he again left a memorial, not on perishable wood but on solid rock. He says: "I now mixed up some vermilion in melted grease, and inscribed, in large characters, on the south-east face of the rock on which we slept last night, this brief memorial: 'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.' " A brief memorial in very truth, but of what significance! The perishable record of an imperishable achievement, the record of the first transcontinental journey across the North American continent north of Mexico, the immense distance by land from Atlantic to Pacific had been spanned for the first time by civilised man! Had Mackenzie known, what he could not possibly then learn, that Captain Vancouver was on that very day in the neighbourhood of Maskelyne Point, surveying the channel leading to Observatory Inlet and Portland Canal, he might have made an attempt to join him. That would have been indeed a momentous event. But he did not know, and the homeward journey was commenced.
The precise situation of Mackenzie's Rock was for long unknown. Despite repeated efforts to locate that p206 historic spot, those who sought it were invariably baffled. Two causes were mainly responsible for the difficulty in pegging the exact site. One was the footnote added to his journal when he prepared it for publication eight years after he made the journey, the note quoted above: "This I found to be the cheek of Vancouver's Cascade Canal." The other was the error in fixing his geographical position, due to inaccurate instruments rather than carelessness in "shooting the sun" or star-gazing through his telescope. He was not alone in making these errors. Other explorers and navigators made just as palpable mistakes, not excepting Vancouver himself, who, for example, made an error of •over twenty miles in fixing the geographic position of Monterey on the coast of California.
John Dunn, the author of the 'History of Oregon Territory,' published in London in 1844, and who was stationed at Fort M'Loughlin, now known as Bella Bella, on Millbank Sound, in 1836 visited Mackenzie's Rock, and in the work just mentioned he states that he saw Mackenzie's inscription, which even at that date was only partly legible. Dunn says (page 267): "And in case any vessel should run to this place to trade, he (Mackenzie) made a mark on a large rock, which was partly decipherable when we were then." Dunn did not, however, give any clue as to its location.
Captain R. P. Bishop, of Victoria, British Columbia, solved the difficulty that had puzzled so many who had sought to unravel it. This gentleman, formerly an officer of His Majesty's Navy, on the staff of H. M. S. Shearwater, and since his retirement from active service connected with the Survey Branch of the Department of Lands of that province, in which he resides, in 1923 devoted his energies to the clearing up of the mystery, and this with the consent and support of the Surveyor-General of British Columbia.
Commenting on Mackenzie's method of ascertaining his p207 position, Captain Bishop points out the longitude was obtained by comparing local time with Greenwich time. The former was easy to obtain, but before the days of the telegraph and wireless the determination of Greenwich time was always a difficult problem, unless the errors in one's chronometer could be corrected at some place where the longitude had been determined beforehand. Mackenzie obtained his Greenwich time by observing the eclipse of Jupiter's moons, to observe which he had carried his telescope across the continent. "As the lunar method was considered to be more accurate than the eclipse of a satellite, even when the latter was observed under the most favourable conditions, and as Mackenzie's determination under difficult circumstances and by the less accurate method was incomplete and possibly obtained by a telescope of insufficient power, it may be considered that the error of forty minutes of arc was not excessive."
Captain Bishop decided that the explorer was generally •about a mile in error, and from this premise he decided that the rock where he took refuge, and on which he painted the historic and momentous legend, would be found within •a mile and a half north or south of the mean of the latitudes given by the explorer.
Careful examination of Mackenzie's route followed step by step by Captain Bishop, and since corroborated by Mr J. P. Forde, resident engineer of the Public Works Department, Victoria, British Columbia, shows that Mackenzie went down Dean Channel to a point on the King's Island coast west of the mouth of Elcho Harbour on the opposite and mainland shore. "The traverse is •upwards of three miles north-west," states Mackenzie, which brought him to a spot on the north-west shore of Dean Channel, a short distance north-east of Elcho Harbour. "We landed," writes the explorer, "and found the ruins of a village, in a situation calculated for defence, &c."
"A little to the north of Elcho Harbour," states p208 Captain Bishop, "a bright green patch of alder catches the eye at once. Examination shows that this was once the site of a village 'in a situation calculated for defence.' There is a commanding view, the nature of the country behind offers excellent protection, while the canoe landings at each end afford a means of escape to the north or south by way of Dean Channel, or towards the west by way of Elcho Harbour. On the southern canoe landing are a couple of petroglyphs, carved on boulders a little below high-water mark. The presence of the petroglyphs tends to confirm that the place is an old village site. . . .
"To the south of the village site is an isolated rock which answers Mackenzie's description." Its walls, nearly vertical elsewhere, are overhanging on the inland side, and in other places logs and stones have been built up to increase its defences. A sufficient portion of it is flat and smooth, presenting a good painting surface.
Mr Harlan I. Smith, of Ottawa, archaeologist of the Geological Survey of Canada, who visited the place, thus describes it:
"On the eastern side of the entrance of Elcho Harbour is a little rock promontory. Here I found the refuse of an ancient village pretty well covering the entire promontory, and, without making use of suitable tools, discovered that this refuse reached the depth of at least •eighteen inches. I was told by the Bellacoola Indians that this promontory had been fortified with a high strong wall of logs. The natural steepness of its shores would largely protect it without such a wall. The Bellacoola Indians told me that there had been about four houses within the enclosure, and that its entrance leading from the land was closed at night. They also said that on the land were a few other houses.
"In a small bay between this rocky promontory and the eastern shore of Elcho Harbour is a beach where the people could have pulled up their canoes, and on this beach are two rocks bearing petroglyphs. These rocks are washed by the high tide. The Indians say there are p209 burial caves in the cliff back from the promontory. This promontory is a noticeable feature to the observant tourist, who, travelling at ease by passenger steamer, may be passing on Dean Channel to or from Ocean Falls, because since the Indians have lived here no heavy timber has grown on the old village site, and so it is grown up with nettles and other vegetation, which shows at a great distance as a much lighter green than that of the evergreen forest.
"The Indians say that this fortified point and its accompanying mainland habitations were the home of Bella Bella Indians, a people entirely different in language from the Bellacoolas. It is my present belief that it was the people of this Bella Bella settlement that are referred to by Mackenzie, and that his party dreaded to meet at the time when they started on their homeward journey. . . .
"A short distance to the west along the north side of Dean Channel are two places where the Indians have painted red upon the cliffs rising from the sea, but no one has yet been able to discover the painting which Mackenzie states he put upon the rocks. This painting may have weathered away, or, as the Indians say, it may have been destroyed by forest fire."
Or it may have been deliberately removed by the Indians themselves!
Mackenzie did not, however, consider his Rock impregnable, although he describes both it and the old village site as "well suited for defence." He recognised that his position was vulnerable in the one direction whence he most feared attack, from the natives from Elcho Harbour, and "as I thought that they were too near the village, I consented to leave this place, and accordingly proceeded north-east •three miles, when we landed on a point in a small cove where we should not be readily seen, and could not be attacked except in our front."
The two canoes that had come down Dean Channel followed them, and soon afterwards departing, the young p210 man from Great Village embarked with them. This did not suit Mackenzie, who did not want any harm to come to him, nor did he desire that the young man should return to his father, the chief, before him, nor did he wish to go back to Great Village without the young man in his company. He therefore forcibly compelled the youth to return to the shore, and kept him under his own supervision lest he should obey the instructions shouted to him by the occupants of the canoes to "go over the hill, and that they would take him on board at the other side of it."
This strategical movement is easily traced. Three miles north-east of the Rock a promontory, Cape Mackay, juts out from the same side of Dean Channel, and forms the south-west boundary of the mouth of Cascade Inlet. There lies the "small cove," and across the hill, constituting the "point" the "young chief" was urged by the natives who followed Mackenzie to his new camping ground to make his escape, promising to pick him up on the other side of it, Cascade Inlet. That was Mackenzie's last camp in those waters.
The findings of Captain Bishop have been accepted as final, and his conclusions have been concurred in by the British Columbia Historical Association, the Government of British Columbia Land Department, and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The site determined corresponds in every detail with the description given by the explorer: a southerly exposure for three miles, a flat surface of rock, near an old deserted village, close to an inlet on which was an Indian village, a cove and promontory three miles north-easterly from it. No other spot in the vicinity fulfils these requirements.
Any faults in the mileage of his courses as given in Mackenzie's book, and other apparent discrepancies, may well be accounted for. The leaky condition of the canoe, demanding constant watchfulness, and especially in crossing open water; the natural exasperation felt on account p211 of the conduct of the obnoxious native; the possibility of attack and the danger of starvation, are factors that may be accepted as likely to cause an omission, or even an exaggeration, of some circumstance. The lapse of years between the time of making the journey and the final preparing of the manuscript for the press is another possible factor in the production of errors that must not be overlooked. But, after all, none of the shortcomings in this connection are of any great moment, and the excellent painstaking work done by Captain Bishop in settling a question that has for nearly a century been a vexed one, is in the highest degree commendable.
There must be taken into consideration the words with which Mackenzie closes his book. He evidently realised that his observations and courses were not absolutely correct, for he is careful to give this warning at the end of his narrative: "It is to be observed that the Courses throughout the Journals are taken by Compass, and that the Variation must be considered."
Mackenzie had neither map nor chart with him upon which to identify his position. Indeed, Vancouver only surveyed that part of the coast a few weeks before Mackenzie's already there, and no chart was in existence showing these waterways. It was not until years later that Vancouver's map was available, and by that time the precise meaning of some of his own notes may have grown stale and vague in Mackenzie's memory.
Mackenzie's Rock has, therefore, been definitely placed at last, and the Historic Site and Monuments Board have embellished it with Mackenzie's inscription chiselled into the solid rock and filled with red cement, an imperishable record of one of the most important of the many momentous events that have had a far‑reaching influence upon the destinies not only of Canada but of the British Empire. But for the achievements of Mackenzie, Fraser, and Thompson, it is a question whether Canada would have any outlet to the western sea to‑day.
Mackenzie's Explorations on the Pacific.
p213 The point on Elcho Harbour reached by Mackenzie is •about fifteen miles up Dean Channel eastward from Cousins Inlet, where is the present busy town of Ocean Falls. The waters that Vancouver explored and upon which Mackenzie sailed in a canoe in 1793 now resound with the hoarse note of the steamship's siren, and the curious pleasure-seeker indolently gazes upon the scene from the promenade deck of comfortably appointed coasting vessels.
Mackenzie was struck with the difference in appearance of the Indians inhabiting the region west of the coast range of mountains, from that of the Carriers and Sekenais whom he found occupying the country from the Rocky Mountains to the headwaters of the Blackwater River. Of those who came from down Dean Canalº in canoes, he says: "These Indians were of a different tribe from those which I had already seen, as our guide did not understand their language." Not only did they differ in language but in physical characteristics as well, short, squatty, thick‑set in body, and small in legs, with a big, square, flat face, short neck set on heavy shoulders, powerful arms. The high cheek-bones and peculiar faces are distinctly Mongoloid in type, which, with certain philological resemblances, give colour to the belief that the coast region may originally have been peopled by immigrants from Asia. In dress, manners, and customs they differed very materially from the interior natives, and in no respect was, and is, this difference more noticeable than in their housing arrangements, the large community dwellings of the coast, described by Mackenzie as seen at Friendly Village and Great Village, being altogether different from the Keekwillie houses and lodges occupied by the interior tribal sub‑divisions.
Environment had much to do with these differences, as had the milder but rainy climate of the coast as compared with the drier interior. What the horse was to the Indian of the plains, the canoe was to the coast p214 Indian. He rarely travelled on foot, trails were few, and such as these were, were used more by visitors to the coast from the interior than the contrary. The coast native moved from place to place by water, and generations of squatting, using the arms much and the legs but little, resulted in the production of the man as Mackenzie saw him. The interior Indians used canoes a great deal as well, but the more open country afforded better opportunities for hunting game; and as horses were altogether unknown in the valley of the Upper Fraser at that time, the hunting was perforce done on foot, and the interior native was therefore better developed proportionally than his fellow by the sea. Mackenzie observed all these salient differences, and never failed to inquire into the customs of the natives with whom he sojourned, even if only for a few hours.
Association with the maritime traders had not proved beneficial to the coast tribes, and their hostility to Mackenzie may be traced to those adverse influences as well as to their naturally quarrelsome nature. A timorous policy in dealing with them would have proved fatal. Mackenzie had the good sense to assume a bold front, and thus saved himself and his men from destruction.
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