The New North
Agnes Deans Cameron
Part 4 out of 5
Expedition, and such information respecting the Company's post as I
judged would be useful to the boat party of the _Plover_ should they
reach this river. The lower branches of the tree were lopped off, a part
of its trunk denuded of bark, and a broad arrow painted thereon with red
paint. In performing these duties at this place, I could not but recall
to mind the evening of July 3rd, 1826, passed on the very same spot with
Sir John Franklin. We were then full of joyous anticipation."
As we look at these enduring lobsticks, we recollect that Commander
Pullen, with two boats from the _Plover_ in 1849, visited the depot and
found the precious pemmican. We leave the Mackenzie proper for the
present and enter the easternmost channel of its farthest north
tributary, the Peel, and follow this considerable stream thirty-three
miles to Fort Macpherson, the most northerly post of the Hudson's Bay
Fort Macpherson has a striking site. To the east, spreads a rolling
wooded plain of alluvial origin, containing thousands of lakes. The west
aspect gives us an uninterrupted view of the wooded valley of the Peel,
backed by a heathery slope with the northern Rockies on the far horizon.
Due north, upstarts a peak of the Rockies known locally as Black
Mountain--a dark barren spur two thousand feet in height. A winter trail
from Macpherson to Arctic Red River cuts no fewer than thirty-three
[Illustration: Constable Walker and Sergeant Fitzgerald in Eskimo Togs]
On the beach to meet us are Mounted Police and Eskimo from Herschel
Island, Church of England missionaries, traders of the H.B. Co., and
Loucheux Indians. But here, as at Arctic Red River, it is that Polar
gentleman the Eskimo who claims our attention. Let Sergeant Fitzgerald,
R.N.W.M.P., stationed at Herschel Island, speak for the Kogmollye and
Nunatalmute Eskimo. In his departmental report this officer states, "I
have found these natives honest all the time I have been at Herschel
Island. I never heard of a case of stealing among them." He has been
there five years. Up here on the Arctic the bare word of an Eskimo is
accepted of all men. If he states to an H.B. Co. factor that he has an
order from a whaling captain to get certain goods for himself, that
unwritten order is honoured though it may date back two or even three
years, whereas an order presented by a white man must be in writing and
Why should I enter the lists and take up icy spear for my Eskimo fellow
British subject? Because he is so very worth while. Because through the
years the world has conspired to libel him. Because within a decade or
two he will have passed utterly off the map. And because it is so very
much pleasanter to write appreciations than epitaphs. This man wins you
at once by his frank directness; his bearing is that of a fearless
child. The Indian, like Ossian's hero, scorns to tell his name, and on
occasion will dodge the camera, but the Eskimo likes to be photographed.
Young and old, they press to our side like friendly boys and girls round
a "chummy" teacher, volunteering information of age, sex, and previous
condition, with all sorts of covetable bits of intimate family history.
You love the Eskimo because he is kind to his dogs and gentle to little
children. His entire willingness to take you on credit is contagious,
trust begets trust even in walrus latitudes.
[Illustration: Two Wise Ones]
The Mackenzie River Eskimo is a clever chap. With no school-teacher, no
school, no modern appliances, he does many things and does each
admirably. He is a hunter by land and sea, a fearless traveller, a
furrier, a fisherman, a carver, a metal-smith, and he takes in every
task the pride of a master mechanic,--"the gods see everywhere." The
duties of the man and the woman are well-defined. The head of the
Kogmollyc household is the blood-and-flesh-winner, the navigator of the
kayak, the driver of dogs. It is he who builds the houses on the march,
and when occasion requires he does not consider it _infra dig._ to get
the breakfast or mind the baby. The wife dresses the skins, prepares
the food, makes all the clothing, and the lord of the igloo demands from
her the same perfect work that he turns out himself.
[Illustration: A Nunatalmute Eskimo Family]
When an Eskimo wife has finished making her spouse a pair of waterproof
boots, she hands them to him, and he blows them up. If there is one
little pin-hole and the air oozes out, he throws the boots back to her,
and she may take up the pedal gauntlet in one of two ways. Either she
must meekly start to make a new pair of boots without murmuring a word,
or leave it open to him to take to his bosom another conjugal bootmaker.
We noticed with interest in watching this little tableau that there was
no recrimination. No word was spoken on either side, the exacting
husband contenting himself with blowing up the boots and not the wife.
With uncanny fascination we watched one old woman curry a sealskin. Her
tongue was kept busy cleaning the scraper, while her mouth was a
repository for the scrapings, which went first there, then to a wooden
dish, then to the waiting circle of pop-eyed dogs. The whole performance
was executed with a precision of movement that held us fascinated.
If a white woman were to be shipwrecked and thrown upon an Eskimo
foreshore and presenting herself at a Husky employment bureau, many
surprises would await her. Instead of asking for references from her
last employer, the genial proprietor would first ask to inspect her
teeth. In prosecuting female Eskimo handicraft your teeth are as
important a factor as your hands. The reporter for the funeral column of
an Eskimo daily, writing the obituary of a good wife, instead of
speaking of the tired hands seamed by labor for her husband and little
ones, would call pathetic attention to, "the tired and patient teeth
worn to their sockets by the yearly chewing for the household." A young
wife's cobbling duty does not end with making for her mate boots that
shall be utterly waterproof, but each morning she must arise before the
seagull and chew these into shape. You see, after the boots are wet
each day they get as stiff as boards, then they must be lubricated with
oil and chewed into shape. We watched Mrs. Oo-vai-oo-ak the Younger at
this wifely duty. Taking the big boot up in her well-shaped hands,
incisively, quarter-inch by quarter-inch, the white teeth made their way
round the borderland between upper and sole, the indentations looking
like the crisped edges on the rims of the pies your mother used to make.
Solomon's eulogy of Mrs. Oo-vai-oo-ak corrected to the latitude of 70 deg.
North would read, "She seeketh fish and the liver of seals and worketh
willingly with her hands; she riseth also while it is yet night and
cheweth the boots of her household."
Every bit of Eskimo skin-clothing is as soft and pliable as a kid glove.
The effect is not produced without patient labor, and again the teeth of
the woman are brought into requisition. The raw sealskins or hides of
the reindeer and bear are staked out in the sun with the skin-side up
and dried thoroughly. Before this stiff material can be worked up into
garments it must be made pliable, and this is done by systematically
chewing the fibres, a slow and painstaking task. Creasing the hide along
its whole length, the women take it in their hands and chew their way
along the bend from one end of the skin to the other, working their way
back along the next half-inch line. Watching them, one is reminded of
the ploughman driving his team afield up one furrow and down the other.
It falls to the lot of the woman, too, to do her share of boat-making.
The men deftly fashion the frames of kayak and oomiak, using in their
construction not a single nail or piece of iron, but fastening the wood
together by pegs and thongs of skin. Then the women come on the scene,
measure the frame, and sew green hides of the proper shape to fit,
making wonderful overlapping seams that are absolutely watertight. As it
is necessary to put the skin covering on while the hides are raw, the
whole job has to be completed at one sitting. So a bee is held of the
women of the communal camp.
[Illustration: Cribbage-boards of Walrus Tusks
The scenes etched in the larger represent the events of one year of the
Where did the Eskimo get his versatile ability? Only the walrus knows.
The whalers have inducted the Eskimo into the art of making
cribbage-boards. They use for each board a complete tusk of
walrus-ivory, covering the whole with a wealth of descriptive carvings
illustrative of all that comes into the yearly round of an Eskimo's
life,--ice-fishing, bear-hunting, walrus-sticking. So far as we could
find out, the Husky's connection with cribbage ceased with his making
these _edition de luxe_ boards. He seemed himself to have gathered no
inkling of the fine points of that game which one instinctively
associates with Dick Swiveller as tutor and as pupil the little
Marchioness, "that very extraordinary person, surrounded by mysteries,
ignorant of the taste of beer, and taking a limited view of society
through the key-holes of doors." In the world outside, far from igloos
and ice-floes, where people gather round cheery Christmas fires with
"one for his nob," "two for his heels," and "a double run of three,"
these ivory crib-boards are sold for from seventy-five to one hundred
dollars each. We have two among our most treasured trophies, and with
them an ivory ring beautifully formed which we saw made. Set in the ring
is a blue stone of irregular shape which was fitted into its ivory niche
with a nicety of workmanship that few jewellers could attain. I had
fashioned for me also a gavel in the shape of a sleeping seal, made of
fossil ivory from the Little Diomedes. The contrast of the weathered
brown of the outside of the ivory with the pure white of the inner
layers, when worked up into a carved design, gives the effect of cameo
and intaglio combined.
We tasted many new Eskimo dishes. When, on our return, we confessed that
the brain of the seal served here is a delicious dish, we ran against
the sensibilities of refined natures. But why is it cruder to enjoy
seal's brains _a la vinaigrette_, than to tickle our taste with brains
of the frolicking calf? The seal furnished a more equivocal dinner than
this, nothing less than entrails _au naturel_, which our hostess draws
through her fingers yard by yard in pure anticipative delight, each
guest being presented with two or three feet of the ribbon-like _piece
de resistance_. The scene that jumps to our memory as we watch this
feast of fat things is connected with food-manipulations in Chicago. It
was down at Armour's in the stockyards that we had seen Polacks and
Scandinavian girls preparing in the succulent sausage a comestible that
bore strange family semblance to that which our friends are now eating
before us, this linked sweetness long drawn out.
[Illustration: Useful Articles Made by the Eskimo
A--Eskimo soapstone lamp which burns seal-oil. The wick is of reindeer
B--Eskimo knife of Stone Age.
C--Its modern successor, fashioned from part of a steel saw, with handle
of ivory. This is the knife used by the women; note how the old shape is
D--Eskimo Tam O'Shanter. The band is of loonskins, the cap proper being
carefully constructed from swans' feet. This admirably shows the
cleverness of the Eskimo in adapting natural forms to economic use, each
foot of the swan being a true sector of a circle.
E--Old-time stone hatchet.
F and G--Knives filed from saw-blades, with bone handles.
H--Mortar for pulverising tobacco into snuff.
I--Needle set in a wood handle, and by rapid rotary motion used to
Mr. John Firth, of the Hudson's Bay Company here, gives us much
information regarding these people who for thirty-seven consecutive
years have traded with him. The Kogmollycs have been here "from the
beginning," the Nunatalmutes moving into this region in 1889, driven out
of their hunting grounds inland from Kotzebue Sound, Alaska, by a
scarcity of game. The two tribes live in peace and intermarry. The aged
among them are respected. Criminals and lunatics are quietly removed
from the drama. Supposed incurables commit suicide and in that act
reach immediately a hot underground heaven.
Nature to these Eskimo is especially benign. The junction of the
Mackenzie and the Peel is covered with a forest of spruce, and even to
the ocean-lip we trace foot-prints of moose and black bear. In the delta
are cross, red, and silver foxes, mink and marten, with lynx and rabbits
according to the fortunes of war. The Eskimo declare that, east of Cape
Parry, bears are so numerous that from ten to twenty are seen at one
time from a high hilltop.
The Chauncey Depew of the Kogmollycs, the man with the best stories and
the most inimitable way of telling them, is Roxi. It was Roxi who gave
us the love story of his cousin the Nuntalmute Lochinvar. This young man
wooed a maid. The girl's father had no very good opinion of the lad's
hunting ability and was obdurate. The lover determined to take destiny
into his own hands. A ravine of ice stretched between his igloo and that
of the family to whom he would fain be son, and over the chasm a
drift-log formed a temporary bridge. Lothario, one night, crossed the
icy gully, entered the igloo of his elect, seized her in her
_shin-ig-bee_ or sleeping-bag and lifted the dear burden over his back.
In spite of struggles and muffled cries from within, he strode off with
her to his side of the stream. The gulch safely crossed, he gaily kicked
the log bridge into the gulf and bore his squirming treasure to his own
igloo floor. He had left his seal-oil lamp burning and now it was with
an anticipative chuckle of joy that he untied the drawstring. We end the
story where Roxi did, by telling that the figure which rolled out
sputtering from the _shin-ig-bee_ was the would-not-be father-in-law
instead of the would-be bride!
MORALIZING UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN
"Into this Universe, and _Why_ not knowing
Nor _Whence_, like Water willy-nilly flowing,
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not _Whither_, willy-nilly blowing."
The Midnight Sun! The sun does not sink to the horizon, but pauses for a
moment and rises again. Dawn and eventide are one. The manifestations of
light ever since we left Athabasca Landing have been wonderful,
uplifting. The supreme marvel of the Midnight Sun is not what we see but
what we feel. Standing at this outpost of Britain's Empire, we give our
imagination rein and see waking worlds and cities of sleep. As this red
sun rises from its horizon-dip, it is the first of the unnumbered
sunrises which, as hour follows hour, will come to the continents.
"Think, every morning where the sun peeps through
The dim, leaf-latticed windows of the grove,
How jubilant the happy birds renew
Their old, melodious madrigals of love!
And when you think of this, remember too
_'Tis always morning somewhere_, and above
The awakening continents, from shore to shore,
Somewhere the birds are singing evermore."
[Illustration: Home of Mrs. Macdonald.]
How do the people of Macpherson divide into day and night their
largesse of light? By common consent four o'clock in the morning seems
to be bedtime, and by four in the afternoon people are busying
themselves with breakfast. _In Polar Circles, do as the Polars do_, is
good advice, and we follow suit. Individuality is strongly marked at
this metropolis on the Peel. Every one you meet is a mine of interest,
and sharp contrasts present themselves. Mrs. Macdonald discusses fur and
deer-meat with Jack Johnson. He is a trapper who plays the game alone
and who last year was reduced to killing his favourite dog for food.
Current report credits him with having "killed his man in the Yukon."
Mrs. Macdonald is a Loucheux woman who, at the age of fourteen or
fifteen, married Archdeacon Macdonald of the English Church and for
eight long years afterwards assisted him in his life work of translating
the Gospels into the Loucheux language. She has come all the way from
Winnipeg to the Arctic Circle to spend the summer visiting her people.
We lose our hearts to her two sons, splendid fellows both.
It is the Eskimo who brings both missionary and trader to Fort
McPherson. Are these Eskimo, Christians? Are they _civilised_? These are
the questions that confront us when we speak of these Farthest North
Canadians. It is an age of classification. You cannot find a flower
nowadays that some one has not tacked a Latin name to, and it goes by
inverse ratio--the smaller the flower the longer the name. Every bird
you hear sing, even though it stop but an hour to rest its tired pinion
on its northern migration, has an invisible label pinned under its coat.
How can a man, a tribe, a people, hope to escape? In the northeast of
Canada the Eskimo is a disciple of the Moravian missionary. In Alaska,
on the extreme northwest of the continent, the Greek Church takes him to
its bosom. In between these two come the people we are studying. The
Episcopalians through the years have made some sporadic attempt to
influence these people, but so far as I know these Eskimo are not
Episcopalians. What then must we call these splendid fellows so full of
integrity and honour, whose every impulse is a generous one? Heathens?
The question sets us thinking.
The Century Dictionary defines a heathen as "Any irreligious, rude,
barbarous or unthinking class or person." This Eskimo is not
"irreligious," for he has a well-formed conception of a Great Spirit and
an Evil One, he looks to a place of reward or punishment after death,
and he accedes to Kipling's line without ever having heard it,--"They
that are good shall be happy." He is not "rude," but exceedingly
courteous, with a delicacy of feeling that is rare in any latitude.
"Unthinking" he certainly is not. Six months' darkness within the igloo
gives him the same enviable opportunity of thinking that the shoemaker
has in his stall, and the whole world knows that the sequestrated
cobbler is your true philosopher.
There remains but the one ear-mark, "barbarous." The dictionary declares
that barbarous means, "not classical or pure," "showing ignorance of
arts and civilisation." On the first of these indictments our poor
Kogmollyc must fall down, for he is not classical. And what man dare
pronounce on the purity of another? Then we come to "arts" and
"civilisation." In arts, this Eskimo can give cards and spades to every
European who has visited him. The stumbling-block in this honest search
for a tag to put on my people is the term "civilisation." One is
reminded of the utterance of the Member of the British House of Commons:
"Orthodoxy is my doxy, heterodoxy is the other man's doxy." Was it not
Lowell who at a Harvard anniversary said, "I am conscious that life has
been trying to _civilise_ me for now seventy years with what seems to me
very inadequate results"?
If "Christianity" with the Eskimo means taking him into the white man's
church, and "civilising" means bringing him into close contact with
white men's lives, then he has not yet attained the first, and has but
little to thank the second for. Two years ago eighty of these people in
one tribe died of measles, a white man's disease. A stray chaplain
wandered into an encampment of Eskimo, finding his way from a whaling
ship. He told the people of Heaven, its golden streets, pearly gates,
and harp-songs, and it meant nothing to these children of frost. They
were not interested. Then he changed his theme, and spoke of Hell with
its everlasting fires that needed no replenishing. "Where is it? Tell
us, that we may go!" and little and big they clambered over him, eager
Prayer as presented by the white man is recognised as an incantation
which should bring immediate and literal results. An enquiring scientist
was seated one day with Oo-vai-oo-ak, the two fishing through adjacent
air-holes in the ice. Calling across to the white man, Oo-vai-oo-ak
said, "How is it, brother, have you any fish?"
"No," replied the man of letters, "I have taken nothing."
"Have you spoken to God this morning?" asked the Eskimo in a
"No," said the wilted Walton.
"Well, that's what's the matter," returned Oo-vai-oo-ak; "I always speak
to God every morning before I go fishing. Once, when I went to Herschel
Island, a missionary told me what to say. It always works. I have many
The scientist, interested, queried, "And do you do the same when you go
duck-hunting or goose-hunting or when you are after seal?"
"No," eagerly responded Oo-vai-oo-ak, dropping his line and pressing
close to the geologist, "Is there a prayer for duck, and for geese, and
one for seal? The missionary never told me that. You teach it to me, eh?
I like to make sure what to say to catch that fellow,--goose and seal."
But, unfortunately for both, the university man did not have the charm.
[Illustration: Eskimo Kayaks at the Arctic Edge]
Broadly speaking, the Eskimo's theory of things, evolved from white
spirits on the ice-floes or carried across in the age of the mastodon
from sires and grandsires in Asia, does not differ materially from our
own. There is a Good Spirit, called by different tribes Cood-la-pom-e-o,
Kelligabuk, or Sidne, who dwells high in the zenith, and to whom it is
good to pray. There is an Evil Spirit, Atti, symbolising cold and death.
Their heaven is a warm underworld reached by entrances from the sea.
Hell is a far, white, dreary plain. The Eskimo pray to Sidne; but it is
wise to propitiate Atti or Tornarsuk, and in this last idea they but
follow their Chinese or Tartar ancestors. In common with all nations,
the Kogmollycs have a tradition of the flood. Mrs. Oo-vai-oo-ak the
Elder said, "This world once covered with the sea." Asked why she
thought so, she replied, "You have been down to the land of the
caribou, eh? Little smooth stones from the sea are there, and shells."
The labrets or lip-ornaments, shirt-stud shaped effects worn in holes
pierced in the cheek, strike us with interest. Is it too daring a
conjecture to trace in these, which Eskimo men so sedulously cherish and
resolutely refuse to talk about, a religious significance? The term
"Kelligabuk" in a literal translation means "Mastodon." This animal,
whose bones not infrequently are unearthed from ice-floes, has been for
all time venerated as a god of the hunting grounds. Is it too fanciful
to suggest that the labrets are a sort of peripatetic idol carried
around on the person as an imitation of the tusks of this God-Mammoth?
East and south of the Mackenzie delta the Eskimo tell of a Supreme
Goddess, Nuliayok, who was once a coy maiden and refused to marry a
mortal. Wooed by a gull, she accompanied the bird to an inland home, to
find instead of her dreams of delight a nest of sticks and rotten fish
on a high-hung ledge. Jostled by the other fulmars, or gulls, who tried
to push her off the rocks, she sent for her father. In the night-time he
came and sailed with her over the water in an oomiak. The deserted
fulmar-bridegroom, taking a leaf out of Prospero's book, raised a storm.
The father, to lighten the craft and propitiate the storm-spirit at the
same time, threw the poor bride over-board, and cut off her fingers as
she clung to the boat. As the four fingers dropped into the sea they
changed respectively into beluga the white whale, nutchook the common
seal, oog-zook the big seal, and ibyl the walrus. After thus giving
origin to the four great sea-friends of the Innuit, the Goddess
Nuliayok let go the boat and went to the world beneath the sea, where
she now lives in a whalebone house with a dog for husband. She cannot
stand erect, but hunches over the ground, holding one foot under her as
a baby does who has not yet learned to walk.
It is to Nuliayok that the spirits of sea-animals go after staying three
days by their dead bodies; and this is the reason why the Eskimo breaks
the eyes of a killed seal. He does not want it to witness the indignity
of seeing its own body denuded of its skin. This too is the _raison
d'etre_ of the ceremonies which every Eskimo punctiliously performs in
connection with the animal he kills. Each animal has a soul or spirit to
be offended or placated; if pleased, the spirit of the dead animal
communicates with its living kin, who in turn will deem it an honour to
be killed by such considerate folk as the ceremonious Innuit. Round the
igloo fire we heard another tradition of Nuliayok. The Goddess of the
Sea once gave birth to a litter of white and red puppies. These she put
into two little water-tight baby-boots and set them floating before a
north wind. The puppies landed on southern shores and became the white
race and the red race, the Europeans and the Indians. The Innuit, of
course, had lived from the beginning.
We arrogate to ourselves the term of "white race," but if these Eskimo
were to wash themselves daily (which they do not do yearly) they would
be as white as we are. They have fleshy intelligent faces and eyes with
more than a suggestion of the almond-slant of the Oriental. The idea
occurs to us that the full appearance of the cheeks of the women is more
likely to be caused by the exercise of chewing skins and boots than by
an accumulation of fatty tissue. The men are distinguished by the thin,
straggling growth of beard and moustache which adorns their Asiatic
progenitors. The labrets of the men are offset by the long pendant
earrings of the women, which are made from H.B. Co. beads and shells
brought by Alaska Indians from the Pacific, It is only the women who
here tattoo their faces, the three long stripes extending from lower lip
to the chin. The men crop their hair in the style of the tonsure of the
monk. Neither man nor woman provides any head covering except the hood
of the _artikki_ or smock, which hood, fringed with waving hair of the
carcajou or wolverine, hangs loosely at the back until called into
requisition by a winter's storm or a summer's siege of mosquitoes.
Eskimo clothing is much lighter in weight than it seems, and this is one
reason why the Eskimo attaches of every Arctic expedition have moved
around with less exhaustion than their European or American leaders. A
well-made Eskimo outfit of inner and outer suits, with mittens, socks,
and boots, weighs about thirteen pounds, while one imported fur coat of
European deerskin will alone weigh more than that.
A custom noted at the afternoon whale-meets and pink-teas might
fittingly find way into the latitudes where narrow toes and French heels
obtain. Two ingenious young Kogmollyc belles had placed applique pockets
mid-leg on their lower garments. When the walrus was passed round and
conversation became general, the boots were slipped off quietly and one
foot at a time was thrust for a resting spell into the pocket provided
on the opposite trouser-leg. This act of easement was done deftly, and
the neat action of instep boot-jack never lost its fascination for us.
[Illustration: A Wise Man of the Dog-Ribs]
All the way from boundary-line to ice-barrier we had seen Indians
tricked out in grotesque garments borrowed from the white man and used
in combination with their own tribal covering of skins and furs. These
sun-bonnets and shepherd's-plaid trousers, silk hats and red-flannel
petticoats, the trader had persuaded the child of the woods to buy. The
debonair Eskimo is a re-incarnation of the bastard brother of Aragon's
Prince, and, leaning his furry back against the North Pole, says with
him, "I smile at no man's jests, eat when I have stomach and wait for no
man's pleasure, sleep when I am drowsy and tend on no man's business,
laugh when I am merry and claw no man in his humour."
[Illustration: A Study in Expression]
You cannot induce an Eskimo to think he wants anything just because you
have found that thing to your liking. There are two reasons for this.
First, long experience in the most rigorous climate which the human race
inhabits has taught this man what garments are the most suitable for him
in which to live and move and have his being. Second, although the
Indian may ape the white man as a superior being from whom eleemosynary
grub and gew-gaws may be wheedled, the Eskimo of the Mackenzie delta
considers himself to be the superior of every created being. The Eskimo
knows what he wants; he is always sure of it, and there is no
vacillating. When he comes into the H.B. Company's post to trade, skins
are his currency, the pelts of the silver-fox his gold coinage. A good
silver, or black-fox is worth here about one hundred dollars in barter.
We saw a band of Nunatalmutes come into Fort Macpherson to do their
summer shopping. They wanted English breakfast tea, superior rifles and
ammunition, and a special brand of tobacco. Failing any or all of these,
it was in vain that the Factor displayed before them the wares of John
Bull, Uncle Sam, or Johnny Canuck, or any seductive lure made in
Germany. Ig-ly-o-bok and Nan-a-sook-tok bought what they found to their
liking, took small change out of two silver-fox skins, and put the
remaining six pelts back into the wooden box which formed at once their
savings bank and letter of credit for the season to come. The
hungry-eyed H.B. man confided to us that two of these coveted pelts had
been thus exhibited to him and thus tucked back into the Eskimo
sinking-fund for three successive seasons.
As regards weapons, we found Eskimo hunters in the transition stage. The
old-time spears, four feet long and tipped with ivory, are still in
active service. The bows, with arrows finished in copper, flint, and
bone, have been relegated largely to the boys, while Krag-Jorgensen,
Lee-Enfield, and other high-power guns are bought from American whalers.
The fish-hooks which I got in friendly barter are interesting to any one
born with angling blood in his veins. Beautifully fashioned of ivory,
copper, bone, and beads, the contrivance is a sinker, bait, and hook,
all in one. The daily baskets procured with this lure incontestably
proves the Husky a judicious hooker.
The Eskimo is a merger. Father Petitot shows us the close analogy
between the Kogmollyc language and the tongues of eastern Asiatic
tribes, ancient and modern. This Eskimo's speech, then, gives him a
connection with the effete East (which is his west), while enamelled
washbasins, with here and there a corrugated wash-board, prove that
slowly but surely Canadian culture is reaching him from the south.
With two modifications, this Eskimo is invariably truthful. Like the
Indians to the south of him, seeking to please you by answering a
question in the way that you desire, he will at times tell you an
untruth, for it seems to him discourteous to answer your question other
than in the way which you anticipate. For instance, if you say to Roxi,
"Wasn't that a grey goose we heard overhead?" Roxi will readily assent,
though he well knows it to have been a mallard duck, but he would spare
your ignorance. Again, it is Eskimo etiquette to belittle your own
success in hunting and, in so doing, be not literally truthful. When we
place this delightful trait alongside the fish-stories we are familiar
with, who would seek to change the heathen?
Marriage with the Eskimo is not a ceremony, it is not even the taking of
each other for better or for worse. It is an easy union entered upon and
maintained so long as both parties are pleased. This arrangement has one
manifest advantage,--Eskimo annals tell of no unhappy marriages. When
unhappiness conies in at the door of the igloo, marriage flies out of
the chimney. When a woman leaves her tentative husband, she takes
herself and her babies back to the paternal topik, and no odium
attaches. As the marriage vows melt into the Arctic air, the quondam
husband is expected, however, to play the game. Last winter a young
Nunatalmute and his sorry spouse came to the parting of the ways. She
asked him to take her back to Papa, but he said, "No. You may go
to-morrow if you wish, but I am ready to hunt in the opposite direction,
and I hunt." Off to the chase he went and took the family auto, i.e.,
the sled and dogs, with him. The once-wife, travelling five days and six
nights by the fitful light of the Aurora, found her way to her father,
for the instinct of direction is unerring in these people; but the
ex-bride's feet became badly frozen. Public opinion in this case was
strongly roused against the husband and probably if there had been a
tree handy he would have been lynched. This would have been the first
lynching recorded in Canada. The feeling of the Eskimo community was
that, when the wife announced her intention of enforcing a divorce, the
bounden duty of the husband was either to drive her himself in proper
state to her father's door or to let her have the dogs.
In their beliefs in the great powers of concentration and in
re-incarnation we find traces in the Eskimo of those Theosophical
ancestors of theirs far off on Asian shores. The ceremonies which
approximate in time to our New Year's Day and Christmas show the
importance they attach to concentrated thought. Early in the morning of
what corresponds to our New Year's Day, two young men, one of them
grotesquely dressed in women's garments, visit every igloo and blow out
each seal-oil lamp. The lights are afterwards renewed from a
freshly-kindled fire. The chief, asked the meaning of the ceremony,
replied, "New light, new sun," showing his belief that the sun was
yearly renewed at this time. This early morning visit from igloo to
igloo reminds us of the "first-footing" of the Scottish village. The
mummery of wearing the fantastic dress of the woman points back to the
old Lord of Misrule.
About the season of Christmas, a great meeting is held in the igloo,
presided over by the Angekok or medicine-man, who entreats the invisible
powers for good fortune, immunity from storms, and a plenitude of
blubber for the ensuing year. This invocation is followed by a family
feast. Next day the ceremonies are carried on out-of-doors, where all
from oldest to youngest form a ring-around-a-rosy. In the centre of the
circle is set a crock of water, while to the communal feast each person
brings from his own hut a piece of meat, raw preferred. This meat is
eaten in the solemn silence of a communion, each person thinking of
Sidne, the Good Spirit, and wishing for good. The oldest member of the
tribe, a white-haired man or tottering dame, takes up a sealskin cup,
kept for this annual ceremony, dips up some of the water and drinks it,
all the time thinking of Sidne, the Good Spirit, while the others close
their eyes in reverent silence.
Before passing the cup on to the rest of the company that they may
drink, the old man or woman states aloud the date and place of his or
her birth, as accurately as it can be remembered. The drinking and
thinking ceremony is performed by all in succession, down to the last
naked baby cuddling in its mother's _artikki_, the little child that
cannot yet speak. The solemn rite is brought to a close by the tossing
of presents across the ring from one to the other, the theory being
that, as they generously deal with others, so Sidne will deal with them
in the coming year. So up here on the edge of things, among our
"uncivilised heathens," we have our Christmas presents and "_Peace on
earth, good will to men_."
MAINLY CONCERNING FOOD
"Man does not live by bread alone."
Exigencies of life have caused the Mackenzie Eskimo to formulate on
vital matters an unwritten law to which each gives assent. Succinctly
stated, this system of Northland jurisprudence runs thus:--
_(a) Should a man, inadvertently or by malice aforethought, kill
another, the wife and children of the man so killed remain a burden on
the murderer so long as he or they live._
_(b) A drift-log found is treasure-trove, and belongs to the finder, who
indicates possession by placing upon it a pipe, mitten, or personal
trinket of some kind_. Whalers, missionaries and Mounted Police are a
unit in testifying that precious flotsam of this kind has remained four
or five years in a land of wood-scarcity without being disturbed.
_(c) No one must eat seal and walrus on the same day_. Thus a check is
given to luxuriousness and the Eskimo is self-prevented from falling
into the fate which overtook Rome.
_(d) All large animals killed are to be looked upon as common property
of the tribe and not as a personal belonging of the man who kills them_.
Thus here, under the Northern Lights, do the Farthest North subjects of
the Seventh Edward work out in deeds the dream of Sir Thomas More's
crescent-isle of Utopia where men lived and worked as brothers, holding
all things in common.
The Eskimo realises that the pleasure of life is in pursuit, not in
acquisition. Where wants are many, joys are few; the very austerity of
his life has made a man of him. Laying up few treasures for the elements
to corrupt, accumulating no property except a little, a very little, of
the kind designated by Wemmick as "portable," he, to better and saner
effect than any man, decreases the denominator of his wants instead of
increasing the numerator of his havings. Surrounded by the palcocrystic
ice, the genial current of his soul has not been frozen by that ice. An
Eskimo family accepts life with a smile and, in the faith of little
children, goes on its way.
An old Scot once prayed, "O Lord, send down to Thy worshippin' people at
this time the savin' grace o' _continuance_." Only one man has less need
to pray that prayer than the Scot himself, and that man is the Eskimo.
The Indian eats and sleeps as his wife works, but while there is
spear-head to fashion or net to mend, the clever hands of the Eskimo are
never idle. Thrifty as a Scot, ingenious as a Yankee, every bit of the
little property that he has is well kept. You find around this igloo no
broken sled-runner, untrustworthy fishing-gear, nor worn-out
dog-harness. Civilisation has nothing to teach this man concerning
clothing, house-building, or Arctic travel. Indeed, one may hazard the
opinion that the ambitious explorer from the outside, if he reach the
Pole at all, will reach it along Eskimo avenues with this man as active
ally and by adopting his methods of coping with Northern conditions.
On account of the malignity of nature, it is rare that an Eskimo
attains the three score and ten Scriptural years. Few, indeed, live
beyond the age of fifty-five or sixty. If his life is short, it is
happy. This pagan has grasped a great truth that his Christian brother
often misses, the truth that happiness is not a luxury, but the highest
of all virtues, a virtue filling the life where it originates and
spreading over every life it touches.
There is about this Mackenzie Eskimo a certain other-worldliness which
we insistently feel but which is hard to describe, and to us his
generosity is sometimes embarrassing. At Peel River a band of Kogmollycs
met us, carrying on board pieces of their ivory-carving. One man
exhibited a watch-chain containing fifteen links and a cross-bar, all
carved from a single piece of ivory. He wanted thirty-five dollars or
the equivalent of that for his work, saying that it represented the
leisure hours of two months. The engineer tried to make him lower his
price, but with a courteous smile he shook his head, and the carving was
dropped back into _artikki_ recesses. Afterwards, with the air of a shy
child, the clever carver came to me and offered me the chain as a gift.
It was probably a difficulty of articulation rather than a desire to be
scathing which induced this man subsequently to refer to the one who
tried to beat down his price as "the _cheap_ engineer."
Surprised at the magnificent physique and unusual height of this little
group, one of us began measuring the chest expansions, length of limbs,
and width of shoulders of the men and women we were talking with, while
the other of us jotted the figures down in a note-book. Many of the men
were over six feet tall, and none that we measured was under five feet
nine inches. One young giant, Emmie-ray, was much interested in our
researches. The whalers call him "Set-'em-Up," for his name bears the
convivial translation, "Give us a drink." "You going to make better man,
you get Outside--make him like Emmie-ray?" As Emmie-ray pursues the
tenour of his Arctic way, hunting the walrus, standing, a frozen statue,
with uplifted spear over the breathing-hole of the seal, to the end of
the chapter he will think of himself as being used for a stimulating
Delineator-pattern in the igloo of the white man.
Forty years ago, when Bishop Bompas came across a band of these people,
instead of being awed at the appearance of a white man, they took him
for a son of Cain! Their tradition was that, in the early history of the
world, an Eskimo murdered his brother and fled to the inhospitable parts
of the earth. The bishop, coming to them from the unknown south, must be
a direct descendant of the outlaw, with his hands red with a brother's
Circling the ocean-edge from Siberia, without doubt this people came
originally from Asia, as the Chipewyans did before them and the Crees
before that, the more newly arrived in each case pressing their
predecessors farther away from the food-yielding ocean. The Anglo-Saxon
estimates all habitable land by his ell-measure, fertility of the soil,
its ability to yield turnips, potatoes, and flax, and forty-bushel
wheat. The measure of desirability of range of northern tribes has
another unit--blood, and flesh, and fish. Your Eskimo and Chipewyan and
Cree cares not a potato-skin for your waving fields of grain, your
apple-orchards and grape-vines. What he is after is blood and blubber
and good dripping flesh; these his soul craves in the night season.
These peoples who made their way into the continent by the open door at
the north have come down through the years toward the habitat of the
white man, not because they loved him, but because a stronger tribe has
pushed them back from Arctic flesh-pots.
At the Mackenzie mouth we enjoyed the companionship of that courteous
Eskimo gentleman, Roxi, and heard the story of his last winter's larder,
but not from his lips. At the beginning of the season Roxi had
whale-meat and fresh walrus, and also flour that he had earned from the
whalers. In a characteristic burst of generosity he gave the greater
part of this to needy members of other tribes who had had poor hunts and
who found themselves at the beginning of the Long Night with empty
Mother Hubbard cupboards. The Eskimo winter has many mealtimes, and Roxi
had but a poor idea of the higher mathematics. Long ere the darkness of
the Great Night relaxed its overbearing blackness Roxi got very hungry,
and he had no food. Life is dear, even on the edge of things. So into
the silence Roxi crept and dug down through the ice and frozen sand to
the skeleton of a stranded whale killed three years before. All the
sustaining flesh had been eaten from it more than a year ago, but the
dried tendons were still there. By chewing these assiduously and picking
bones already bare, this generous soul kept life in his body. As I heard
the story, the last words of the gallant Sidney dying in agony on
Zutphen's field that another's thirst might be quenched came across the
ocean from another age and a far land, "Thy necessity is greater than
mine." Britain's heroes, men of the finest mould, manifest on the
shores of many seas.
Inherited tastes in foods, like inherited creeds, are mainly a matter of
geography, or of history, or of both. An Englishman had preceded us to
the Arctic, going in in 1907, and the story of his food discrimination
still lives in tepee of the Cree and Eskimo topik. The North is full of
rivers, the cold bottle is always at your disposal, and generally, if
you are any shot at all, you can get the hot bird. But this son of a
thousand earls, or of something else, wouldn't eat owl when owl was
served, though he _would_ eat crow. Now, eating crow is to most a
distasteful task, and the guides questioned the Englishman regarding the
gastronomic line he drew. "Aw!" replied he, "No fellow eats owl, you
know. Never heard of the bweastly bird at home, but crow ought to go all
right. The crow's a kind of _rook_, you know, and every fellow eats
Having put the seal's body into his own body and then encasing his skin
in the seal's, the cheery Eskimo strides the strand, a veritable
compensation-pendulum. The seal is so much an integral part of this
people that if a geologist were to freeze a typical Eskimo and saw him
through to get a cross-section he would have in the concentric strata a
hybrid of Husky and seal. Holding up his transverse section under the
light of the Aurora, the investigator would discover an Arctic roly-poly
pudding with, instead of fruit and flour, a layer first of all of seal,
then biped, seal in the centre, then biped, and seal again. This
jam-tart combination is very self-sustaining and enduring. Deprived of
food for three days at a stretch the Eskimo lives luxuriously on his
own rounded body, as a camel on his hump.
Reading an Arctic bill-of-fare in southern latitudes may give one a
feeling of disgust and nausea, for it is all so "bluggy." You feel
differently about it at 70º North. You put prejudice far from you,
comfort yourself with the reflection that raw oysters, lively cheese,
and high game are acquired tastes, and approach the Arctic menu with
mind and stomach open to conviction. It is all a matter of adjustment.
Because raw rotten fish is not eaten in Boston or in Berkeley Square
there is no reason why it should not be a staple on Banks's Land.
We had brought with us on our transport two years' provisions for the
detachment of Royal Northwest Mounted Police stationed at Herschel
Island, and we had been privileged to taste the concentrated
cooking-eggs and desiccated vegetables which formed part of their
commissariat. Now, a concentrated egg and a desiccated carrot or turnip
bear no more family-likeness to the new-laid triumph of the old Dominick
or the succulent vegetable growing in your own back-yard than the
tin-type of Aunt Mary taken at the country fair does to the dear old
body herself. Whale-meat is better than concentrated cooking-egg,
seal-blood piping hot more to be desired than that vile mess of
desiccated vegetables. I know. I feel like the old Scot who exclaimed,
"Honesty _is_ the best policy. _I've tried baith_."
But we do not live on seal alone in the North, for there is a
bewildering bill-of-fare. Reindeer have a parasite living on the back
between the skin and the flesh, a mellifluous maggot an inch long. Raw
or cooked it is a great delicacy, and if you shut your eyes it tastes
like a sweet shrimp. Don't be disgusted. If you have scooped shrimps
from their native heath, you have discovered the shrimp, too, to be a
Another Arctic titbit is that fleshy cushion of the jaw of the whale
which in life holds the baleen. What is whale-gum like? It tastes like
chestnuts, looks like cocoa-nut, and cuts like old cheese. Whale-blubber
tastes like raw bacon and it cannot very easily be cooked, as it would
liquify too soon. It is a good deal better than seal-oil, which to a
southern palate is sweet, mawkish, and sickly. Seal-oil tastes as
lamp-oil smells. But you can approach without a qualm boiled
beluga-skin, which is the skin of the white whale. In its soft and
gelatinous form it ranks among northern delicacies with beaver-tail and
moose-nose, being exceedingly tasty and ever so much more palatable than
Musquash in the spring is said to be tender and toothsome, but that
overpowering smell of musk proved too much for our determination. You
may break, you may shatter the rat if you will, but the scent of the
musk-rose will cling to it still. There is a limit to every one's
scientific research, and, personally, until insistent hunger gnaws at my
vitals and starvation looms round the edge of the next iceberg, I draw
the line at muskrat and am not ashamed to say so. Compelling is the
association of ideas, and the thought grips one that muskrat _must_
taste as domestic rats (are rats domestic?) look. Raw fish at the first
blush does not sound palatable, yet raw oysters appeal. The truth is
that meat or fish frozen is eaten raw without any distaste, the freezing
exerting on the tissues a metabolic change similar to that effected by
cooking; and it is convincingly true that bad fish is ever so much
better frozen than cooked.
Blubber is not a staple, as is so often misstated, but it is a much
esteemed delicacy. During the summer months the Eskimo has to provide
light and fuel for that long half-year of darkness within the igloo. The
blubber obtained in summer is carefully rendered down and stored in
sealskin bags--the winter provision of gas-tank, electric
storage-battery, coal-cellar, and wood-pile. In using oil for fuel, this
master artificer of the North has anticipated by decades, if not
centuries, the inventive adaptability of his "civilised" cousins. The
blubber appears in a blanket between the skin of the animal and its
flesh, and when it is spared for food, is cut into delicious strings, an
inch wide, an inch deep, and the longer the better. Give a Fur-Land
kiddie a strip of this sweetmeat and he grins like that Cheshire cat he
has never seen. He doesn't eat it, but drops it into the cavernous
recesses of his stomach, as you lower your buckets into the well of
English undefiled. "Disgusting," you say. It's all a matter of latitude.
Watching a roly-poly Innuit baby finding its stomach-level with plummet
of seal-blubber sustains the interest of the grand-stand for a longer
period than watching your child dallying with the dripping delights of
an "all-day sucker." These little babies have the digestion of an
ostrich and his omnivorous appetite. Suckled at their mothers' breasts
until they are two or even three years old, when they are weaned they at
once graduate into the bill-of-fare of the adult. Walrus-hide is about
as uncompromising as elephant-hide, and an inch thick. You see little
chaps of three and four struggling valiantly with this, nibbling at it
with keen delight, as a puppy does on an old shoe, or your curled
Fauntleroy on an imported apple. The Eskimo mother has no green apples
to contend with in her kindergarten and need never pour castor-oil upon
the troubled waters. Every day in the year her babies are crammed with
marrow and grease, the oil of gladness and the fat of the land.
To many Eskimo the contents of the paunch of the reindeer is the only
vegetable food they get, and this is eaten without salt, as all their
food is eaten. They crack the bones of any animal they kill to get the
marrow, which is eaten on the spot, the broken bones being pulverised
and boiled to make much-prized gelatine. To his fish and flesh the
Eskimo adds a bewildering plenitude of wildfowl. Last spring, eighteen
hundred geese and ducks were killed by Eskimo on Herschel Island
sand-pit. It is the paradise of pot-hunter and wing-shot. Captain Ellis
of the _Karluk_, with one Eskimo fellow-sportsman, got a bag of 1132
ducks, geese, and swans in three days' shooting, to send to the wrecked
whalers off Point Barrow, Alaska.
Who are these people, and whence came they? Each little tribe is a book
unread before, and full to the brim of fascination. When they are
confronted with the picture of an elephant in a current magazine, they
are all excitement. The book is carried eagerly to the old man sunning
himself down in the anchored oomiak. Animation, retrospection, agitation
chase from his seamed face all traces of drowsiness. "_We used to know
it." "Our fathers have told us." "This land-whale with its tail in
front once lived in the land of the Innuit_." We are now the ones to
become excited. Intending merely to amuse these fellow-Canadians who had
been kind to us, we stumble upon a story of intense interest. "Where did
your fathers see this animal?" we asked. "Here, in this country. In the
ice his bones were hidden," said the old man. With this he relapsed into
the torpor we had disturbed, and no further word did we elicit.
Captain Mogg, of the whaling schooner _Olga_, two winters ago pursued
his whaling operations far to the north and east. Ice-bound at Prince
Albert Land, he stumbled upon a little settlement of Eskimo. These were
completely isolated from and had had no communication with white men or
any community of their own race. Only one of their number had seen a
white man before--one old, old woman, the grandmother of the band. The
captain of the _Olga_ speaks Eskimo fluently, and to him this ancestress
of the "lost tribe" had an interesting story to tell. She remembered a
white man who came across the Great Sea from the west in "a big kayak,"
and she extended her arms to show its size. Her people had given this
stranger seal-meat and blubber and the "Chief" from the great ship had
presented her with a piece of cloth as red as the new-spilt blood of the
seal. This grandmother-in-Ice-Land is without shadow of doubt the very
child to whom M'Clure gave a piece of red flannel far back in the early
fifties while prosecuting his double search for the Northwest Passage
and the lost Franklin. We have M'Clure's record of the incident and the
little girl's questioning wonder,--"Of what animal is this the skin?"
Thus does history manifest itself on the other side of the shield "after
Through the years, the Eskimo has fared better than the Indian. It
would seem that the London Directorate of the H.B. Co. expected its
servants within the Arctic Circle in the days that are past to do almost
a Creator's part and make all things of nothing. The scanty provisions
and trading goods from England which filtered in thus far were to be
given to the Indians in exchange for furs, while the Factor and his
people were largely expected to "live on the country."
Cannibalism was not unknown. The winter of 1841-2 was an especially hard
one. On the 18th March, 1841, J. William Spence and Murdock Morrison
were dispatched with the winter express from Fort Good Hope to Fort
Macpherson. During the second night out, while they were asleep in the
encampment, they were knocked on the head by four starving Indian women,
immediately cut to pieces, and devoured. It is further reported that
these women previously had killed and eaten their husbands and all their
children except one little boy. Of the two murdered Scots they ate what
they could that night and made pemmican of what was over, reporting
afterward that one was sweet but that the other, tasting of tobacco, was
not so good.
Father Petitot gives us another glimpse of that awful winter. His naive
words are, "_Chie-ke-nayelle,_ a Slavi from Fort Norman, was a winning
fellow, handsome, gracious, the possessor of a happy countenance. On his
features played always a smile of contentment and innocence. In his
youth he had eaten of human flesh during the terrible famine of 1841. He
killed his young daughter with a hatchet-blow, cooked her like flesh,
and ate her as a meat-pate. It is said that after one has partaken of
human flesh, the appetite for it often returns. I hasten to add that
_Chie-ke-nayelle,_ in spite of the soubriquet _mangeur de monde_ which
is irrevocably rivetted to his name, has not succumbed to such an
appetite. He is indeed an excellent Christian. Nevertheless, I would not
like to camp with _Chie-ke-nayelle_ in time of famine."
Another starvation story related by the good Father is not quite so
ghastly. He tells us of one "M. Finlaison of burlesque memory," who,
when all provisions were out, took his fiddle and, calling the men of
his fort before the door of his empty larder, played to them a Scottish
reel. That was their dinner for the day,--instead of meat they had
sound. The narrator adds, "In America they would have lynched the
too-jovial Scotchman. In the Northwest the good half-breeds laughed and
applauded the master."
The winter of 1844 also was a season of distress. Referring to this
year, a beautiful young Indian woman said to the sympathetic priest, "I
did not wish to eat the arm of my father. I was then a small child of
eight, and I had not been able to see my old father eaten without crying
out with loud screams. But my mother called to me in rage, 'If you do
not eat of it, it is that you condemn us and hate us, then you will
surely go the same way.' And I ate the flesh of my father, hiding my
sobs and devouring my tears, for fear of being killed like him; so much
was I afraid of the eyes of my mother."
Another Indian woman confesses, "I left my husband, a hunter at the
fort, and took with me by the hand my only child, a boy of six, and
directed my steps towards _Ka-cho-Gottine._ It was indeed far. I only
knew the way by hearsay. Once I myself have eaten of my father, but now
I am a Christian and that horrible time is far from me. I have a qualm
in thinking that my stomach has partaken of the author of my days.
Meanwhile his flesh has become mine, and what will happen to us both on
the final resurrection day?" Here Father Petitot interpolates, "Ah! if
she had only read Dante!" "I did not intend to keep my boy with me, he
was too young and too weak. I did not wish to devour him. I had no heart
for that. I decided to abandon him. At the first camp I left him, and
knew they would eat him there. I wept on thinking of the horrible death
that awaited my only child. But what could I do?" This story has a more
comfortable ending than the previous one. We breathe relief in learning
from the priest that the following night the little boy overtook his
mother. He had walked all day and all night, following her snowshoe
tracks. They went on together, the third day they snared some hares, and
their troubles were over.
Father Petitot tells of a Rabbit-skin Indian who found a mummified body
in the forks of a tree near the Ramparts of the Mackenzie and who came
running into the Mission, his hair on end with fright, asking excitedly,
"Did God make that man or was he made by the men of the Hudson's Bay?"
Another tale of his is of an Indian, _Le Petit Cochon_, who had a
tape-worm and thought it was a whale. "Unfortunate!" exclaims the
Father, "possessed of a whale! That's the difference between _Le Petit
Cochon_ and Jonah." Sucking Pig said he would join the Church if the
priest would rid him of the tape-worm. But we must use the words of
Petitot himself, for they are too delicious to lose. "Christmas night,
1865, after midnight mass, _Le Petit Cochon,_ carefully purged, both as
to body and soul, by an emetic, two purgatives, and a good confession,
content as a King, received holy baptism. I gave him the name of Noel."
In starvation times, guests were not appreciated. Robert Campbell of the
H.B. Company, writing from Fort Halkett in 1840, says, "God grant that
the time of privation may soon end, and that I may not see a soul from
below till the snow disappears." These days of the early forties when
England was engaged with the Chartist risings at home and her Chinese
wars abroad, were surely parlous times up on this edge of empire. The
Fort Simpson journals of February 4, 1843, record, "The _Cannibal_, with
young _Noir_, and others of the party of _Laman_, arrived this evening
in the last stage of existence, being compelled by starvation to eat all
Still these sonsy Scots kept a good heart and were able to jest at their
misfortunes with the grim humour that belongs to their race. Neither
empty larder nor other misfortune disheartened them. The recurrence of
New Year's Day and the Feast of St. Andrew were made ever occasions for
rejoicing. Up on the Pelly Forks under date of November 30th, 1848, the
record reads, "Though far from our native land and countrymen, let us
pass St. Andrew's Day in social glee. So fill your glasses, my lads, and
pass the bottle round." Three years later, on the same anniversary, the
lines are, "Very cold for St. Andrew's, and no haggis for dinner."
And as January Ist ushers in the year 1845, the Factor at Fort
Macpherson bursts into verse:
"This day, Time winds th' exhausted chain
To run the twelvemonths' length again.
I see the old bald-pated fellow
With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,
Adjust the unimpaired machine
To wheel the equal, dull routine.
Underneath the record a postscript appears, in another hand:
"Oh let us love our occupations,
Bless the Co. and their relations,
Be content with our poor rations,
And always know our proper stations.
THE TALE OF A WHALE
"In the North Sea lived a whale."
What is a whale? Well, although the whalers dub it so, it is not a fish,
but is a true mammal, the last of the mammoth creatures that trod the
earth and floundered the seas of a past age. The whale is the biggest,
the meekest, and the most interesting of living animals. As we go north,
we readjust all our ideas of distance and immensity. Rivers are longer,
lakes more majestic, and whales bigger than we have ever dreamed.
Examining a stranded whale at Herschel, we see the flippers to be really
hands with four fingers and a thumb enveloped in a sheath, and
rudimentary hind-legs are discovered under the tough skin. Without
doubt, the ancestors of the whale were land mammals which became adapted
to a littoral life, and in splashing round the shore acquired the habit
of swimming. Subsequently carried out to sea, they became under the new
environment the structure as we see it.
Off the delta of the Mackenzie, the Circumpolar of Arctic Bowhead whale
_(Balaena mysticetus_) is making his last stand. Unless a close season
is enforced, this cetacean carrying round his ten thousand dollar
mouthful of baleen will soon fold his fluked fins like the Arab and
swing that huge body of his into line with the Great Auk, the
Sea-Otter, the Plains Buffalo, and all the melancholy procession of
[Illustration: We Tell the Tale of a Whale]
Whales divide themselves into two great classes: those furnished with
teeth (the _Denticete_) and those in which the place of teeth is
supplied by a sieve process, furnishing the baleen or "whalebone" of
commerce (the _Mysticete_ or _Balaenidae_). The members of the Baleen
Whale family are the Sulphur-Bottoms, the Finner Whales or Rorquals, the
Humpbacks, and the king of all whales, the founder of the municipality
of Herschel Island, whom his pursuers call indiscriminately the "Arctic
Whale," "Polar Whale," "Greenland Whale," "Bowhead," "Right Whale," or
Bowheads run in length from seventy to one hundred feet, weighing up to
one hundred and ten tons each, there being authentic records of
exceptional specimens whose weight reached two hundred and fifty tons.
Comparisons are illuminating. The mammoth or hairy elephant in the Field
Columbian Museum is nine feet six inches high and twelve feet in
longitudinal measurement. The lips of a Bowhead whale are from fifteen
to twenty feet in length and yield from one to two tons of pure oil
each,--lips that turn a nigger-minstrel green with envy! The eyes placed
in the posterior part of the head are each as big as an orange. The
tongue of the whale is twenty feet long, and this member, by means of
which he pushes to the top of his palate the animalculae on which he
feeds (as you would a gooseberry), gives the whaler six tons of oil. The
aorta is as big as a man's waist and, at each pulsation of the heart,
spurts out ten to fifteen gallons of blood. The heart itself is more
than a yard in transverse diameter. The toothed whales carry the teeth
in their lower jaw, the most valuable of this lot being the Spermaceti
or Sperm Whale or Cachalot, the Pilot Whale or Ca'ing Whale, the White
Whale or Beluga, the Killer or Orca, the Narwhal, and such small fry as
Blackfish, Porpoises, and Dolphins. Only the toothed whale eats fish;
the others live upon animalculae and the most minute of marine life,
called "brit" by the whalers. The Bowhead that we have come up to the
Arctic to see feeds on the smallest infusoria. He couldn't eat a herring
if by that one act he might attain immortality.
Whale errors die hard. Artists persistently depict the big animals as
spouting beautiful fountains of water, but the fact is that whales
breathe out air only from their lungs. They come to the surface for
that purpose, the "blowing" being quite analogous to the breathing of
land mammals. Noticing the condensation of a whale's breath up here in
the icy Arctic, we guess at the cause which gave rise to this particular
blunder. Milton in thirteen words manages to perpetrate three (whale)
bulls. "At his gills draws in, and at his trunk, spouts out, a sea."
Guiltless of either gills or trunk, no whale ever spouted out anything
but common or seaside air.
The Bowhead is hunted for his "whalebone"; the Cachalot or true Sperm,
the lord of the toothed whales, for that great lake of sperm oil and
spermaceti which he carries round in a portable tank in the top of his
It is customary to call whales "fierce," "savage," "murderous," but this
is rank libel, for the whale is timid and affectionate. Every family,
however, has its black sheep. The Orca or Killer is the terror alike of
sealing-rookeries, fish-schools, and whale bone whales. One Killer taken
up here had in its stomach fourteen porpoises and fourteen large seals,
and it choked to death on the fifteenth. Banded in Molly Maguire groups,
the Killers murder the young seal-pups taking their first lessons in
swimming off the Pribilofs. We have seen them, a pack of hungry
sea-wolves, surround a Bowhead whale! A number of these brigands of the
Bering Sea hang on to the lower lip of the big whale till the opened
mouth allows a Killer to enter bodily, when the Bowhead's tongue is
eaten out and the whole sea is a shambles. At the approach of the Killer
even sea-lions seek the shore. And the Alaska Indian who would pose as
Bad Bill of the Clambank to the third generation carves a Killer as the
crest of his totem.
The American is more aggressive--shall we say progressive?--than the
Canadian. The Bowhead whale has within recent years chosen for his
summer habitat the pleasant waters off Arctic Canada. Each of these
floating tanks of baleen and oil nets his lucky captor from thirteen
thousand dollars upward?, and yet for twenty years Canadians have been
content to see their more enterprising cousins from California come into
their back-yard and carry off these oily prizes.
[Illustration: Two Little Ones at Herschel Island]
Is there much money in whales to-day? Are not oil and whalebone drugs in
the market? Let us see. Off the Mackenzie mouth is Herschel Island
anchorage. Here, since 1889, the American whaling-fleet, setting out
from San Francisco, has made its summer stand, its winter
waiting-quarters. One whale to one boat in a season covers the cost of
outfitting and maintenance, and more than one spells substantial profit.
In 1887, one of the Arctic whalers, the steamer _Orca_, captured
twenty-eight whales. The _Jeanette_ in 1905 got ten whales and a calf,
the _Karluk_ got seven whales, the _Alexander_ eight, the _Bowhead_
seven. The boats wintering at Herschel in that year had among them
thirty-three whales and one calf. At fifteen thousand dollars each (San
Francisco values for that season) the thirty-three whales netted very
nearly half a million. Two years later the _Narwhal_ took out fifteen
whales, the _Jeanette_ and _Bowhead_ each four. Although the average
bone per head is two thousand pounds, sometimes the catch runs far
beyond that figure. A whale caught by Capt. Simmons of the ship _John M.
Winthrop_ carried thirty-three hundred and fifty pounds of bone in its
head,--$16,750! One of these at a time would be good fishing.
The first Bowhead taken from these waters went in 1891 to the American
steam-whaler _Grampus_, her catch for three seasons being twenty-one
whales. Previous to this, even wise whale-men thought it useless to go
"to the east'ard of P'int Barrow" for this big whale; since that date
the catch in Canadian waters has been thirteen hundred and forty-five
whales. Ignoring the oil altogether and putting the "bone" (baleen) at
two thousand pounds each whale and the value of it at five dollars a
pound, both conservative figures, we find that thirteen and a half
millions in whale-values have gone out of this Canadian sea-pasture the
past twenty years, by the back-door route.
Are there as good fish in the sea as have come out of it? Expert
evidence differs. Captain George B. Leavitt, of the _Narwhal_, in 1907
lowered twenty-two times without striking and yet went out with fifteen
whales. He says he saw that season more whales than any year previous,
but that they are on the move east and north.
The general practice is for a ship to reach this water from San
Francisco in the early summer; whale as long as the ice will permit; go
into winter quarters at Herschel; get out of the ice as soon as possible
next summer, probably the first week in July; whale as long as it can
stay without getting nipped by the new ice of September; carry out its
catch through Bering Strait to San Francisco as late as possible;
dispose of the cargo; refit; return next season, and do it all over
again. The active whaling-season is restricted to eight or ten weeks,
and every one on board a whaler from captain to galley-devil works on a
lay. The captain gets one-twelfth of the take, the first mate one
twenty-second, the second mate one-thirtieth, the third mate one
forty-fifth, the carpenter one seventy-fifth, the steward one eightieth,
fore-mast sailors one eightieth, green hands one two-hundredth.
Engineers get about one hundred and twenty dollars a month straight. It
looks all right in the contract signed a year ago in a San Francisco
waterfront dive, but it never works out as it looks on paper. The A.B.
overdraws from the slop-chest (often before the whale is caught) the
vulgar-fraction which stands for his share of fat things, and you come
across him possessed of the sulky mood which dining on dead horse (land
or marine) induces in most of us.
A trade in fur also makes out by this Pacific-Arctic, Arctic-Pacific
route. We estimate that total products to the value of a million and a
half find their way each year out of Canada in the ships of the
whaling-fleet. "The farther north the finer fur" is a recognised law.
The American ship brings flour, provisions, Krag-Jorgensen guns,
ammunition, tea, trinkets to the Eskimo, and receive for these the
choicest furs this continent produces.
The Canadian Provinces which propinquity would seem to call to this
international whale-joust are British Columbia and Alberta. British
Columbia, in her splendid whaling-stations and refineries on Vancouver
Island, has tasted whale-blood, the blood of the Humpback and Sulphur
bottom, the Orca or Killer, the Cachalot or true Sperm, and one would
think her appetite sufficiently whetted to want to acquire the "feel" of
Arctic Bowhead profits, the fattest dividend-sheets of them all. Alberta
claims as rich hinterland all the coal and gas and timber, tar, furs,
feathers, and fish between the parallel of 60 deg. and the uttermost edge of
things. These winning bulks of blubber should by all laws of the game be
hers. Some day Alberta's metropolis on the Saskatchewan, overcoming the
rapids on the Athabasca and the Slave, will send her deep-sea vessels by
interior waterways to pull down into Canadian pockets a tardy share of
these leviathans. Will there be any left? It is hard to say.
Little wind-swept island of Herschel! We reach you to-day not by
deep-sea vessel from the westward but up through the continent by its
biggest northward-trending stream. Eighty miles through the Northern
Ocean itself from the Mackenzie mouth brings our whale-boat grating upon
the shingle. "As far as we go!" This is essentially the Island of
Whales, the farthest north industrial centre in America, the world's
last and most lucrative whaling-ground. It is well to take our bearings.
We are in latitude 69-1/2 deg. N. and just about 139 deg. west of Greenwich; we
are a full thousand miles nearer our Pole than the Tierra del Fuegan in
South America is to his. And it blows. A nor'easter on Herschel never
dies in debt to a sou'wester. Lifting itself one thousand feet above
sea-level, this septentrional shelter for ships where the seagulls wheel
at our approach, and as they wheel, whine like lost souls, is
twenty-three miles in circumference, with neither water nor fuel. For
six months every year comparative darkness wraps it around. Snow and ice
hold it fast till mid-July; and yet people with tropic isles to choose
from and green valleys where the meadow-lark sings have crowded here for
twenty years to make their home!
The most incongruous lot that Fate ever jostled together into one
corner,--who are they? The whaler of every country and complexion from
Lascar to Swede, Eskimo men and women and big-eyed babies, half-caste
hybrids of these two factors, Missionaries, and Mounted Police. It is
interesting to note the order of their arrival. The whaler drawn by oily
lure followed the Bowhead east and north from Bering Sea. To man his
boats, to hunt caribou for him, and to furnish temporary spouses, the
whaler picked up and attached to his menage the Eskimo from the mainland
in little bunches _en famille_. Ensuing connubial complications brought
the missionary on the scene. To keep the whaler and the missionary from
each other's throats, and incidentally to make it easy for the American
citizen to trade in Canadian baleen and blubber, came the debonair Royal
Northwest Mounted Policeman, the red-coated incarnation of Pax
Britannica. There winter at Herschel every year two hundred and fifty
whalers and an equal number of Kogmollye and Nunatalmute Eskimo.
Pauline Cove on Herschel Island has three fathoms of water and can
winter fifty ships. Landing and looking about us, we experience a
feeling of remoteness, of alienation from the world of railroads and
automobiles and opera tickets. Back of the harbour are the officers'
quarters of the whaling company, the barracks of the Royal Northwest
Mounted Police, the huts of the Eskimo; in front of us the clear
panorama of the mountains on the shore-line.
North America here, in profound and lasting loneliness, dips its shaggy
arms and ice-bound capes into an ocean illuminated now by the brief
smile of summer but, for ten months out of the twelve, drear and utterly
desolate. The most striking features of the off-shore islands is that
they are islands of ice rather than of earth. Slightly rising above
ocean-level, they exhibit one or two feet of sandy soil, and between
this scant counterpane and the interior foundations of the earth is
nothing but pure translucent ice. There is going on a rapid
disintegrating of these islands. The whaler calls this far fringe of
America "the ocean graveyard" and "the step-mother to ships." There have
been five wrecks on this coast in recent years: the _Penelope_ off
Shingle Point, the _Bonanza_ off King Point, the _Triton_ on the shores
of Herschel itself, the _Alexander_ near Horton River, a little
missionary craft off Shingle Point, and Mikklesen's ship _The Duchess of
Bedford_, abandoning her ambitious search for a dream-continent in
Beaufort Sea to deposit her tapped-camphor-wood bones on the edge of the
ocean of her quest.
The Mackenzie River carries the freshening influence of its current for
miles out to sea, and the whole mainland coast is piled high with
drift-trees carried by its stream to the Eskimo,--a boon more prized by
them than the most seductive story the missionary can tell of the harps
and golden streets of that strange heaven of the white man where
whale-meat is unknown and blubber enters not.
In July, resurrection comes to Herschel,--saxifrages, white anemones
through the snow, the whoop of the mosquito-hawk, and the wild fox
dodging among the dwarf-junipers and uncovered graves! And the Midnight
Sun? It is not a continual blare of light for twenty-four hours. It
sweeps through the midnight heavens, but between ten o'clock in the
evening and four in the morning there is a sensible change. Colour tints
and lines of demarcation on sea and ships are harder to distinguish,
shadows less clearcut. Birds roost and even flowers close, Nature
whispering to both that, if they would reproduce after their kind in the
short Arctic summer, energies must be conserved. Surely the world holds
nothing more beautiful than this Polar night, this compelling gloaming,
the "cockshut light" of Francis Thompson. Here the evening and the
morning sit together hand in hand, and, even as you watch, lead in the
day, the new day born beneath the starless sky. The July sun stabs into
activity our incongruous community. On board the vessels guns are
cleaned, harpoons pointed, whale-boats caulked, and the winter
deck-house is lifted off bodily. Up in the rigging fox-skins and all the
year's fur-booty sweeten in the sunlight, and eagerly the spring "leads"
in the ice are watched from hour to hour if a way be opened to trend
out in the track of the big Bowhead.
Strange people crowd the fo'castle. Two years ago the ships bound for
"Outside" got nipped in early ice and were forced to winter at Herschel
all unprepared. Reduced to half-rations the crew got weak, and scurvy
threatened. The Mounted Police (who by the way are "mounted" in
imagination only, as there is nothing for the most gallant to stride
here but Husky dogs), in making examination of the men below decks, got
to their enquiries a technical reply that staggered them. One
able-bodied seaman, busied with between-decks blubber, proved to be a
medical man with degrees from two colleges. He subsequently made at the
request of the Police a searching report on the state of health of the
island community, adding suggestions for its improvement. The report was
signed "T.H. Toynbee Wright, M.D.," and, after making it, the A.B., M.D.
saluted, donned his oily overalls, and turned once more to the savoury
spoils of the Bowhead. Which all goes to prove that in these latitudes
"you never can tell."
Whale-men at Herschel give whales five names according to age and size:
they are "suckers" under a year, "short-heads" as long as they are
suckled, "stunts" at two years, "skull-fish" with baleen less than six
feet long, and "size-fish" at the age when a boy reaches man's estate. A
whale needs no re-incarnation theory of the theosophist, for he crowds
enough experience into one sea-life to satisfy the fact-thirst of the
greediest little Gradgrind. Fancy, thrashing the sea for a thousand
years! A "sucker" who happened to be disporting round the British Isles
when Alfred the Great was burning those historic cakes and prefiguring
with candles the eight-hour day may still be chasing whale-brit round an
Arctic iceberg. The whale mates, we are told, once and for keeps.
Jogging along from one ocean end to another with the same wife for a
thousand years without turning fluke to look at an affinity! Shades of
Chicago and Pittsburg, hide your wings! Whales follow their annual
migration as regularly as do moose and caribou on land, the seal and
salmon in the Pacific. Seen first in May in Bering Strait, the Bowheads
trend from here north and east, doubling back on their westward journey
in July and August, when the Herschel Island whalers go out to intercept
them. September sees the great mammals off Southern Kamchatka, and year
by year with regularity they follow this Arctic orbit, edging farther in
successive seasons to the north and east. The usual track of any family
of whales may be left at a tangent on account of a furious storm,
excessive cold, the want of food, the harassing of an enemy, or a change
in the season of their amours.
A whale, for an old party, is not so slow. Alarmed while extended
motionless at the surface of the sea, he can sink in five or six seconds
beyond the reach of human enemies. His velocity along the surface
horizontally, diving obliquely or perpendicularly, seems to be the same,
a rate of from twelve to fourteen miles an hour. Now, to carry a whale
of seventy-four tons through the Arctic at the rate of twelve miles an
hour would require a (sea) horse-power of one hundred and forty-five.
Captain Scoresby, a whale expert, by careful calculation estimates that
a surface of two square miles of the Arctic Ocean contains
23,888,000,000,000,000 of the minute animalculae on which the Bowhead
feeds, so we hope there is enough to go round. He quaintly elucidates
this inconceivable number by explaining that eighty thousand persons
would have been employed since Adam in counting these little medusae in
the two square miles. Why any one should count them we fail to conceive
and gladly accept Scoresby's figures.
The poet tells of shooting an arrow into the air and "long years
afterwards in an oak he found the arrow still unbroke." Those who stick
harpoons into whales and suffer the animal to get away start floating
rumours (a sort of cyclometer of the sea) for their grandsons to read in
blubbery history three generations after. England offered knighthood and
a bag of sterling pounds to him who would discover a Northwest Passage
connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific. M'Clure and the heirs of Sir
John Franklin disputed the honour of this achievement. In the "North
Sea" lived a whale who exhibited in his own person indubitable proof of
having found that elusive Anian Strait. At Herald Island, due north of
Bering Strait, in 1886, a whale was caught who carried round in his
inside pocket of blubber the head of a harpoon marked _Ansell Gibbs_.
The _Ansell Gibbs_ was wrecked at Marble Island south of Chesterfield
Inlet on Hudson Bay on October 13, 1871. Imagination sees opportunity in
this for establishing hyperborean letter-service between lovers kept
apart by cruel ice-floes. Eskimo Evangeline wandering under Northern
Lights seeking Dusky Gabriel might find here a carrier-pigeon of
utility. Is it not Pliny who gives us a delightful account of Hippo's
Captain Kelly was the first to notice that whales sing One Sunday,
while officers from three ships were "gamming" over their afternoon
walrus-meat, Kelly dropped his glass with, "I hear a Bowhead!" There was
much chaffing about "Kelly's band," but Kelly weighed anchor and went to
find the band-wagon. Every sail followed his, and the result was the
bagging of three whales. Among Bowheads, this sing-song is a call made
by the leader of a school as he forces passage through Bering Sea to
give notice to those who follow that the straits are clear of ice.
Walruses and seals and all true mammals having lungs and living in the
water have a bark that sounds weird enough coming up from hidden depths.
Every look-out from a mast-head notices that, when one whale is struck,
at the very impact of the harpoon the whole school is "gallied" or
stampeded as they hear the death-song. The dying swan may not sing, but
there is no doubt about the ante-mortem Valkyrie song of the whale. From
the Bowhead the sound comes like the drawn-out "hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo" of the
hoot-owl. A whaler stops coiling his harpoon-line to tell you that
"beginning on 'F' the cry may rise to 'A,' 'B,' or even 'C' before
slipping back to 'F' again." He assures us that, "with the Humpback the
tone is much finer, sounding across the water like the 'E' string of a
Whalers themselves on this grim shore die without requiem. Every year
men desert from the ships. They make their way across from Herschel to a
mainland of whose geography they know nothing, thinking that once they
strike the shore they can find railway trains which will take them to
the gold-mines. One man, Morand, left his ship without sled or dogs. He
carried only a gun, twenty rounds of ammunition, some cigarette papers
and tobacco. In the spring they found him about a day's journey from the
ship, frozen to death. He sat with his gun leaning against his left arm,
and a cigarette in his mouth. Both feet and one hand were eaten off. He
had fired off nine shots, probably as a signal which was never heard.
[Illustration: Breeding Grounds of the Seals]
Within recent years, on other shores but this one, an innovation has
entered the whaling business. The modern plan is to have
shore-refineries and from these strategic bases to send out
strongly-built high-speed steamers to shoot detonating harpoons from a
cannon into the whale. Such methods are pursued with profit on
Newfoundland and Vancouver Island shores. The gun-harpoon, the invention
of Sven Foyn, a Norwegian, is furnished at the point with a contrivance
which, as it enters the whale, opens out anchor-like flukes which
clutch his vitals. Connected by a line to the whaling-steamer, the
harpoon holds the quarry until the whaler steams alongside, when the
"fish" is soon dispatched. A nozzle is attached to the harpoon-wound,
and hot air from the engine pumped into the "proposition" keeps it
afloat. The Vancouver Island station has bagged as many as five whales
in one day,--Cachalots, Humpbacks, and Sulphur-Bottoms.
The Eskimo say, "There is no part of a seal that is not good," and the
same applies to whales. Blubber and bone have their regular markets. The
viscera, scraps of fat and oddments tried out in fiery furnaces, appear
in the form of pungent snuff-like powder, a much-sought fertiliser. From
the Vancouver Island stations it goes across to enrich the cane-fields
of Honolulu and the rose-gardens of Nippon. The Japs are eager customers
for the dried or smoked whale-meat; and whale-steak broiled to a turn
can scarcely be distinguished from choice porterhouse, since it is
absolutely free from fishy taste. Far back in the fourteenth century the
Biscayans made whale-venison their staple, and Norway to-day has more
than one establishment which turns out canned whale. Newfoundlanders
find whale-meat a welcome change from cod perpetual, and I have seen the
Indians of Cape Flattery eat it when it hailed you a mile to windward
and had more than begun to twine like a giddy honeysuckle. Now,
enterprising people are talking of canning whales' milk, a dense yellow
fluid like soft tallow. When the milk-maid goes out to milk a whale she
must take half a dozen barrels along as milking pails. The Eskimo like
it. Soon the soda-fountains on Fort Macpherson and Herschel Island will
bear the legend, "Whale cream soda" and "Best Whale Milkshake."
To have an even superficial knowledge of the commercial products of the
whale, one must learn of baleen, of whale-oils and spermaceti, of
ambergris, whale-guano, whale-ivory, and whale-leather.
What do we do with baleen? It so combines lightness, elasticity, and
flexibility, that nothing yet invented adapts itself so perfectly to all
the requirements of the fashionable corset. Whalebone whips are made
from single pieces of baleen seven or eight feet long. A whalebone
horsewhip costs from fifteen to eighteen dollars and will outlast a
dozen cheaper persuaders. The Sairy Gamp umbrella of the last
generation, which boasted whalebone ribs, never "broke its mighty heart"
in a rainstorm (and incidentally could never be shut up tight). Flexible
steel has taken the place of whalebone in many of the arts; but new
avenues of usefulness open up to baleen. Out of it artificial feathers
of exquisite lightness and wigs or toupees are made. Shredded into fine
filaments, baleen is now woven in with the other fibres in the
manufacture of the finest French silks, imparting resilience and
elasticity to the rich material. A Chicago paper of the date of this
WHALEBONE TEETH $5
A GREAT DISCOVERY
THE NEW WHALEBONE PLATE WHICH IS THE LIGHTEST
AND STRONGEST SET KNOWN
DOES NOT COVER THE ROOF OF THE MOUTH
Guaranteed ten years
YOU BITE CORN OFF THE COB
Spermaceti, the solid waxy body carried round in the Cachalot's head in
solution, is a valuable whale-product. Bland and demulcent, spermaceti
is employed as an ingredient in ointments, cosmetics, and cerates.
Spermaceti candles of definite size form the measure of electric light,
giving rise to the phrase "of so many candle-power." Present-day
spermaceti is both a saving and a destructive agent. Large quantities of
it are used in Europe in the manufacture of ecclesiastical candles, and
part of the same consignment may help to make self-lubricating
Most valuable of all whale-products, the costliest commodity on this
earth ounce for ounce with the one exception of radium, is ambergris. As
amber was once considered "the frozen tears of seagulls," so ambergris
for ages puzzled the ancients. Some called it "the solidified foam of
the sea," with others it was a "fungoidal growth of the ocean analogous
to that on trees." When people in the old days came across anything
exceedingly costly they wanted to eat it, on the same principle which
makes the baby put each new gift into his mouth. So we have historic
record of pearl soup a la Cleopatra, and dishes dashed with ambergris.
Milton sings of,--
"Beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled,
What is this choice tidbit? It is a morbid secretion of the intestines
of the sick Sperm-whale, and sells for from thirty to forty dollars an
ounce. Ambergris, if discovered in the animal itself, is always in a
dead or dying body, but it is usually found floating on the ocean or
cast up on the shore. Many a day, as kiddies on Vancouver Island
beaches, have we turned over bunches of kelp, trying to smell out that
solid, fatty, inflammable dull grey substance with its sweet earthy
odour. The present-day use of ambergris is to impart to perfumes a
floral fragrance. It has the power to intensify and fix any odour. In
pharmacy, it is regarded as a cardiac and anti-spasmodic and as a
specific against the rabies. For years it has been used in sacerdotal
rites of the church; and suitors of old times sought with it to charm
their mistresses. The dying sperm, spouting up the ghost, offers of his
very vitals to aid the lover and serve the church.
Fascinating are the finds of ambergris. The barque _Sea-Fox_ of New
Bedford, in 1866, off the coast of Arabia, took a one hundred and
fifty-six pound mass of ambergris, which was sold to the Arabs of
Zanzibar for ten thousand dollars in gold. The _Adeline Gibbs_, in the
same year, took one hundred and thirty-two pounds from a bull-sperm
south of St. Helena, and sold the hunk for twenty-three thousand
dollars. Three winters ago an Arctic whaling-crew put into Seattle, and
there leaked out the interesting story of how, not recognising the
priceless unguent, they had greased their oars, masts, and knee-boots
with "a big lump of ambergrease."
In modern whaling not an ounce of the carcase is cast as rubbish to the
void. The intestines make a soft kid which takes any dye and is largely
used for artistic leather-work. The size of these immense strips makes
possible splendid belts for machinery with a minimum of joinings. The
chemically-macerated bones are turned into an "indestructible"
crockery-ware which is far more enduring than anything made of
vegetable-fibre. The Beluga gives us the best shoe-strings in the world.
You can lace your shoes with a Beluga lace for two years and be sure it
will not break the morning you are in an especial hurry to catch an
An interest attaches to living whales which outweighs the fascination
with which we study their dead parts. Each species of the whale
propagates with one of its own species only. The fidelity of whales to
each other exceeds the constancy of birds. The whale mother gives birth
to one calf, and in extremely rare cases two calves, producing every
second year, the young being born between the end of March and the
beginning of May. When the mother suckles her young she throws herself
on one side on the surface of the sea and the calf regularly feeds at
the breast (like a young Eskimo) for nearly two years. During this time
the baby is extremely fat and the mother correspondingly emaciated.
Perhaps nothing in nature is more touching than the devotion of a female
whale to its wounded young. Whalers harpoon the babe at the breast so
that they may afterwards secure the dam. In this case, the mother joins
the wounded young under the surface of the water, comes up with it when
it rises to breathe, encourages it to swim off, assists its flight by
taking it under her fin, and seldom deserts it while life remains.
Unless the Circumpolar Bowhead is to become extinct within a decade, the
thinking world should strengthen the hands of the Canadian authorities
in an effort to put a close season for four or five years on the great
Arctic Baleen Whale. At their rate of reproduction it is not so easy to
restock a whale pasture as a salmon stream. Cutting down a whale which
has taken ten centuries to grow is like cutting down an oak-tree with a
thousand concentric rings. You cannot in one or two or twenty scant
generations of man grow another one to take its place.
SOUTH FROM THE ARCTIC TO CHIPEWYAN
"The old lost stars wheel back, dear lass,
That blaze in the velvet blue.
They're God's own guides on the Long Trail--
The trail that is always new."
A tax on tea caused the revolt of the thirteen Colonies, a taunting load
of tennis-balls lost France to the Dauphin. Eighty years ago on this
Arctic edge, white beads, or the lack of them, lost a lucrative
fur-trade, alienated the Loucheux and caused the death of whites.
"Trifles make the sum of human things."
The old records tell the story. John Bell from Fort Good Hope, under
date of August 14th, 1827, writes to the Factor at Fort Simpson:
"The beads sent in for the Loucheux trade are not sufficiently large to
please them. I request you will endeavour to send in the largest size
for the trade of the ensuing year. A specimen of the kind wanted I send
The Factor at Fort Simpson, under date of November 22nd of the same
year, writes to the Governor and Chief Factors at Montreal:
"I now forward a specimen of the common white beads wanted for the trade
with the Loucheux Indians. It is their request and I hope it will be
attended to. I would not venture to make the demand, were it not from
conviction that without this favourite article these Indians look with
indifference on the best of our goods. No other ornamental article is
ever asked for or wanted by these natives."
The same official on March 15th, 1828, pleads with Montreal:
"The white beads demanded for the Loucheux trade I hope will be sent,
and of the size according to sample enclosed. May I use the freedom of
representing the importance of getting this article to the liking of the
Indians, to come up by the Montreal canoes and be ready for outfit 1829?
Three kegs will contain the quantity required, 200 to 250 pounds."
Again on the 29th of November, 1829, he writes Montreal:
"The White Beads asked for the trade with the Loucheux are not according
to the order sent, 15 pounds only of the quantity received (200 pounds)
are of the proper size, the remainder being the same as those in outfit
1825 so much complained of. They will not be satisfactory to the
Indians. We request you will be pleased to make a strong representation
to their Honours at Home that this article be sent according to order
and sample. We now conceive to say anything further would be tiresome."
The Fort Simpson Factor on March 19th, 1830, reports to Montreal:
"The goods came. The white beads was too small and not according to
order or sample asked for. The Indians would not take them and left the
The Trader at Fort Good Hope augments the story by recording that the
Indians would be better pleased in trade with two small kegs of the
special beads they wanted than with half a ton of any other trade goods
which London could manufacture and send out. The sequel of the story is
that, disappointed time and again in not getting their favourite beads,
the Loucheux Indians failed to bring in the autumn supply of meat to
Fort Good Hope and in consequence, before the snows of the winter of
1831 had melted, many of the white men attached to that post died of
[Illustration: The Keele Party on the Gravel River]
We had gone North with the birds in spring and now, as we turn our faces
homeward, the first migrants with strong wing are beginning their
southward flight. Our travel is against current now, for we make slower
time than we did coming in and consequently see more of the passing
shore-line. The last specimens we gather within the Arctic Circle are
the blue blossoms of the flax. In them we see the earnest of many a
cultivated farm of the future. The days are getting perceptibly shorter
and one by one the old familiar constellations come back in the
heavens. We find it a relief to have once more a twilight and a
succeeding period of dusk. Yet are we loath to leave this fascinating
North with its sure future, its quaint to-days, and all the glamour of
its rich past.
We had just passed Fort Norman when the sharp eyes of an Indian
deck-hand saw three figures on the beach ahead. Pulling in at the point
where the Gravel River joins the Mackenzie, we find a regular Robinson
Crusoe group,--Mr. J. Keele, of the Dominion Government Survey, and his
two associates. Going in on the Yukon side, Mr. Keele's task has been to
cross the Divide between the Yukon and the Mackenzie, mapping the rocks.
The only white man they had seen in sixteen months was a French priest
who had passed yesterday, and whose knowledge of current events in
Canada and Europe was scanty. They were glad to see us. A moose-skin
boat showed how they had run the rough Gravel; the meat of two moose
smoked over the camp-fire; their dogs were fat. These are men who know
the woods--no hard-luck story here. It needs only Friday's funny fat
umbrella to complete the picture, with the goat scampering in the middle
Coming on board, the surveyors are greedy for newspapers, and we in
return learn somewhat of that great slice of land which they are the
first to traverse. The Gravel River is two hundred and fifty-five miles
long, with "white water" all the way. The force of the current may be
appreciated from the fact that it is forty-four hundred feet above the
sea-level at the Height-of-Land, and only four hundred feet here where
it enters the Mackenzie. All along the banks of the Gravel are moose,
mountain sheep, and caribou. The winter cabin of the party was built on
the Ross River and there, during the past winter, they experienced a
temperature of 54 deg. below. A party of this kind must be to a large extent
self-supporting, as it would be impossible to carry from the outside
food for such a long sojourn. Speaking with Mr. Keele, one is forcibly
struck with the fact that what the technical schools teach their
students forms but a small part of the equipment of the man who would do
field work in Northern Canada--packing, tracking, hunting, and breaking
trail,--each man must do his share of these.
The Keele party on the great watershed, as they travelled east, crossed
two families of Mackenzie River Indians going westward to hunt, on the
west side of the ridge, the marten and the beaver. It was 32 deg. below, and
cold. The whole families were on the march, a little baby tucked in the
curve of the sled, and tottering on foot an old, old woman, bent and
wrinkled and scarcely able to move. As the Indians were on their return
journey toward the Mackenzie in spring, the Keele party saw them again.
But the old woman was not there. Under some lonely mound where snow
falls in winter and the leaves of birch and cottonwood flutter down in
the shrieking winds of autumn rest the bones of the old woman, her many
journeys ended. The wearer of a costly fur coat in the glittering
capitals of the Old World seldom stops to conjecture how much of
hardship, patient suffering, and loneliness go to the making of that
luxurious garment. In order that one might be warmly clad, many have
gone cold, more than one sad, tired, old head has lain down for the last
time by the lonely camp-fire.
Sad is the lot of the Indian woman of the North. Fated always to play a
secondary part in the family drama, it is hard to see what of pleasure
life holds for her. The birth of a girl baby is not attended with joy or
thankfulness. From the beginning the little one is pushed into the
background. The boy babies, even the dogs, have the choicer bed at
night, and to them are given the best pieces of the meat. The little
girl is made to feel that she has come into a world that has no welcome
for her and her whole life seems to be an apology. You read it in the
face of every Indian girl or woman you meet, from the shrinking pathetic
little figure in the camp to the bent old crone, whose upturned face
with its sadly acceptive look gives you the flicker of a smile.
Storm-stayed at Wrigley Harbour at the entrance to Great Slave Lake, we
have some splendid fishing,--jackfish, whitefish, loche, inconnu, "and
here and there a lusty trout and here and there a grayling." Within an
hour I get fifteen graylings to my own rod. Collectively they weigh just
a little over thirty pounds. Swimming against the current, they take the
fly eagerly; and one cannot hope to land a more gaudy or more gamy fish.
Its big dorsal fin is rainbow-tinct, the tail an iridescent blue, and
the scales pure mother-of-pearl. Mr. Keele has had "The Complete Angler"
for two years with him in the fastnesses, and as he helps us prepare the
catch for our evening meal over the coals, quotes blithely that the
grayling is eating fit only for "anglers and other honest men."
The traverse of Great Slave Lake in the teeth of a wind is not without
its interest, for the new steamer has yet to be tried in the waters of
what practically amounts to an open sea. She behaves well, and brings
us dry-shod into Fort Rae.
[Illustration: The First Type-writer on Great Slave Lake]
We are the first white women who have penetrated to Fort Rae, and we
afford as much interest to the Indians as they afford us. Lone Fort Rae,
clinging to the Northern Arm of Great Slave Lake, was noted in the past
as a "meat-post." It supplied the Mackenzie District with dried
caribou-meat, and formed an outfitting point for the few big game
hunters who trended east from here into the Barren Grounds seeking the
musk-ox. Its foundation dates back to some time before the year 1820. We
cross a bridge of clever Indian construction and sit for a while to muse
on a flat boulder of primal rock. This stands as bell-tower to a quaint
bell cast in Rome and bears an inscription to some dead and gone Pope.
The missionary priest over half a century ago paddled in here bringing
the Gospel to the Dog-Ribs.
[Illustration: The Bell at Fort Rae Mission]
The musk-ox _(Ovibos moschatus)_ is a gregarious animal which would
appear to be a Creator's after-thought,--something between an ox and a
sheep. The long hair hanging down from the body foreshortens the
appearance of the legs and gives a quaint look to the moving herd. The
present range of the musk-ox is from Fort Rae north to the Arctic and
between the meridians of 86 deg. and 125 deg.. As it is the most inaccessible
game in the world, there would seem to be no immediate fear of its being
hunted to extinction. Toothed like a sheep, footed like an ox, tailed
like a bear, and maned like a horse, the musk-ox does not circle up
wind as the moose and caribou do, but travels in any direction he sees
fit. Each little herd of ten or fifteen bunches up, tails to the middle
and horns outside, to meet a common danger. The robe of the musk-ox is a
rich, dark brown streaked with grey, the hair all over the body being
very long, with a coat of mouse-coloured wool at its base. According to
the Indians, the single young of the musk-ox is born in April. The
mother buries the calf in the snow as soon as it is born, selecting a
sheltered place for the cradle. Three days after its post-natal burial
it is able to frisk with its dam and begin to take up the musk-calf's
[Illustration: The Musk-ox]
We are all day and all night crossing Great Slave Lake from Fort Rae to
Fort Resolution. Food values and the outgoing cargo of fur are the
topics of conversation. Years ago a delicate baby at Rae required milk,
and with trouble and expense a cow was evolved from somewhere and
deposited at the front door of the H.B. Co. Factor there--a cow but no
cow-food. All animals must learn to be adaptable in the North. She was
fed on fish and dried meat, lived happily, and produced milk after her
kind. One of Mr. Keele's men tells of a horse on the Yukon side which
ate bacon-rinds with a relish. The dogs at Smith eat raspberries, climb
trees for a succulent moss, and when times are really hard become
burglars, burgling bacon in the night season, and even being ghoulish
enough to visit Indian cemeteries to pick a bone with the dead. A dog in
the North Country is surely qualifying for some canine heaven in the
asphodel meadows. I know of no created being who is undergoing a sterner
probation than this creature forced by man and the exigencies of Fate to
work like a horse in winter and live on air in summer.
From Great Slave Lake to Chipewyan the days are enlivened with stories
from the outgoing traders. We learn that when the church was still
young, some priests on the Mackenzie hungered after flesh-pots in the
wilderness and wrote to the Pope, asking him whether beaver-tails were
to be considered fish, or flesh. Rome evidently was not "long" on North
American mammals and put itself into the class of Nature fakers forever
by declaring said tails "fish" and not flesh. This is why you can
discuss beaver-tails on top of the world on Fridays to this present and
commit no sin.
The stories give us some idea of the difference between winter and
summer travel across Great Slave Lake. Captain Mills tells of two Indian
women, one old enough to have a daughter of forty, who drove a dogsled
one hundred and forty-eight miles from Providence to Rae, in four days.
The older one walked ahead of the dogs and made the trail while the
other drove. Coming back, it took them five days, and the old woman
explained, "We didn't make such good time, as we had a man with us." It
was her son-in-law whom she brought back with her.
A striking picture is given us of a woman who walked alone from Hay
River to Province on snowshoes, taking thirteen days to do it. She had
no matches, and carried her fire with her, keeping it alight in a little
copper kettle. This, of course, necessitated her guarding it very
closely and stopping to renew the fire from time to time; for if the
burning wood was once permitted to die down, her life in that intense
cold would go out with it.
How cold does it get? Mr. Campbell Young, of our little group, says that
he has been out when a thermometer--one obtained from the U.S.
Meteorological Station--registered seventy-six degrees below zero, and
has worked in weather like that. "I've been trapping in that
temperature, when of course the weather was absolutely still, and I tell
you I'd rather be out in seventy-six below than to cross Smith Portage
with the mosquitoes." Mr. Christie, of the Keele Survey Party, says,
"Last winter I had to go out and get a moose for the camp, and on the
second day I met the Mounted Police boys who told me it had been
seventy-five below. I had started out when it was quite mild, only
forty-five below. You know when it is below fifty, for then your breath
begins to crackle, and that's a sure sign." Mr. John Gaudet says, "I
was driving last winter on Lesser Slave Lake when it was sixty-four
below. Yes, it was quite cold."
At Resolution we see once more our old friend Dr. Sussex, happy and
busied among his Indians. It is just hail and farewell. The little "red
lemonade" kiddies are the first to greet us as we come into Fort Smith,
and here everybody goes visiting. Mrs. (Archdeacon) Macdonald tells us
that her grandfather had two wives, and was the father of twenty-two
children. She says she and her brother are glad of this, as it gives
them so many friends in all parts of the country; and we notice that at
every port where we stop Mrs. MacDonald has friends to visit--a cousin
here, and an auntie there. The fancy bag in which you carry your calling
cards and little friendly gifts up here is a "musky-moot"; the more
formidable receptacle, which gives your friends warning that you may
stay a day or two, is a "_skin-ichi-mun."_ Visiting a little on our own
account, we note that we have penetrated to a latitude into which the
gaudy calendars of the advertiser have not yet made their way. Each man,
foolish enough here to want a calendar, marks out his own on pencilled
paper. We come across an H.B. Journal of the vintage of 1826 where the
reckless scribe introduces two Thursdays into one week, acknowledging
his error in a footnote with the remark, "It is not likely that the eye
of man will ever read this record."
At Fort Smith we leave the steamer _Mackenzie River_ to take passage in
the _Grahame_ from Smith's Landing, and once more essay the Mosquito
Portage. We find our winged friends in fine fettle. Their eyes are not
dimmed, their strength not abated. For miles we notice blackened and
dead stems of young spruce, cut off as if by machinery, at a uniform
height of two and a half feet from the ground. The top of the dead stem
shows the depth of the snow when the rabbits, running along the surface,
had nibbled off and eaten the growing spruce. A fur-trader at our side
says, "While at Fort Macpherson I noticed that the ice always melted in
the spring in Peel's River before it did in the Mackenzie. It would
break up in the Peel about the Queen's Birthday and begin to go out.
Reaching the Mackenzie, it came up against a solid mass of unbroken ice
which sent it back to flood the whole country. It was a curious
experience to paddle round in a canoe for miles and miles where one had
set rabbit snares but a few weeks before. The poor rabbits themselves
were at a loss, for no kind monition apprised them of the coming flood.
We could see whole colonies of them,--each a shipwrecked sailor on his
own little raft of bark, buffeted here and there with the stream and
peering out across the swollen waters, like Noah's dove, seeking some
TO MCMURRAY AND BACK TO THE PEACE
"Think o' the stories round the camp, the yarns along the track--
O' Lesser Slave an' Herschel's Isle an' Flynn at Fond du Lac;
Of fur an' gun, an' ranch an' run, an' moose and caribou,
An' bull-dogs eatin' us to death! Good-bye--good luck to you!"
Our arrival at Chipewyan is opportune. Honorine Daniels, unceremoniously
known as 'Norine among her friends (and they are legion), is about to
join hand and fortune with one of the Mercredi boys. 'Norine owns a
cottage in her own right, and to-night under her roof-tree there is to
be a wedding-dance. We wait round, hungering for an invitation, finally
to be told largely, "You don't need no invitation, everybody goes."
We go with the crowd. The room is full to overflowing. Babies are
deposited on the benches along the wall, dogs look in at the window. The
air is heavy with mosquitoes and tobacco-smoke. But joy reigns. Nobody
is too old or too obese to dance. Old Mr. Loutit and lame Jimmy Flett
each secures a sonsy partner. There are three fiddlers, and these
relieve each other in turn, for fiddling, beating time with your
moccasin on the earthen floor, and "calling out" is hard work for one
man. There are but two kinds of dances,--the Red River jig, and a square
dance which probably had for honourable ancestors the lancers on the
father's side and a quadrille on the mother's.
Endurance is a sign of merit in the Red River jig. A man or woman steps
into the limelight and commences to jig, a dark form in moccasins slips
up in front of the dancer, and one jigs the other down, amid plaudits
for the survivor and jeers for the quitter.
It is the square dance that interests us, our attention being divided
between watching the deft forms in the half light and listening to the
caller-off. _Louie-the-Moose_ first officiates. His eyes look dreamy but
there is a general's stern tone of command in his words:
"Ladeez, join de lily-white han's,
Gents, your black-and-tan!
Ladeez, bow! Gents, bow-wow!
Swing 'em as hard's ye can.
"Swing your corner Lady,
Then the one you love!
Then your corner Lady,
Then your Turtle Dove!"
Over and over again Louie reiterates his injunction, to the
accompaniment of pattering moccasins and a humming chorus from door and
windows. There are phrases of variation, too. We catch the words,
"_Address your pardner," "Adaman left," "Show your steps," "Gents walk
round, and all run away to the west_."
Then Michel Manvil takes hold of the situation. He stands up to it, and
"Ladies round ladies, and gents all so!
Ladies round gents, and gents don't go!"
Why should they, we wonder!
The third fiddler is a full-blooded Chipewyan. In some dancing academy
in the woods he has learnt a "call-off" all his own, and proud indeed is
he of his stunt. We manage to copy it down in its entirety, fighting
mosquitoes the while and dodging out into the open now and again for a
"'Slute your ladies! All together!
Ladies opposite, the same--
Hit the lumber with yer leathers,
Balance all, and swing yer dame!
Bunch the moose-cows in the middle!
Circle, stags, and do-si-do--
Pay attention to the fiddle!
Swing her round, an' off you go!
"First four forward! Back to places!
Second foller--shuffle back!
Now you've got it down to cases--
Swing 'em till their back-teeth crack!
Gents, all right, a heel and toeing!
Swing 'em, kiss 'em if you kin--
On to next, and keep a-goin'
Till you hit your pards ag'in!
"Gents to centre; ladies round 'em,
Form a basket; balance all!
Whirl yer gals to where you found 'em!
Promenade around the hall!
Balance to yer pards and trot 'em
Round the circle, double quick!
Grab and kiss 'em while you've got 'em--
Hold 'em to it; they won't kick!"
The perspiring musician pushes his instrument into the hands of _Running
Antelope_ and turns to us with, "There's another verse, but I don't
always give it." We ask him to repeat it for us, but he seems a little
at a loss. "It's hard to call it out without the fiddle. When yer
playin' you just spit it out--the words come to you."
It is August 6th at Chipewyan, and once again we are at the parting of
the ways. Every one we know is heading for "Outside" by way of the
steamer _Grahame_ and the Athabasca scows. Our own ambition is to make a
traverse of the great Peace River Country before the snows. We have had
no mail since last May, and the temptation to follow the multitude as
far as McMurray in the hope of finding letters there is too strong to be
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