CANADA does not like any reference to her fur trade as a national occupation. Of course, it is no longer a national occupation. It occupies, perhaps, two thousand whites and it may be twenty or thirty thou-sand Indians. More Indians in Canada earn their living farming the reserves than catching fur, but the Indians north of Athabasca and Churchill and in Labrador must always earn their living fur hunt-ing. Of them there is no census, but they hardly exceed thirty thousand all told. The treaty Indians on reserves now number a hundred thousand. Yet, though only two thousand whites are fur-trading in Canada, no interpretation of Canadian life is complete without reference to that far domain, of the North, where the hunter roams in loneliness, and the night lights whip unearthly through still frosty air, and no sound breaks leagueless silence but the rifle shot, crackle of frost or the call of the wolf pack.
It will be recalled that Canada’s first settlers came in two main currents from two idealistic motives. The French came to convert the Indians, not to found empire, and the English Loyalists came from the promptings of their convictions. Both streams of settlers came from idealistic motives, but both had to live, and they did it at first by fur hunting. Jean Batiste, the Frenchman, who might have been a cour-tier when he came, promptly doffed court trappings and donned moccasins and exchanged a soldier’s saber for a camp frying-pan and kept pointing his canoe up the St. Lawrence till he had threaded every river and lake from Tadousac to Hudson Bay and the Rockies. It was the pursuit of the little beaver that paid the piper for all the discovering and exploring of Canada. When John Bull camealso in pursuit of idealshe, too, in a more prosperous way promptly exchanged the pursuit of ideals for the pursuit of the little beaver. It was the little beaver that led the way for Radisson, for ,La Salle, for La Verandryé, for MacKenzie, for Fraser, for Peter Skene Ogden, from the St. Lawrence to the Columbia, from the Athabasca to the Sacramento.
While all this is of the past, the heritage of a fur hunting ancestry has entered into the very blood and brawn and brain of Canada in a kind of iron dauntlessness that makes for manhood. Some of her great-est leaders like Strathcona and MacKenzie have been known as “Men of the North” ; and whether they have fur-traded or not, nearly all those “Men of the North” who have made their mark have had the iron dauntlessness of the hunter in their blood. It is a sort of tonic from the out-of-doors, like the ozone you breathe, which fills body and soul with zest. Canada is sensitive to any reference to her fur trade for fear the world regard her as a perpetual fur domain. Her northern zones are a perpetual fur domainwe may as well acknowledge thatthey can never be anything else; and Canada should serve notice on the softer races of the world that she does not want them. They can stand up neither to her climate nor to her measure of a man, but far from cause of regret, this is a thing for gratulation. Canada can never be an overcrowded land, where soft races crowd for room, like slugs under a board. She will always have her spacious domain of the Northa perpetual fur pre-serve, a perpetual hunting ground, where dauntless spirits will venture to match themselves against the powers of death ; and from that North will ever emerge the type of man who masters life.
The last chapter of the fur trade lias not been written as many assert. The oldest industry of mankind, the most heroic and protective against the elementsagainst Fenris and Loki and all those Spir its of Evil with which northern myth has personified Cold fur hunting, fur trading, will last long as man lasts. We are entering, not on the extermination of fur, but on a new cycle of smaller furs. In the days when mink went begging at eighty cents, mink was not fashionable. Mink is fashionable to-day; hence the absurd and fabulous prices. Long ago, when ermine as miniverthe garb of nobilitywas fashionable and exclusive, it commanded fabulous prices. Radicalism abolished the exclusive garb of royalty, and ermine fell to four cents a pelt, advanced to twenty-five cents and has sold at one dollar. To-day, mink is the fashion, and the little mink is pursued; but to-morrow fashion will veer with the caprices of the wind. Some other fur will come into favor, and the little mink will have a chance to multiply as the ermine has multiplied.
In spite of the cry of the end of fur, more furs are marketed in the world than ever before in the history of the raceforty million dollars’ worth ; twenty mil-lions of which are handled in New York and Chicago and St. Louis and St. Paul; some five millions passing through Edmonton and Winnipeg and Montreal and Quebec; three millions for home consumption, two millions plus for export. Some years ago I went through all the Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company in London from 1670 to 182 and have tran-scripts of those Minutes now in my library. In not a single year did the fur record exceed half a million dollars’ worth. Compare that to the American traffic today of twenty millions, or to the three and four hundred thousand dollar cargoes that each of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Revillons’ ships bears to Europe from Canada yearly.
“How much can a good Indian hunter make in a season?” I asked a fur trader of the Northwest, be-cause in nearly all accounts written about furs, you read a wail of reproach at milady for wearing furs when trapping entails such hardship and poverty on the part of the hunter,
“A good hunter easily earns six hundred dollars or seven hundred dollars a winter if he will go out and not hang around the minute he gets a little ahead, It takes from three thousand dollars to four thousand dollars to outfit a small free-trader to go up North on his own account. This stock he will turn over three or four times at a profit of one hundred per cent. on the supplies. For example, ten dollars cash will buy a good black otter up North. In trade, it will cost from twelve dollars to fifteen dollars. On the articles of trade, the profit will be fifty per cent. The otter will sell down at Edmonton for from twenty dollars to thirty dollars. It’s the same of muskrat. At the beginning of the season when the kits are plentiful and small, the trader pays nine cents for them up North. Down at the fur market he will get from twenty-five to sixty cents for them, according to size. There were one hundred and thirty-two thousand muskrat came to one firm of traders alone in Edmonton one year, which they will sell at an advance of fifty per cent.”
“How much fur comes yearly to Edmonton?” I asked an Edmonton trader. If you look at the map you will see that Edmonton is the jumping off place to three of the greatest fur fields of North America down MacKenzie River to the Arctic, up Peace River to the mountain hinterland between the Columbia and the Yukon, east through Athabasca Lake to the wild barren land inland from Churchill and Hudson Bay.
“Well, we can easily calculate that. I know about how much is brought in to each of the traders there.”
I took pencil while he gave me the names. It totaled up to six hundred thousand dollars’ worth for 1908. When you consider that in its palmiest old days of exclusive monopoly the Hudson’s Bay Colnpany never sold more than half a million dollars’ worth of furs a year, this total for Edmonton alone does not sound like a scarcity of furs.
The question may be asked, do not these large figures presage the hunting to extinction of fur-bearing animals? I do not think so.
Take a map of the northern fur country. Take a good look at it not just a Pullman car glance. The Canadian government has again and again advertised thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of square miles of free land. Latitudinally, that is perfectly true. Wheat-wise, it isn’t. When you go one hundred miles north of Saskatchewan River (barring Peace River in sections) you are in a climate that will grow wheat all rightsplendid wheat, the hardest and finest in the world. That is, twenty hours of sunlight not daylight but sunlightforce growth rapidly enough to escape late spring and early fall frosts; but the plain fact of the matter is, wheat land does not exist far north of the Saskatchewan except in sections along Peace River. What does exist? Cataracts countlessChurchill River is one succession of cataracts ; vast rivers ; lakes unmapped, links and chains of lakes by which you can go from the Saskatchewan to the Arctic without once lifting your canoe ; quaking muskegsareas of amber stagnant water full of what the Indians call mermaid’s hair, lined by ridges of moss and sand overgrown with coarse goose grass and “the reed that grows like a tree,” muskrat reed, a tasseled corn-like tufted growth sixteen feet highareas of such muskeg mile upon mile. I traversed one such region above Cumberland Lake seventy miles wide by three hundred long where you could not find solid camping ground the size of your foot. What did we do? That is where the uses of a really expert guide came in; we moored our canoe among the willows, cut willows enough to keep feet from sinking, spread oilcloth and rugs over this, erected the tents over all, tying the guy ropes to the canoe thwarts and willows, as the ground would not hold the tent pegs.
It doesn’t sound as if such regions would ever be overrun by settlement does it? Now look at your map, seventy miles north of Saskatchewan ! From the northwest corner up by Klondike to the southeast corner down in Labrador is a distance of more than three thousand miles. From the south to north is a distance of almost two thousand miles. I once asked a guide with a truly city airit might almost have been a Harvard airif these distances were “as the crow flies.” He gave me a look that I would not like to have a guide give me too oftenhe might maroon a fool on one of those swamp areas.
“There ain’t no distances as the crow flies in this country,” he answered. “You got to travel ‘cording as the waters collect or the ice goes out”
Well, here is your country, three thousand by two thousand miles, a great fur preserve. What exists in it? Very little wood, and that small. Undoubtedly some minerals. What else exists? A very sparse population of Indians, whose census no man knows, for it has never been taken ; but it is a pretty safe guess to say there are not thirty thousand Indians all told in the north fur country. I put this guess tentatively and should be glad of information from any one in a position to guess closer. I have asked the Hudson’s Bay Company and I have asked RevilIons how many white hunters and traders they think are in the fur country of the North. I have never met any one who placed the number in the North at more than two thousand. Spread two thousand white hunters with ten thousand Indiansfor of the total Indian population two-thirds are women and children over an area the size of two-thirds of Europe-I ask you frankly, do you think they are going to exterminate the game very fast? Remember the climate of the North takes care of her own. White men can stand only so many years of that lonely cold, and then they have “to come out” or they dwarf mentally and degenerate.
Take a single section of this great northern fur preserve Labrador, which I visited some years ago. In area Labrador is 530,000 square miles, two and a half times the size of France, twice the size of Ger-many, twice the size of Austria-Hungary. Statistical books set the population down at four thousand; but the Moravian missionaries there told me that including the Eskimo who come down the coast in summer and the fishermen who come up the coast in summer the total population was probably seventeen thousand.
Now Labrador is one of the finest game preserves in the world. On its rocky hills and watery upper barrens where settlement can, never come are to be found silver foxthe finest in the world, so fine that the Revillons have established a fur-breeding post for silver fox on one of the islandscross fox almost as fine as silver, black and red fox, the best otter in the world, the finest marten in America, bear, very fine Norway lynx, fine ermine, rabbit or hare galore, very fine wolverine, fisher, muskrat, coarse harp seal, wolf, caribou, beaver, a few mink. Is it common sense to think the population of a few thousands can hunt out a fur empire here the size of two Germanies? Remember it was not the hunter who exterminated the buffalo and the beaver and the seal and the otter! The poacher destroyed one group of sea furs ; the railway and the farm supplanted the other. West of Mackenzie River and north of British Columbia is a game region almost similar to Labrador in its furred habitat, with the exception that the western preserve is warmer and more wooded. Northward from Ontario is another hinterland which from its very nature must always be a great hunting ground. Minerals existas the old French traders well knew and the latter-day discoveries of Cobalt proveand there is also heavy timber; but north of the Great Clay Belt, between the Clay Belt and the Bay, lies the impenetrable andI thinkindestructible game ground.
Swamp and rock will prevent agricultural settlement but will provide an ideal fur preserve similar in climate to Labrador.
Traveling with Indian guides, it is always a matter of marvel and admiration to me how the fur companies have bred into the very blood for generations the careful nurture of all game. At one place canoeing on Saskatchewan we heard of a huge black bear that had been molesting some new ranches. “No take now,” said the Indian. “Him fur no good now.” Though we might camp on bare rocks and thefire lay dead ash, it was the extra Indian paddler who invariably went back to spatter it out. You know the white’s innate love for a roaring log fire in front of the camp at night? The Indian calls that “a no good white men fire scare away game.”
Now take another look at the map. Where the Saskatchewan makes a great bend three hundred miles northeast of Prince Albert, it is no longer a riverit is a vast muskeg of countless still amber water channels not twice the width of your canoe and quaking silt islands of sand and goose grass-ideal, hidden and almost impenetrable for small game. Always muskeg marks the limit of big game and the beginning of the ground of the little fellows-waupoos, the rabbit; and musquash, the muskrat; and sakwasew, the mink ; and nukik, the otter ; and wuchak or pekan, the fisher. It is a safe wager that the profits on the millions upon millions of little peltshundreds of thousands of muskrat are taken out of this muskeg aloneexceed by a hundredfold the profits on the larger furs of beaver and silver fox and bear and wolf and cross fox and marten.
Look at the map again ! North of Cumberland Lake to the next fur post is a trifling run of two hundred and fifty to three hundred miles by dog-train to Lac du Brochet or Reindeer Lakemore muskeg cut by limestone and granite ridges. Here you can measure four hundred miles east or west and not get out of the muskeg till you reach Athabasca on the west and Hudson’s Bay on the east. North of Lac du Brochet is a straight stretch of one thousand miles nothing but rocks and cataracts and stunted woods, “little sticks” the Indians call themand sky-colored waters in links and chains and lakes with the quaking muskeg goose grass and muskrat reed, cut and chiseled and trenched by the amber water ways.
If you think there is any danger of settlement ever encroaching on the muskegs and barrens, come with me on a trip of some weeks to the south end of this field.
We had been pulling against slack water all day, water so slack you could dip your hand down and fail to tell which way the current ran. Where the high banks dropped suddenly to such a dank tangle of reeds, brush wood, windfall and timbers drifted fifteen hundred miles down from the forests of the Rocky Mountains such a tangle as I have never seen in any swamp of the Souththe skeleton of a moose, come to its death by a jump among the windfall, marked the eastern limit of big game; and presently the river was lostnot in a lakebut in a swamp. A red fox came scurrying through the goose grass, sniffed the air, looked at us and ran along abreast of our canoe for about a mile, evidently scenting the bacon of the tin “grub box.” Muskrats feed on the bulb of the tufted “reed like a tree,” sixteen feet high on each side, and again and again little kits came out and swam in the ripple of our canoe. Once an old duck performed the acrobatic feat over which the nature and anti-nature writers have been giving each other the lie. We had come out of one long amber channel to be confronted by three openings exactly alike, not much wider than the length of our Klondike canoe, all lined by the high tufted reed. MacKenzie, the half-breed rapids man, had been telling us the endless Cree legends of Wa-sa-kee-chaulk, the Cree Hiawatha, and his Indian lore of stagnant waters now lured him into steering us to one of the side channels. We were not expected. An old mother duck was directly across our path teaching some twenty-two little black bobbling downy babies how to swim. With a cry that shrieked “Leg it leg it” plain as a quack could speak and which sent the little fellows scuttling, half swim, half run, the old mother flung herself over on her back not a paddle’s length ahead of us, dipped, dived, came up again just at our bow and flopped broken-winged over the water ahead of us near enough almost to be caught by hand; but when you stretched out your hand, the crafty lady dipped and dived and came up broken-winged again.
“You old fool,” said our head man, “your wing is no more broken than mine is. We’re not going to hurt your babies. Shut up there and stop that lying.”
Spite of which the old duck kept up her pantomime of deceit for more than a mile; when she suddenly sailed up over our heads back to her hidden babies, a very Boadicea of an old duck girl. When we drew in for nooning, wild geese honked over our heads near enough to be hit by the butt of a gun. Drift chips, lodged in the goose grass, kindled fire for kettle, but oilcloth had to be spread before you could get footing ashore. I began to wonder what happened as to repairs when canoes ripped over a snag in this kind of region, and that brought up the story of a fur-trader’s wife in another muskeg region north of Lac La Ronge up toward Churchill River, who was in a canoe that ripped a hole clean the size of a man’s fist. Quick as a flash, the head man was into the tin grub box and had planked on a cake of butter. The cold water hardened it, and that repair carried them along to the first birch tree affording a new strip of bark.
Where an occasional ridge of limestone cut the swamp we could hear the laughter and the glee of the Indian children playing “wild goose” among the trembling black poplars and whispering birches, and where we landed at the Indian camps we found the missionaries out with the hunters. In fact, even the nuns go haying and moose hunting with the Indian families to prevent lapses to barbarism.
Again and again we passed cached canoes, provisions stuck up on sticks above the reach of animal marauders testimony to the honesty of the passing Indian hunters, which the best policed civilized eastern city can not boast of its denizens.
“I’ve gone to the Rockies by way of Peace River dozens of times,” declared the head of one of the big fur companies, “and left five hundred dollars’ worth of provisions cached in trees to feed us on our way out, and when we came that same way six months afterward we never found one pound stolen, though I remember one winter when the Indians who were passing and repassing under the food in those trees were starving owing to the rabbit famine.”
In winter this region is traversed by dog-train along the icea matter of five hundred miles to Lac du Brochet and back, or six hundred to Prince Albert and back. “Oh, no, we’re not far,” said a lonely-faced Cambridge graduate fur-trader to me. “When my little boy took sick last winter, I had to go only fifty-five miles. There happened to be a doctor in the lumber camp back on the Ridge.”
But even winter travel is not all easy in a fifty below zero climate where you can’t find sticks any larger than your finger to kindle night fire. I know the story of one fur-trader who was running along behind his dog sleigh in this section. He had become overheated running and had thrown his coat and cap across the sleigh, wearing only flannel shirt, fur gauntlets, corduroy trousers and moccasins. At a bend in the iced channel he came on a pack of mangy coyotes. Before he had thought he had sicked the dogs on them. With a yell they were off out of sight amid the goose grass and reeds with the sleigh and his garments. Those reeds, remember, are sixteen feet high, stiff as broom corn and hard on moccasins as stubble would be on bare feet. To make matters worse, a heavy snowstorm came on. The wind was against the direction the dogs had taken and the man hallooed himself hoarse without an answering sound. It was two o’clock in the morning before the wind sank and the trader found his dogs, and by that time between sweat and cold his shirt had frozen to a board.
Such a thing as an out and out pagan hardly exists among the Indians of the North. They are all more or less Christian with a curious mingling of pagan superstition with the new faith. The Indian voyageurs may laugh but they all do it make offerings of tobacco to the Granny Goddess of the River before setting out. In vain we threw biscuit and orange peel and nuts to the perverse-tempered deity supposed to preside at the bottom of those amber waters. The winds were contrary, the waters slack, sluggish, dead, no responsive gurgle and flap of laughter and life to the slow keel.
One channel but opened on another. Even the limestone ridges had vanished far to rear, and the stillness of night fell with such a flood of sunset light as Turner never dreamed in his wildest color intoxications. There would be the wedge-shaped line of the wild geese against a flaming skya far honkthen stillness. Then the flackering quacking call of a covey of ducks with a hum of wings right over our shoulders ; then no sound but the dip of our paddles and the drip and ripple of the dead waters among the reeds. Suddenly there lifted against the lonely red sunset skya lob sticka dark evergreen stripped below the tip to mark some Indian camping place, or vow, or sacred memory. We steered for it. A little flutter of leaves like a clapping of hands marked land enough to support black poplars, and we rounded a crumbly sand bank just in time to see the seven-banded birch canoe of a little old hunter, Sam Ba’tiste Buck eighty years old he wassquatting in the bottom of the birch canoe, ragged almost to nakedness, bare of feet, gray headed, nearly toothless but happier than an emperorthe first living being we had seen for a week in the muskegs. We camped together that night on the sandbars trading Sam Ba’tiste flour and matches for a couple of ducks. He had been storm-stead camping in the goose grass for three days. Do you think he was to be pitied? Don’t ! Three days’ hunting will lay up enough meat for Sam for the win-ter. In the winter he will snare some small game, while mink and otter and muskrat skins will provide him flour and clothes from the fur-trader. Each of Sam’s sons is earning seven hundred dollars a year hunting big game on the rock ridge farther northmore than illiterate, unskilled men earn in eastern lands. Then in spring Sam will emerge from his cabin, build an-other birch canoe and be off to the duck and wild geese haunts. When we paddled away in the morning, Sam still camped on the sand bank. He sat squat whittling away at kin-a-kin-ic, or the bark of the red willow, the hunter’s free tobacco. In town Sam would be poverty stricken, hungry, a beggar. Here he is a lord of his lonely watery domain, more independent and care-free than you are—peace to his aged bones only heavy lead colored clouds with a rolling wind that whipped the amber waters to froth and flooded the sand banks. If there was any current, it was reversed by the wind. We should have thwarted the main muskeg by a long narrow channel, but mis-took our way thinking to follow the main river by taking the broadest opening. It led us into a lake seven miles across; not deep, for every paddle stroke tangled into the long water weed known as mermaid’s hair but deep enough for trouble when you consider the width of the lake, the lack of dry footing the width of one’s hand, and the fact that you can’t offer the gun’l of a canoe to the broadside of a big wave. We scattered our dunnage and all three squatted in the bottom to prevent the rocking of the big canoe. Then we thwarted and tacked and quartered to the billows for a half day.
Nightfall found us back in the channel again scudding before thunder and a hurricane wind looking for a camping place. It had been a back-breaking pace all day. We had tried to find relief by the Indian’s choppy strokes changing every third dip from side to side; we had tried the white man’s deep long pulling strokes ; and by seven in the evening with the thunder rolling behind and not a spot of dry land visible the size of one’s foot, backs began to feel as if they might break in the middle. Our canoe and dunnage weighed close on seven hundred pounds. Suddenly we shot out of the amber channel into a shallow lagoon lined on each side by the high tufted reeds, but the reeds were so thin we could see through them to lakes on each side. A whirr above our heads and a flock of teal al-most touched us with their wings. Simultaneously all three dropped paddlesall three were speechless. The air was full of voices. You could not hear your self think. We Iapped the canoe close in hiding to the thin lining of reeds. I asked, “Have those little sticks drifted down fifteen hundred miles to this lagoon of dead water?”
“Sticks,” my guide repeated, “it isn’t sticks it isn’t drift it’s birds it’s duck and geese I have never seen anything like itI have lived west more than twenty years and I never heard tell of anything of anything Iike it.”
Anything like it? I had lived all my Iife in the West and I had never heard or dreamed any oldest timer tell anything like it ! For seven miles, you could not have laid your paddle on the water without disturbing coveys of geese and duck, geese and duck of such variety as I have never seen classified or named in any book on birds. We sat very still behind the hiding of reed and watched and watched. We couldn’t talk. We had lost ourselves in one of the secluded breeding places of wild fowl in the North. I counted dozens and dozens of moult nests where the duck had congregated before their long flight south. That was the night we could find camping ground only by building a foundation of reeds and willows, then spreading oilcloth on top ; and all night our big tent rocked to the wind; for we had roped it to the thwarts of the canoe. Next day when we reached the fur post, the chief trader told us any good hunter could fill his canoethe big, white banded, gray canoe of the company, not the little, seven banded, birch craft–with birds to the gun’l in two hours’ shooting on that lake.
That muskeg is only one of thousands, when you go seventy miles north of the Saskatchewan, sixty miles east of Athabasca Lake. That muskeg and its like, covering an area two-thirds of all Europe, is the home of all the little furs, mink and muskrat and fisher and otter and rabbit and ermine, the furs that clothenot princes and millionaire, who buy silver fox and sea otterbut you and me and the rest of us whose object is to keep warm, not to show how much we can spend. Out of that one muskeg hundreds of thou-sands of little pelts have been taken since 1754 when Anthony Hendry, the smuggler, came the first of the fur-traders inland from the Bay. And the game save in the year of the unexplained rabbit pest shows no sign of diminishing.
Does it sound very much to you like a region where the settler would ultimately drive out the fur trade? What would he settle on? That is the point. Nature has taken good care that climate and swamp shall erect an everlasting barrier to encroachment on her game preserves.
To be sure, if you ask a fur trader, “How are furs?” he will answer, “Poor poorer every year.” So would you if you were a fur-trader and wanted to keep out rivals. I have never known a fur-trader who did not make that answer.
To be sure, seal and sea otter, beaver and buffalo have been almost exterminated; but even today if the governments of the world, especially Canada and the United States, would pass and enforce laws prohibiting the killing of a single buffalo or beaver, seal or sea otter for fifty years, these species would replenish themselves.
“The last chapter of the fur trade has been written?” Never ! The oldest industry of mankind will last as long as mankind lasts.
I read also that “the last chapter of the fur romance has been written.” That is the point of view of the man who spends fifty weeks in town and two weeks in the wilds. It is not the point of view of the man who spends two weeks in town and fifty in the wilds ; of the man who goes out beyond the reach of law into strange realms the size of Russia with no law but his own right arm, no defense but his own wit. Though I have written history of the Hudson’s Bay Company straight from their own Minutes in Hudson’s Bay House, London, I could write more of the romance of the fur trade right in the present year than has ever been penned of the company since it was established away back in the year 1670.
Space permits only two examples. You recall the Cambridge man who thought it a short distance to go only fifty-five miles by dog-train for a doctor. A more cultured, scholarly, perfect gentleman I have never met in London or New York. Yet when I met his wife, I found her a shy little, part-Indian girl, who had al-most to be dragged in to meet us. That spiritual face such a face as you might see among the preachers of Westminster or Oxfordand the little shy Indian girl-wife and the children, plainly a throw-back to their red-skin ancestors, not to the Cambridge paternity! What was the explanation? Where was the story of heartache and tragedyI asked myself, as we stood in our tent door watching the York boat come in with provisions for the year under a sky of such diaphanous northern lights as leave you dumb before their beauty and their splendor? How often he must have stood beneath those northern lights thinking out the heartbreak that has no end.
I did not learn the story till I had come on down to civilization and town again. That Cambridge man had come out from England flush with the zeal of the saint to work among the Indians. In the Indian school where he taught he had met his Fatethe thing he probably scoutedthat fragile type of Indian beauty almost fawn-like in its elusiveness, pure spirit from the very prosaic fact that the seeds of mortal disease are already snapping the ties to life. It is a type you never see near the fur posts. You have to go to the far outer encampments, where white vices have not polluted the very air. He fell in love. What was he to do? If he left her to her fate, she would go back to the inclement roughness of tepee life mated to some Indian hunter, or fall victim to the brutal admiration of some of those white sots who ever seek hiding in the very wilderness. He married her and had of course to resign his position as teacher in the school. He took a position with the company and lived no doubt in such happiness as only such a spiritual nature could know; but the seeds of the disease which gave her such unearthly beauty ripened. She died. What was to become of the children? If he sent them back to England, they would be wretched and their presence would be misunderstood. If he left them with her relatives, they would grow up Indians. If he kept them he must have a mother for them, so he married another trader’s daughterthe little half-breed girland chained him-self to his rock of Fate as fast as ever martyr was bound in Grecian myth; and there he lives today. The mail comes in only once in three months in summer; only once in six in winter. He is the only white man on a watery island two hundred miles from any-where except when the lumbermen come to the Ridge, or the Indian agent arrives with the treaty money once a year.
And “the last chapter of the fur romance has been written”?
“The last chapter of the fur romance” will not have been written as long as frost and muskeg provide a habitat for furtive game, and strong men set forth to traverse lone places with no defense but their own valiant spirit.
The other example is of a man known to every fur buyer of St. Louis and Chicago and St. PaulMr. Hall, the chief commissioner of furs for the Hudson’s Bay Company. I wish I could give it in Mr. Hall’s own wordsin the slow quiet recital of the man who has spent his life amid the great silent verities, up next to primordial facts, not theorizing and professionalizing and discretionizing and generally darkening counsel by words without knowledge. He was a youth somewhere around his early twenties, and he was serving the company at Stuart Lake in British Columbiaa sort of American Trossachs on a colossal scale. He had been sent eastward with a party to bring some furs across from MacLeod Lake in the most heavily wooded mountains. It was mid-winter. Fort MacLeod was short of provisions. On their way back travel proved very heavy and slow. Snow buried the beaten trail, and travel off it plunged men and horses through snow crust into a criss cross tangle of underbrush and windfall. The party ran out of food. It was thought if Hall, the youngest and lightest, could push ahead on snowshoes to Stuart Lake, he could bring out a rescue party with food.
He set off without horse or gun and with only a lump of tallow in his pocket as food. The distance was seventy-five miles. At first he ran on winged feet feet winged with hunger; but it began to snow heavily with a wind that beat in his face and blew great gusts of snow pack down from the evergreen branches overhead; and even feet winged with hunger and snowshoes clog from soft snow and catch derelict branches sticking up through the drifts. By the time you have run half a day beating against the wind, reversing your own tracks to find the chipped mark on the bark of the trees to keep you on the blazed trailyou are hungry. Hall began to nibble at his tallow as he ran and to snatch handfuls of snow to quench his thirst. At night he kindled a roaring big white-man fire against the wolves, dried out the thawed snow from his back and front, dozed between times, sang to keep the loneliness off, heard the muffled echo come back to him in smothered voice, and at first streak of dawn ran on, and on, and on.
By the second night Hall had eaten all his tallow.
He had also reefed in his belt so that his stomach and spine seemed to be camping together. The snow continued to fall. The trees swam past him as he ran. And the snowdrifts lifted and fell as he jogged heavily forward. Of course, he declared to himself, he was not dizzy. It was the snow blindness or the drifts. He was well aware the second night that if he would have let himself he would have dug a sleeping hole in the snow and wrapped himself in a snow blanket and slept and slept ; but he thrashed himself awake, and set out again, dead heavy with sleep, weak from fatigue, staggering from hunger; and the wings on his feet had become weighted with lead.
He knew it was all up with him when he fell. He knew if he could get only a half hour’s sleep, it would freshen him up so he could go on. Lots of winter travelers have known that in the North; and they have taken the half hour’s sleep ; and another half hour’s ; and have never wakened. Anyway, something wakened Hall. He heard the crackle of a branch. That was nothing. Branches break to every storm, but this was like branches breaking under a moccasin. It was un-believable; there was not the slightest odor of smoke, unless the dream odor of his own delirious hunger ; but not twenty paces ahead crackled an Indian fire, sur-rounded by buckskin tepees, Indians warming them-selves by the fire.
With an unspeakable revulsion of hope and hunger, Hall flung to his feet and dashed into the middle of the encampment. Then a tingling went over his body like the wakening from death, of frost to lifeblind stabbing terror obsessed his body and soul ; for the fire was smokeless, the figures were speechless, transparent, unaware of his presence, very terribly still. His first thought was that he had come on some camp hopeless from the disaster of massacre or starvation. Then he knew this was no earthly camp. He could not tell how the figures were clothed or what they were. Only he knew they were not men. He did not even think of ghosts. All he knew was it was a death fire, a death silence, death tepees, death figures. He fled through the woods knowing only death was behind himrunning and running, and never stopping till he dropped exhausted across the fort doorstep at two in the morning. He blurted out why he had come. Then he lapsed unconscious. They filled him with rum. It was twenty-four hours before he could speak.
“I don’t know these modern theories about hallucination and delusions and things,” concluded Mr. Hall, gazing reflectively on the memories of that night. “I’m not much on romance and that kind of thing! I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t know what it was. All I know is it scared me so it saved my life, and it saved the lives of the rest, too; for the relief party got out in time, though they didn’t see a sign of any Indian camp. I don’t know what to make of it, unless years ago some Indian camp had been starved or massacred there, and owing to my unusual condition I got into some clairvoyant connection with that past. How-ever, there it is; and it would take a pretty strong argument to persuade me I didn’t see anything. All the other things I thought I saw on that trip certainly existed, and it would be a queer thing if the one thing which saved my life did not exist. That’s all I know, and you can make anything you like of it.”
So while Canada resents being regarded as a fur land, her domain of the North sends down something more than roaring windsthough winds are good things to shake dead leaves off the soul as well as off trees. Her domain of the North rears more than fur-bearing animals. It rears a race with hardihood, with dauntlessness, with quiet dogged unspeaking courage ; and that is something to go into the blood of a nation. A man who will run on snowshoes eighteen hundred miles behind a dog-train as a Senator I know did in his youth, and a woman of middle life, who will “come out” as they say in the Northand study medicine at her own expense that she may minister to the Indians where she livesare not types of a race to lie down whipped under Fate. Canada will do things in the world of nations shortly. She may do them rough-handed; but what she does will depend on the national ideals she nurtures today ; and into those ideals has entered the spirit of the Domain of the North.