Chapter IX - First to the Pacific
ON June 23rd the
famous party having decided to descend the Tacouche Tesse or Nechaco
(Fraser) River no further, prepared to ascend the river until they
reached the newly-decided course by which they would proceed by land
to the Pacific Ocean. Just as the party was ready to depart the
guide proposed to save time by crossing by land to his lodge, and
then to meet the party farther up the river. Mackenzie did not
relish the proposal, thinking it merely a plan of the guide to
desert the party. The leader was helpless to prevent the course
suggested, and so the guide and his people departed by land.
suspicions now haunted the minds of Mackenzie and his followers. It
was said hostile Indians were likely to beset their way, and they
were thrown on their guard. The explorer deemed it best to stay for
a time at their encampment, which they named Deserter's Creek.
While waiting here a
peculiar incident happened. The explorer was awakened at midnight by
a rustling noise in the forest and the barking of dogs. Later on the
sentinel announced to the leader that he saw a human being creeping
along on all fours about fifty paces above the camp. This was
thought at first to be a bear, but proved to be an old man, blind
and infirm, who had been left behind by the Indians, and had lain
hidden and without food for two days. This strange prisoner was
obstinate and somewhat knowing. He was, as the party moved slowly up
the river, taken with them by force, and at last after efforts to
escape was left by his own request on Canoe Island, being provided
with a supply of food. As long as the old man was with Mackenzie he
proved through his restlessness and cunning a veritable, "old man of
Mackenzie's canoe had
now become so leaky that steps to repair it became necessary. On the
twenty-eighth of the month the work of building another canoe was
undertaken. Different parties were sent into the woods in search of
bark, watape (the fine roots of the thorn used for serving the
bark), and gum. After several failures at last the materials were
provided. But now the foreman of the canoe-builders was very slow
and half-hearted. Mackenzie berated him, telling him he knew he did
not wish to go on with the journey. To his whole party, however, the
brave explorer again declared that he would go at all hazards, even
if he went alone, and he thus shamed his followers into action.
On .July 3rd the
expedition reached the mouth of a small river, which he called the
West Road River. This ran into the Nechaco from the west. The
question now was whether to follow this river to the coast, or to
ascend the great river further north before taking the westward
direction. His followers on being called together in council decided
to ascend the great river further. Their decision was wise, for
during the day they saw two canoes approaching than from the north,
and to their surprise and joy one of these contained the guide, who
hid, as they supposed, deserted them, and six of his relatives. A
painted beaver robe adorned the returning wanderer, and lie was made
still more gorgeous by presents from Mackenzie, who was also liberal
to the friends of the guide.
The Indians were of
the 'Titre or Chipewvyan tribe, which is found from Lake Athabaska
up the Peace River nearly to the Pacific coast. They were now bear
the starting-place for the seaboard. Mackenzie and his Frenchmen
allowed the Indians to go on ahead, and meanwhile took precaution to
bury, under the ashes of their fire, supplies of pemmican, wild
rice, a keg of gunpowder, and near by two bags of Indian corn, to
await their return. Overtaking the advance guard, the party
assembled and proceeded to build a stage on which to place their
canoe, and a square enclosure of logs to contain all articles which
might be left behind when they undertook their land journey.
All was now ready,
and, heavily laden with food, arms, and ammunition, French-Canadians
and Indians prepared for the long tramp, the leader taking as his
share of the burden his astronomical instruments. The party started
on short rations of two meals a day. Ascending a steep hill they
trudged wearily westward, and halted at an Indian camp. This was
twelve miles from the place of departure, and here they were joined
by a number of Indians who were to accompany them.
westward, meeting new Indians, and entering their houses; wearied by
long and trying marches; seeing snow-capped mountains along the way;
once or twice, though short of food, hiding pemmican along the trail
for the return journey; and keeping up the spirits of his followers,
now by fault-finding, now by persuasion, this born leader of men
urged his way to the long-desired western sea.
As the travellers
pushed on over their course, new scenes met them. The Indians
increased in numbers, lived in better houses, and seemed to be in
much better circumstances. At one point Mackenzie and Mackay were
received by a chief in truly baronial style, every deference and
consideration being shown them by this forest magnifico.
On July 18th a river
was reached, and with canoes obtained from the thrifty natives the
voyageurs returned to their native element, and were at home on the
rushing river, with their faces towards the sea.
At one point the
superstition of the Indians led them to bring their sick to
Mackenzie. Some cases were beyond the explorer's skill, and he
describes the orgies by which the medicine men sought to cure those
patients afflicted by the most aggravated ulcerous wounds. When
Mackenzie deigned to heal, his chief recourse was to Turlington's
balsam, which he declared to be a safe remedy, especially when only
a few drops in warm water were applied.
The explorer thus
describes his visit to a great chief of the region, and we see
readily that the Indians had far more intercourse with white traders
on the Pacific seaboard than was generally supposed:
July 19th, 1793. "I
paid a visit to the chief, who presented me with a roasted salmon ;
he then opened up his chests, and took out of one of them a garment
of blue cloth, decorated with brass buttons, and another of flowered
cotton. These I supposed were Spanish. They had been trimmed with
leather fringe after the fashion of their own cloaks. Copper and
brass are in great estimation among them, and of the former they
have great plenty. They point their arrows and spears with it, and
work it up into personal ornaments, such as collars, ear-rings, and
bracelets, which they wear on their wrists, arms, and legs. . . .
They also have plenty of iron. I saw some of their twisted collars
of that metal which weighed upwards of twelve pounds. . . They have
various trinkets, but their manufactured articles consist only of
poniards and daggers. Some of the former have very neat Handles,
with a silver coin or a quarter or eighth of a dollar fixed on the
end of them."
Mackenzie was about
to take an observation to learn his whereabouts, but he was suddenly
stopped by the chief, probably on some superstitious ground. His
ready acquiescence in the chief's wishes was probably a benefit to
the expedition, as it led to his being supplied with a canoe, fully
equipped, in which he was able to pursue his voyage, accompanied by
the young chief as a special mark of his favour.
Mackenzie discovered that the chief had no fear of the instruments,
except that he was apprehensive that they might drive the salmon
from the river. He also pointed out the large cedar canoe,
forty-five feet long, in which, ten years before, he had gone to the
south with forty of his Indians, and had seen two large vessels
filled with white men, who received him kindly. 'These were, no
doubt, the ships under command of Captain Cook.
Under the guidance of
the young chief the expedition went on its way down the river, the
Bella Coolla, soon to find it difficult to navigate on account of
the many channels into which the river divides. It now began to show
the influence of the tides, and the Indian guides evinced a great
disposition to desert the party, no doubt dreading the fierce
natives they would soon encounter on the coast. Their stock of food
was also well-nigh exhausted. Small mussels or anything eatable were
regarded as valuable. Seeking shelter from the wind in the channels
of the river, the party kept near the land, and here met three
canoes with fifteen men in them. These Indians were rather
aggressive. They examined with some forwardness the belongings of
the white men, and assumed an air of indifference and disdain. One
of them, indeed, was insolent, and declared that a large canoe had
lately been in the bay, and that one of the men whole he called "Macubah"
(Vancouver) had fired on him and his friends, and that "Bensins" (Johnstorie—Vancouver's
lieutenant) had struck him on the back with the flat part of his
sword. The insolent Indian then persuaded Mackenzie's Indians to
leave him. A troublesome savage actually pushed his way into
Mackenzie's canoe, and insisted on examining the explorer's hat and
determined to land, but the attitude of the Indians led hire to
think it well to take precautions for defence. Accordingly, in
landing, the white men and servants took possession of a high rock.
The people who had come in the first three canoes were the most
troublesome, but in time they went away. The natives having left the
party unmolested, the hungry voyageurs took such a meal as they
could spare from their scanty viands. Lying don on the rock, which
was little larger than was needed for their accommodation, the
members of the expedition remained strictly on the defensive.
wishing to mark his visit, determined to make an inscription on the
side of the good rock that had served him for defence. So he mixed a
quantity of vermilion with melted grease, and wrote on the inland
face of the rock: "Alexander Mackenzie from Canada by land, the
twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.
Lat. 52° 20' 48" N"
It is rather a
curious fact that one of Vancouver's ships was, on the very day of
Mackenzie's arrival, anchored off Point Maskelyne on the coast, some
two and a half degrees north of Mackenzie, at the point where one of
Vancouver's lieutenants had fired upon a group of Indians, as
referred to by the insolent native.
The proximity of
Vancouver's force was unknown to Mackenzie, and so of no help to
him. Not liking the situation on the top of the memorial rock, the
explorer moved his camp three miles further away from the Indian
village, to a retired cave on the coast. The conduct of the Indians
and their thievish disposition annoyed him.
After having had some
trouble with the young chief who accompanied him, the explorer
deterI-rained to start on his return journey. Before doing so he
took five astronomical observations, and worked out the longitude to
be 128.2° W. He makes a remark as to Captain Meares, an explorer who
had visited the Pacific coast in 1787-9, claiming that there was a
practicable north-west passage south of 69.5° N. Mackenzie's first
voyage showed the impossibility of this, and Vancouver's survey of
the coast proved the absurdity of the contention.
encampment -Mackenzie now moved with his followers towards the
river, and came into the part of it since known as Mackenzie's
Outlet. He soon had further evidence of the hostility of the Indians
and found that it arose from the incitement of the Indian who
constantly spoke of "Macubah" and "Bensins." One day one of the
rascals seized Mackenzie from behind, but the stalwart leader shook
him off. The approach of some of Mackenzie's followers caused a
hasty retreat on the part of the assailants. Irritated by the
forwardness of the Indians the explorer went to the village, and
courageously demanded articles which they had stolen and a supply of
fish. These demands were met, and the supplies were paid for. The
exploring party designated the hamlet of these miserable beings,
"the rascals' village."
On July 23rd the
ascent of the river was begun on the return voyage. Much discontent,
however, prevailed among the members of the party. They were
irritated and tired by the hardships through which they had passed.
But there was no help now for their condition. Having embarked they
began their tedious journey by having to pull themselves up the
rapid river by the branches of the overhanging trees.
After two days of
fatiguing travel the party arrived at a village where the medical
skill of the leader had been exerted upon the sick son of the chief.
The youth had died and now the blame was being put upon Mackenzie.
Signs of hostility were shown as the explorers approached the
village. The chief sought to avoid the leader. Brought face to face
with limn the old man threw a purse, which had been stolen from the
whites, fiercely at Mackenzie. A gift of cloth and of knives,
however, restored the peace Which had been broken. On the next day
the party arrived at what they had called the "friendly village,"
and their treatment here was most kindly. Mackenzie gives a somewhat
detailed account of the life and language of the friendly villagers.
Thus with stirring
incidents the journey was continued, until, on August 13th, they
reached the lofty mountains which all travellers see in coining from
the coast to the Rockies, "perpendicular as a wall, and giving the
idea of a succession of enormous Gothic churches." The mountains
closely hemmed in the party. On the sixteenth the height of land was
gained which separates the Columbia from the Peace River, and "on
the following day," the narrator says, "we began to glide along with
the current of time Peace River." While monotonous sameness the
journey continued, the chief interruption being, as before, the
portage de le Montagnne de Roche, though the killing of a buffalo
there supplied time hungry travellers with a very acceptable change
of food. For seven days they continued their descent of the eastern
slope of the mountains until they reached the neighbourhood of the
fort at the forks of the Peace River. In the words of the leader
himself: "At length, as we rounded a point 'Enid came in view of
time fort, we threw out a flag, and accompanied it with a general
discharge of our firearms, while the men were in such spirits, and
made such an active use of their paddles, that we arrived before the
two men, whom we left here in the spring, could recover their sense
to answer us. Thus we landed at four in the afternoon at the place
which we left on May 9th. Here my voyages of discovery terminate. .
. . I received, however, the reward of my labours, for they were
crowned with success."
Mackenzie did not
linger long at time Peace River fort, but hastened back to Fort
Chipewyan, and the companionship of his cousin. He had been absent
some eleven months in all, and passed the winter of 1793-4 in the
solitudes of the north. Mackenzie's nervous system had been somewhat
affected by the demands of the hard year of travel and anxiety. He
made fitful attempts during the winter to write his journal, but the
task was then too great for completion.
In the spring (1794)
Alexander Mackenzie, now the successful leader of two great voyages,
and the explorer of a vast region of new country, iii fact, the
first to make the north-west passage by land, journeyed down to
Grand Portage, and turned his back upon the upper country (pays d'en
haut), never to see it again.