Lords of the North
A. C. LAUT
Entered according to Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year onethousand nine hundred, by William Briggs, at the Department ofAgriculture.
Pioneers and their Descendants
HEROISM WON THE LAND,
IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED.
The author desires to express thanks to pioneers and fur traders of theWest for information, details and anecdotes bearing on the old life,which are herein embodied; and would also acknowledge the assistance ofthe history of the North-West Company and manuscripts of theBourgeois, compiled by Senator L. R. Masson; and the value of suchearly works as those of Dr. George Bryce, Gunn, Hargraves, Ross andothers.
"The adventurous spirits, who haunted the forest and plain, grew fond oftheir wild life and affected a great contempt for civilization."
Pent in your piles of mortar and stone,
Hugging your finely spun judicials,
Adorning externals, externals alone,
Vaunting in prideful ostentation
Of the Juggernaut car, called Civilization—
What know ye of freedom and life and God?
Know more of freedom and less of care,
Cage birds, that flutter from perch to ring,
Have less of worry and surer fare.
Cursing the burdens, yourselves have bound,
In a maze of wants, running round and round—
Are ye free men, or manniken slaves?
Are all of earth's beauty ye care to know;
But ye strut about in soul-stifled halls
To play moth-life by a candle-glow—
What soul has space for upward fling,
What manhood room for shoulder-swing,
Coffined and cramped from the vasts of God?
In trappings of ease is not confined;
That touch from Infinite Will 'neath the Whole
In Nature's temple, not man's, is shrined!
From hovel-shed come out and be strong!
Be ye free! Be redeemed from the wrong,
Of soul-guilt, I charge you as sons of God!
I, Rufus Gillespie, trader and clerk for the North-West Company, whichruled over an empire broader than Europe in the beginning of thiscentury, and with Indian allies and its own riotous Bois-Brulés,carried war into the very heart of the vast territory claimed by itsrivals, the Honorable Hudson's Bay Company, have briefly related a fewstirring events of those boisterous days. Should the account here setdown be questioned, I appeal for confirmation to that missionary amongnorthern tribes, the famous priest, who is the son of the ill-fated girlstolen by the wandering Iroquois. Lord Selkirk's narration of lawlessconflict with the Nor'-Westers and the verbal testimony of Red Riversettlers, who are still living, will also substantiate what I havestated; though allowance must be made for the violent partisan leaningof witnesses, and from that, I—as a Nor'-Wester—do not claim to befree.
On the charges and counter-charges of cruelty bandied between white menand red, I have nothing to say. Remembering how white soldiers fromeastern cities took the skin of a native chief for a trophy of victory,and recalling the fiendish glee of Mandanes over a victim, I can onlyconclude[Pg 4] that neither race may blamelessly point the finger of reproachat the other.
Any variations in detail from actual occurrences as seen by my own eyesare solely for the purpose of screening living descendants of thosewhose lives are here portrayed from prying curiosity; but, in truth,many experiences during the thrilling days of the fur companies were fartoo harrowing for recital. I would fain have tempered some of theincidents herein related to suit the sentiments of a milk-and-water age;but that could be done only at the cost of truth.
There is no French strain in my blood, so I have not that passionatedevotion to the wild daring of l'ancien régime, in which many of myrugged companions under Les Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouestgloried; but he would be very sluggish, indeed, who could not look backwith some degree of enthusiasm to the days of gentlemen adventurers inno-man's-land, in a word, to the workings of the great fur tradingcompanies. Theirs were the trappers and runners, the Coureurs des Boisand Bois-Brulés, who traversed the immense solitudes of the pathlesswest; theirs, the brigades of gay voyageurs chanting hilariousrefrains in unison with the rhythmic sweep of paddle blades andfollowing unknown streams until they had explored from St. Lawrence toMacKenzie River; and theirs, the merry lads of the north, blazing atrack through the wilderness and leaving from Atlantic to Pacific lonelystockaded fur posts—footprints for the[Pg 5] pioneers' guidance. Thewhitewashed palisades of many little settlements on the rivers and lakesof the far north are poor relics of the fur companies' ancient grandeur.That broad domain stretching from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean,reclaimed from savagery for civilization, is the best monument to theunheralded forerunners of empire.
Winnipeg—one time Fort Garry
Formerly Red River Settlement,
19th June, 18—
Transcriber's note: Minor typos have been corrected.
|Wherein a Lad sees Makers of History||9|
|A Strong Man is Bowed||23|
|Novice and Expert||38|
|Launched Into the Unknown||55|
|Civilization's Veneer Rubs Off||70|
|A Girdle of Agates Recalled||92|
|The Lords of the North in Council||99|
|The Little Statue Animate||118|
|Decorating a Bit of Statuary||131|
|More Studies in Statuary||144|
|A Shuffling of Allegiance||163|
|How a Youth Became a King||181|
|The Buffalo Hunt||200|
|In Slippery Places||220|
|The Good White Father||234|
|Le Grand Diable Sends Back our Messenger||246|
|The Price of Blood||253|
|Laplante and I Renew Acquaintance||266|
|Wherein Louis Intrigues||281|
|Plots and Counter-Plots||297|
|Louis Pays Me Back||313|
|A Day of Reckoning||327|
|The Iroquois Plays his Last Card||341|
|Fort Douglas Changes Masters||350|
|His Lordship to the Rescue||368|
|Father Holland and I in the Toils||378|
|Under One Roof||389|
|The Last of Louis' Adventures||409|
|The Priest Journeys to a Far Country||433|
WHEREIN A LAD SEES MAKERS OF HISTORY
"Has any one seen Eric Hamilton?" I asked.
For an hour, or more, I had been lounging about the sitting-room of aclub in Quebec City, waiting for my friend, who had promised to join meat dinner that night. I threw aside a news-sheet, which I had exhausteddown to minutest advertisements, stretched myself and strolled across toa group of old fur-traders, retired partners of the North-West Company,who were engaged in heated discussion with some officers from theCitadel.
"Has any one seen Eric Hamilton?" I repeated, indifferent to the meritsof their dispute.
"That's the tenth time you've asked that question," said my Uncle JackMacKenzie, looking up sharply, "the tenth time, Sir, by actual count,"and he puckered his brows at the interruption, just as he used to when Iwas a little lad on his knee and chanced to break into one of hishunting stories with a question at the wrong place.[Pg 10]
"Hang it," drawled Colonel Adderly, a squatty man with an over-fed lookon his bulging, red cheeks, "hang it, you don't expect Hamilton? Thebaby must be teething," and he added more chaff at the expense of myfriend, who had been the subject of good-natured banter among clubmembers for devotion to his first-born.
I saw Adderly's object was more to get away from the traders' argumentsthan to answer me; and I returned the insolent challenge of hisunconcealed yawn in the faces of the elder men by drawing a chair up tothe company of McTavishes and Frobishers and McGillivrays and MacKenziesand other retired veterans of the north country.
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said I, "what were you saying to ColonelAdderly?"
"Talk of your military conquests, Sir," my uncle continued, "Why, Sir,our men have transformed a wilderness into an empire. They have blazed apath from Labrador on the Atlantic to that rock on the Pacific, where myesteemed kinsman, Sir Alexander MacKenzie, left his inscription ofdiscovery. Mark my words, Sir, the day will come when the names of DavidThompson and Simon Fraser and Sir Alexander MacKenzie will rank higherin English annals than Braddock's and——"
"Egad!" laughed the officer, amused at my uncle, who had been a leadingspirit in the North-West Company and whose enthusiasm knew no bounds,"Egad! You gentlemen adventurers wouldn't need to have accomplished muchto[Pg 11] eclipse Braddock." And he paused with a questioning supercilioussmile. "Sir Alexander was a first cousin of yours, was he not?"
My uncle flushed hotly. That slighting reference to gentlemenadventurers, with just a perceptible emphasis of the adventurers, wasnot to his taste.
"Pardon me, Sir," said he stiffly, "you forget that by the terms oftheir charter, the Ancient and Honorable Hudson's Bay Company have theprivilege of being known as gentlemen adventurers. And by the Lord, Sir,'tis a gentleman adventurer and nothing else, that stock-jobbingscoundrel of a Selkirk has proved himself! And he, sir, was neitherNor'-Wester, nor Canadian, but an Englishman, like the commander of theCitadel." My uncle puffed out these last words in the nature of adefiance to the English officer, whose cheeks took on a deeper purplishshade; but he returned the charge good-humoredly enough.
"Nonsense, MacKenzie, my good friend," laughed he patronizingly, "if theRight Honorable, the Earl of Selkirk, were such an adventurer, why thedeuce did the Beaver Club down at Montreal receive him with open mouthsand open arms and——"
"And open hearts, Sir, you may say," interrupted my Uncle MacKenzie."And I'd thank you not to 'good-friend' me," he added tartly.
Now, the Beaver Club was an organization at Nor'-Westers renowned forits hospitality.[Pg 12] Founded in 1785, originally composed of but nineteenmembers and afterwards extended only to men who had served in the Paysd'En Haut, it soon acquired a reputation for entertaining in regalstyle. Why the vertebrae of colonial gentlemen should sometimes lose theindependent, upright rigidity of self-respect on contact with old worldnobility, I know not. But instantly, Colonel Adderly's reference to LordSelkirk and the Beaver Club called up the picture of a banquet inMontreal, when I was a lad of seven, or thereabouts. I had been trickedout in some Highland costume especially pleasing to the Earl—cap,kilts, dirk and all—and was taken by my Uncle Jack MacKenzie to theBeaver Club. Here, in a room, that glittered with lights, was a tablesteaming with things, which caught and held my boyish eyes; and allabout were crowds of guests, gentlemen, who had been invited in thequaint language of the club, "To discuss the merits of bear, beaver andvenison." The great Sir Alexander MacKenzie, with his title fresh fromthe king, and his feat of exploring the river now known by his name andpushing through the mountain fastnesses to the Pacific on all men'slips—was to my Uncle Jack's right. Simon Fraser and David Thompson andother famous explorers, who were heroes to my imagination, were theretoo. In these men and what they said of their wonderful voyages I wasfar more interested than in the young, keen-faced man with a tie, thatcame up in ruffles to his ears,[Pg 13] and with an imperial decoration on hisbreast, which told me he was Lord Selkirk.
I remember when the huge salvers and platters were cleared away, I wasplaced on the table