Oo-koo-hoo's El Dorado Our Winter Camp
( Originally Published 1921 )
BEAR LAKE was beautiful. Its shores were fringed here and there with marshy reeds or sandy beaches; and its rivulets, flowing in and out, connected it with other meres in other regions. At dawn moose and caribou came thither to drink; bears roamed its surrounding slopes; lynxes, foxes, fishers, martens, ermines, and minks lived in its bordering woods. Otters, muskrats, and leavers swam its inrushing creeks; wolverines prowled its rocky glens, and nightly concerts of howling wolves echoed along its shores. The eagles and the hawks built their nests in its towering trees, while the cranes fished and the ruffed grouse drummed. Nightly, too, the owls and the loons hooted and laughed at the quacking ducks and the honking geese as they flew swiftly by in the light of the moon. Salmon-trout, whitefish, pike, arid pickerel rippled its placid waters, and brook-trout leaped above the shimmering pools of its crystal streams. It was Oo-koo-hoo's happiest hunting ground, and truly it was a hunter's paradise . . . a poet's heaven . . . an artist's home.
"What fools we mortals be!" when we live in the city!
The site chosen for the lodges was on one of two points jutting into the lake, separated by the waters of Muskrat Creek. On its northwest side ran a heavily timbered ridge that broke the force of the winter winds from the west and the north, and thus protected Oo-koo-hoo's camp, which stood on the southeast side of the little stream. Such a site in such a region afforded wood, water, fruit, fish, fowl, and gaine; and, moreover, an enchanting view of the surrounding country. Furthermore, that section of The Owl's game-lands had not been hunted for forty-twomoons.
Immediately after dinner the men began cutting Iodge poles, while the women cleared the tepee sites and levelled the ground. On asking Oo-koo-hoo how many poles would be required for the canvas lodge which he had kindly offered me the use of for the corning winter, he replied:
"My son, cut a pole for every moon, and cut than thirteen feet in length, and the base of the tepee, too, should be thirteen feet across." Then looking at me with his small, shrewd, but pleasant eyes, he added: "Thirteen is our lucky number. It always brings good fortune. Besides, most canoes are made of thirteen pieces, and when we kill big game, we always cut the carcasses into thirteen parts. My son, when I have time I shall carve a different symbol upon each of the thirteen poles of your lodge; they shall represent the thirteen moons of the year, and thus they will enable you to keep track of the phase of the season through which you are passing."
All the poles were of green pine or spruce. The thin ends of three of the stoutest were lashed together; on being erected, they formed a tripod against which the other poles were leant, while their butts, placed in a circle, were spread an equal distance apart. Over that framework the lodge covering was spread by inserting the end of a pole into the pocket of each of the two windshields, and then hoisting the covering into place. Next the lapping edges, brought together over the doorway, were fastened securely together with wooden pins, while the bottom edge was pegged down all round the lodge with wooden stakes. In the centre of the floor-space six little cut logs were fastened down in the form of a hexagon, and the earth scooped from within the hexagon was banked against the logs to form a permanent and limited fireplace. The surrounding floor space was covered with a layer of fir-brush, then a layer of rushes, and finally, where the beds were to be laid, a heavy mattress of balsam twigs laid, shingle-fashion, one upon another, with their stems down. Thus a springy, comfortable bed was formed, and the lodge perfumed with a delightful forest aroma. Above the fireplace was hung a stage, or frame-work of light sticks, upon which to dry or smoke the meat. Around the wall on the inner side was hung a canvas curtain that overlapped the floor, and thus protected the lodgers from draught while they were sitting about the fire. The doorway was two feet by five, and was covered with a raw deerskin hung from the top. A stick across the lower edge kept the skin taut. A log at the bottom of the doorway answered for a door-step and in winter kept out the snow. Now the lodge was ready for occupation.
As there are six different ways of building campfires, it should be explained that my friends built theirs according to the Ojibway custom; that is, in the so-called "lodge fashion", by placing the sticks upright, leaning them together, and crossing them over one another in the manner of lodge poles. When the fire was lighted, the windshields formed a perfect draught to carry the smoke up through the permanently open flue in the apex of the structure, and one soon realized that of all tents or dwellings, no healthier abode was ever contrived by man. Indeed, if the stupid, meddlesome agents of civilization had been wise enough to have left the lndians in their tepees, instead of forcing them to live in houses the ventilation of which was never understood they would have been spared at least one of civilization's diseases tuberculosis and many more tribes-men would have been alive to-day.
On entering an Indian tepee one usually finds the first space, on the right of the doorway, occupied by the woodpile; the next, by the wife; the third, by the baby; and the fourth, by the husband. Opposite these, on the other side of the fire, the older children are ranged. To the visitor is allotted the warmest place in the Iodge, the place of honour, farthest from and directly opposite the doorway. When the dogs are al-lowed in the tepee, they know their place to be the first space on the left, between the entrance and the children.
While the two leather lodges of the Indians stood close together with stages near at hand upon which to store food and implements out of reach of the dogs and wild animals, my tepee, the canvas one, stood by itself a little farther up the creek. Taking particular pains in making my bed, and settling everything for service and comfort, I turned in that night in a happy mood and fell asleep contemplating the season of adventure before me and the great charm of living in such simplicity. "In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best, and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants," says Thoreau, "but I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. .
But how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a savage?"
Next morning, while roaming about the point, I discovered two well-worn game trails that, converging together, led directly to the extreme outer end of our point. The tracks were the wild animals' highways through that part of the woods, and were used by them when they desired to make a short cut across that end of the lake by way of a neighbouring island. Worn fairly smooth, and from three to five inches in depth, by from eight to ten inches in width, these tracks were entirely free of grass or moss. In following them a few hundred paces, I could plainly recognize the prints of the moose, the hear, the wolf, and the fox; and a few smaller and lesser impressions with regard to the origin of which I was not so sure. The trails were much like the buffalo trails one used to see upon the plains. To my delight, my lodge door was not more than ten paces from that wild Broadway of the Wilderness.
After breakfast Oo-koo-hoo suggested that a "lop-stick" should be cut in honour of the white man's visit. Selecting a tall spruce, Amik, with a half-axe in hand, began to ascend it. When he had climbed about three parts of the way up he began to chop off the surrounding branches and continued to do so as he descended, until he was about halfway down, when he desisted and carne to earth. The result was a strange-looking tree with a long hare trunk, surmounted by a tuft of branches that could be seen and recognized for miles around.
Cutting lop-sticks is an old custom of the forest Indians. Such trees are used to mark port ages, camping grounds, meeting places, or dangerous channels where submerged rocks lie in wait for the unsuspecting voyageur. In fact, they are to the Indian what lighthouses are to the mariner. Yet, sometimes they are used to celebrate the beginning of a young man's hunting career, or to mark the grave of a famous hunter. When made to indicate a wilderness rendezvous, the meeting place is commonly used for the purpose of coming in contact with their nearest neighbours or friends, and halting a day or so, while upon their voyage to the post, in order to discuss their affairs the winter's hunt, the strange tracks they have seen, the strange sounds they have heard, the raiding of their hunting ground, and the like. Always at such meetings a fire is kindled regardless of the season, an ancient custom of their old religion, but used to-day more for the purpose of lighting pipes. Beside the fire a post stripped of its bark is erected, and on it a fire-bag containing tobacco for the use of all hands is hung. Around the fire the women and children spread a carpet of brush, upon which the men sit while conversing. At such meetings one never hears two Indians talk at once a fine example for white people to heed nor do they openly contradict one another as the vulgar white man does, for such an offence would be considered, by the savage, rude and the offender would be regarded as no better than a white man; for they believe them-selves to be not only the wisest and the bravest, but the politest people in the world; and when one stops to compare the average Indian with the average white man in North America, one must grant that the savage is right.
In relation to their politeness I can go beyond my own observation and quote the experience of Sir Alexander Henry whom they called Coseagon while he was held a prisoner.
"I could not let all this pass without modestly remarking that his account of the beginning of things was subject to great uncertainty as being trusted to memory only, from woman to woman through so many generations, and might have been greatly altered, whereas the account I gave them was written down by direction of the Great Spirit himself and preserved carefully in a book which was never altered, but had ever remained the same and was undoubtedly the truth. 'Coseagon,' says Canassatego, 'you are yet almost as rude as when you first came among us. When young it seems you were not well taught; you did not learn the civil behaviour of men. We excused you; it was the fault of your instructors. But why have you not more improved since you have long had the opportunity from our example? You see I always believe your stories. That is, I never contradict them. Why do you not believe mine?' Contradiction, or a direct denial of the truth of what another says, is among the Indians deemed extremely rude. Only great superiority, as of a father to a child, or of an old counsellor to some boy, can excuse it. Alaquippy and the other Indians kindly made some apology for me, saying I should be wiser in time, and they concluded with an observation which they thought very polite and respectful toward me, that my stories might be best for the white people, but Indian stories were undoubtedly best for Indians."
Furthermore, if we compare the philosophy of the red man and the white, we find that just because the white man has invented a lot of asinine fashions and customs, a lot of unnecessary gear and junk, and feeds himself on unhealthy concoctions that give him indigestion and make his teeth fall out, he flatters himself that he is the wisest man on earth, whereas, all things considered, in my humble opinion, he is the prize fool of the universe for removing himself so far from nature. And when the female follower of Dame Fashion goes mincing along the cement-paved street in her sharp-toed, French-heeled slippers, on her way to the factory, she flatters herself that she knows better than God how to perfect the human foot; then the All Wise One, in His just wrath, strikes back at her by presenting her with a luxuriant crop of varicose veins, corns, ingrowing nails, fallen arches, and bunions that supply her with suffering in plenty for the rest of her days. Her red sister, on the contrary, in moccasined feet, walks naturally through the forest; and The Master of Life, beholding her becoming humility, rewards her with painless pleasure.
But to return to the Indians' meeting places in the wilderness. The important meetings held in the forest are always opened by smoking. No man speaks without first standing up, and his delivery is always slow and in short, clear sentences. In the past there were great orators among the red men as many of the old writers and traders affirm but again I quote Sir Alexander Henry:
"Old Canassatego, a warrior, counsellor, and the chief mari of our village, used to come frequently to smoke and talk with me, while I worked at my new business (mending of gun locks), and many of the younger men would come and sit with him, pleased to hear our conversations. As he soon saw I was curious on that head he took a good deal of pains to instruct me in the principles of their eloquence, an art (it may seem strange to say it, but it is strictly true) carried much higher among these savages than is now in any part of Europe, as it is their only polite art, as they practice it from their infancy, as every-thing of consequence is transacted in councils, and all the force of their government consists in persuasion."
Once when questioning Oo-koo-hoo regarding old Indian customs, he informed me that among Indians bowing was a very recent innovation, and that the men of the olden time the fire-worshippers or sun-worshippers never deigned to bow to one another: they bowed to none but the Deity. They took not the Great Spirit's name in vain; nor did they mention it save in a whisper, and with bowed head. He regretted that since coming in contact with the irreverent and blaspheming white men, his people had lost much of their old-time godly spirit.
For the next few days the work done by the men was con-fined to odd jobs in preparation for the coming winter, and the laying out of their future trapping trails. They built some stages upon which to store the canoes, and others nearer the lodges, upon which to place their guns, sleds, and snowshoes. They cut and shaved axe-handles and helved them. They overhauled traps, and got ready all their trapping gear. It was always interesting to watch Oo-koo-hoo and Amik, even when they were engaged upon the most trivial forest work, for much of it was new to me and it was all so different from the ways of civilization. Then, too, they had taken the boys in hand and were instructing them in relation to the hunter's art.
The first thing they did with the traps, after seeing that the old ones were in working order, was to boil both the new ones and the old ones for about half an hour in pots in which was placed either pine, or spruce, or cedar brush. This they did Oo-koo-hoo explained to cleanse the old traps and to soften the temper of the new ones, thus lessening the chances of their breaking in zero weather; and also to free both old and new from all man-smell and to perfume them with the natural scent of the forest trees, of which no animal is afraid. The traps they used were the No. 1, "Rat," for muskrats, ermines, and minks; the No. 2, "Mink," for minks, martens, skunks, and foxes; the No. 3, "Fox," for foxes, minks, martens, fishers, wolves, wolverines, skunks, otters, and beavers; the No.4, " Beaver," for beavers, otters, wolves, wolverines, and fishers; the No. 5, "Otter," for otters, beavers, wolves, wolverines, and small bears; and the "Bear" trap in two sizes—A, large, and B, small, for all kinds of bears and deer. Traps with teeth they did not use, as they said the teeth injured the fur.
Next to the knife, the woodsman uses no more useful implement than the axe. Even with the professional hunter, the gun takes third place to the knife and the axe. As between the two makes of axes the American and the Canadian the former appears the best. It is really a good fair-weather axe, but winter work proves the superiority of the Canadian implement. The latter does not chip so readily in cold weather. Further-more, the eye of the American axe is too small for the soft-wood helve usually made in the northern forest, since in many parts no wood harder than birch is to be had. But to reduce the high temper of the American axe, the hunter can heat the head in fire until it becomes a slight bluish tinge and then dip it in either fish oil or beaver oil. The sizes of axes run: "Trappers," 1 1/2 Ibs.; "Voyageurs, " 2 1/2 lbs., "Chopping, " 3 1/2 lbs., and "Felling, " 4 lbs.
At last the eventful morning arrived. Now we were to go a-hunting. The trap-setting party was to be composed of four persons: Oo-koo-hoo, the two boys, and myself. Our ne-mar-win provisions for four, to last a week, consisted of: one pound of tea, eight pounds of dried meat, four pounds of grease, four pounds of dried fish, and a number of small ban-Pocks; the rest of our grub was to be secured by hunting.
Of course, while hunting, Oo-koo-hoo always carried his gun loaded lacking the cap but it was charged with nothing heavier than powder and shot, so that the hunter might be ready at any moment for small game; yet if he encountered big game, all he had to do was to ram down a ball, slip on a cap, and then be ready to fire at a moose or a bear.
SETTING FOX TRAP
After the usual affectionate good-bye, and the waving of farewell as we moved in single file into the denser forest, we followed a game trail that wound in and out among the trees and rocks always along the line of least resistance and for a while headed westward through the valley of Muskrat Creek. Oo-koo-hoo led the way and, as he walked along, would occasionally turn and, pointing at the trail, whisper:
"My white son, see, a moose passed two days ago . . That's fox this morning," and when we were overlooking the stream, he remarked: "This is a good place for muskrats, but I'll come for them by canoe."
The principal object of the trip was to set fox and marten traps. Hilly timberland of spruce or pine, without much brushwood, is the most likely place for martens; and in fairly open country foxes may be found. The favourite haunt of beavers, otters, fishers, minks, and muskrats is a marshy region containing little lakes and streams; while for lynxes, a willowy valley interspersed with poplars is the usual resort.
Coming to an open space along the creek, the wise old Owl concluded from the fox signs he had already seen, and from the condition of the soil on a cut bank, that it was a desirable place in which to set a steel trap for foxes. Laying aside his kit, he put on his trapping mits, to prevent any trace of man-smell being left about the trap, and with the aid of his trowel he dug into the bank a horizontal hole about two feet deep and about a foot in diameter. He wedged the chain-ring of the trap over the small end of a five-foot pole to be used as a clog or drag-anchor in case the fox tried to make away with the trap. The pole was then buried at one side of the hole. Digging a trench from the pole to the back of the hole, he carefully set the trap, laid it in the trench near the back of the hole, so that it rested about half an inch below the surface of the surrounding earth, covered it with thin layers of birch bark (sewed together with watap thin spruce roots) then, sifting earth over it, covered all signs of both trap and chain, and finally, with a crane's wing brushed the sand into natural form. Placing at the back of the hole a duck's head that Ne-geek had shot for the purpose, Oo-koo-hoo scattered a few feathers about. Some of these, as well as the pan of the trap, had been previously daubed with a most stinking concoction called "fox bait "—hereafter called "mixed bait" to prevent confusing this with other baits.
It was composed of half a pound of soft grease, half an ounce of aniseed, an eighth of an ounce of asafoetida, six to ten rotten birds' eggs, and the glands taken from a female fox all thoroughly mixed in a jar and then buried underground to rot it, as well as for safe keeping. The reason for such a concoction is that the cold in winter does not affect the stench of asafoetida; aniseed forms a strong attraction for many kinds of animals; foxes are fond of eggs; and no stronger lure exists for an animal than the smell of the female gland. So powerful is the fetor of this "mixed bait," and so delicious is the merest whiff of it, that it forms not only an irresistible but a long-range allurement for many kinds of fur-bearers. Indeed, so pungent was it, that Oo-koo-hoo carried merely a little of it in a cap-box, and found that a tiny daub was quite sufficient to do his work. The reason for using the two kinds of bait was that while the mixed bait would attract the animal to the trap by its scent, the sight of the duck's head would induce the fox to enter the hole, step upon the unseen trap while reaching to secure its favourite food, and thus be caught by a foreleg.
The mention of an animal being caught by a foreleg reminds me of the strange experience that Louison Laferte, a French half-breed, manservant at Fort Rae, once had with a wolf. Louison was quite a wag and at all times loved a joke. One day while visiting one of his trapping paths with his four-dog team he came upon a wolf caught in one of his traps by the foreleg. After stunning the brute, he found that its leg was in no way injured, for it had been in the trap but a short time. Louison, in a sudden fit of frolic humour, unharnessed his Number 3 dog and harnessed in its place the unconscious wolf. When the wild brute came to, and leaped up, the half-breed shouted: "Ma-a-r-r-che!" and whipped up his dogs. Off they went, the two leading dogs pulling the wolf along from in front, while the sled-dog nipped him from behind and encouraged him to go ahead. Thus into Fort Rae drove the gay Louison with an untamed timber-wolf in harness actually helping to haul his sled as one of his dog-team. The half-breed kept the wolf for more than a month trying to train it, but it proved so intractable and so vicious that fearing for the children around the Post, eventually he killed it.
DOG TRAILING FOX
It is generally conceded by the most experienced fur-hunters of the northern forest, that while the wolverine is a crafty brute and difficult to hunt, yet of all forest creatures the coloured fox is the hardest to trap. In hunting the two animals with dogs, however, there is little comparison. The wolverine, being a heavy, short-legged beast, can soon be overhauled in an open country or on a beaten trail by a dog, or in deep snow even by a man on snowshoes; while the chances of a fox being run down by a dog are not so good. Some hunters, however, kill many foxes by running them down with dogs, and for such work they use a light-weight, long-legged dog possessed of both long sight and keen scent. Hunters declare that no animal, not even the wolf, has so much endurance as a good hunting-dog.
When a hunting-dog sights a fox on a frozen lake he runs straight for him. The fox, on realizing that he is being pursued, leaps wildly into the air two or three times, and then makes off at tremendous speed much faster than the dog can run. But in about half a mile the fox, becoming played out, stops to rest a moment and to look around to see if the dog is still following. Then, on seeing the dog still in pursuit, he sets off in another great burst of speed. Meanwhile, the dog has gained on him, and the fox, discovering this, bolts off at a different angle. The dog, however, observing what has happened, takes advantage of his quarry, and cuts the corner and thereby makes another gain. The fox, now more alarmed than ever, makes another turn, and the dog cuts another corner and makes another gain. Thus the race goes on until the fox comes to the conclusion that the dog is sure to get him, loses both heart and wind and finally lies down from sheer exhaustion. The dog rushes at him, seizes him between the forelegs, and with one crunch the hunt is over.
It is much the same in the deep snow of the timberland. There the fox will start off with great. bounds that sink him deep into the snow and make the scent only the stronger for the dog. Meanwhile, the dog lopes steadily along, though far out of sight. The fox stops to listen and learn if his enemy is still pursuing him. When the dog finally cornes into view, the fox changes his course, and the dog cuts the corner, and thus the story ends in the usual way.
OTHER WAYS OF TRAPPING
As the methods of hunting the wolf, the marten, the lynx, and the wolverine are Founded on the various ways of trapping the fox, a full description of how foxes are hunted may be of interest. Then, too, the reader will be enabled to understand more easily, without unnecessary repetition, the modes of trapping other animals. My description, however, will apply only to the hunting of the crafty coloured foxes of the forest, and not to their stupid brethren of the Arctic coasts the white and the blue foxes.
Of course, every Indian tribe believes its own manner of hunting to be the master way, but it is conceded by experienced fur-traders that the Ojibway method is the best. When setting a fox trap in the winter time, the first thing an Ojibway does is to jab into the snow, small end down, and in an upright position, the clog or drag-pole. With his knife he then cuts a hole in the snow exactly the size of the set trap, the plate of which has already been daubed with mixed bait. In this hole the trap is placed in such a position that it rests about half an inch below the surface of the snow. A thin shield of birch bark covers this, and then with a crane's wing the snow is brushed over both trap and chain so that no sign remains. Then in addition to the mixed bait, he plants about the spot food bait, such as bits of rotten fish or duck.
Most hunters have a regular system for setting their traps so that they may know exactly where and how they are placed. Usually he sets them east and west, then cutting a notch on a branch about a foot from the butt he measures that distance from the trap, and thrusts the branch into the snow in an upright position, as though it were growing naturally. The stick serves not only to mark the trap, but in an open space to furnish the same attraction for a fox as a tree does for a dog; besides, when the hunter is going his rounds, at the sight of the branch he will remember where and how his trap is set, and can read all the signs without going too near. The object of laying the sheet of birch bark over the trap is that when any part of the bark is touched the trap may go off; besides, it forms a hollow space beneath, and thus allows the animal's foot to sink deeper into the trap, to be caught farther up, and to be held more securely.
The foregoing is the usual way of setting a fox trap, yet the Wood Crees and the Swampy. Crees set their fox traps on mounds of snow about the size of muskrat houses. For that purpose they bank the snow into a mound about eighteen inches high, bury the drag-pole at the bottom, set the trap exactly in the crest of the mound, and, covering up all traces of trap and chain with powdered snow, sprinkle food bait and mixed bait around the bottom of the mound. The approaching fox, catching scent of the mixed bait, follows it up and then eats some of the food bait, which presently gives him the desire to go and sit upon the mound which is the habit of foxes in such a condition and thus he is caught.
A curious thing once happened to a Dog-rib Indian at Great Slave Lake. One day he found a wolf caught in one of his traps and foolishly allowed his hunting-dog to rush at it. The wolf leaped about so furiously that it broke the trap chain, and ran out upon the lake, too far for the hunter's gun. In pursuit of the wolf, the dog drew too near and was seized and overpowered by the wolf. In order to save his dog the hunter rushed out upon the lake; and when within fair range, dropped upon one knee and fired. Unluckily, the ball struck the trap, smashed it, and set the wolf free; and all the hunter got for his pains was a dead dog and a broken trap while the wolf went scot free.
The Chipewyan and Slave Indians set their traps inside a lodge made of eight or ten poles, seven or eight feet in length, placed together lodge fashion and banked round with a wall of brush to prevent the fox entering except by the doorway. The trap is set in the usual way, just outside the entrance, the chain being fastened to one of the door poles. Instead, however, of being placed on the snow around the trap, the mixed bait is put on a bit of rabbit skin fastened in the centre of the lodge; the idea being that the fox will step on the trap when lie endeavours to enter. The Louchieux Indian sets his trap the foregoing way, but in addition he sets a snare in the doorway of the lodge, not so much to catch and hold the fox, as to check him from leaping in without treading on the trap.
Oo-koo-hoo told me that whenever a trap set in the usual way had failed to catch a fox, he then tried to take advantage of the cautious and suspicious nature of the animal by casting about on the snow little bits of iron, and re-setting and covering his trap on the crest of some little mound close at hand without any bait whatever. The fox, returning to the spot where he had scented and seen the bait before, would now scent the iron, and becoming puzzled over the mystery would try to solve it by going to the top of the mound to sit down and think it over; and thus he would be caught.
Another way to try for a fox that has been nipped in a trap and yet has got away is to take into account the strange fact that the animal will surely come back to investigate the source of the trouble. The hunter re-sets the trap in its old position and in the usual way; then, a short distance off, lie builds a little brush tepee, something like a lynx-lodge, which has a base of about four feet, and by means of a snare fastened to a tossing-pole, he hangs a rabbit with its hind feet about six inches above the snow. A mixed-bait stick is placed a little farther back, in order to attract the fox, while another trap is set just below the rabbit. The idea of re-setting the first trap in the old position is to put the fox off his guard when he approaches the dead rabbit hanging in the snare. As, no doubt, he has seen a rabbit hang many times before, and snares so baited he has often robbed. The Indian in his extreme care to avoid communicating man-smell k) the rabbit will even remain to leeward of it while he handles it, lest, man-scent should blow against the rabbit and adhere to the fur. If that happened, the fox would be so suspicious that he would not go near the rabbit.
But to illustrate how stupid the white fox of the Arctic coast is in comparison with the coloured fox of the forest, the following story is worth repeating. I t happened near Fort Churchill on the northwest coast of Hudson Bay. The trader at the post had given a certain Eskimo a spoon-bait, or spoon-hook, the first he had ever seen; and as he thought it a very wonderful thing, he always carried it about with him. The next fall, while going along the coast, he saw a pack of white foxes approaching, and having with him neither a trap nor a gun, he thought of his spoon-hook. Tearing a rag off his shirt, he rubbed on it some porpoise oil which he was carrying in a bladder, fastened the rag about the hook, laid it on a log directly in the path of the approaching foxes, and, going to the end of the line, lay down out of sight to watch what would happen. When the foxes drew near, one of them seized the bait, and the Eskimo, jerking the line, caught the fox by the tongue. In that way the native caught six foxes before he returned to the post; but then, as everyone in the Far North knows, white foxes are proverbially stupid creatures_
The more expert: the hunter, the more pride he takes in his work. Before leaving a trap, he will examine its surroundings carefully and decide from which angle he wishes the animal to approach; then by arranging cut brush in a natural way in the snow he will block all other approaches, and thus compel the unsuspecting fox to carry out his wishes.
When a fox springs a trap without being caught, he rarely pauses to eat the bait,, but leaps away in fright. The hunter, however, knowing that the fox will soon return, not only leaves the trap as the fox left it, but sets another trap, or even two more, without bait, close to the first, where he thinks the fox will tread when he makes his second visit. If that fails, he will trace the fox's trail to where it passes between thick brush and there he will set a trap in the usual way, but without bait, right in the fox's track. Then he will cut brush and shore up the natural bushes in such a way that, no other opening being left, the fox must return by his own track, and run the chance of being caught. Should that method also fail, the hunter will set another trap in the trail close to the first, in the hope that if one trap does not catch the fox, the next will.
Another device is to break a bit of glass into tiny slivers which the hunter mixes with grease and forms into little tablets that he leaves on the snow. If the fox scents them, the chances are that he will swallow each tablet at a single gulp. Presently he will feel a pain in his stomach. At first this will cause him to leap about, but as his sufferings will only increase, he will lie down for an hour or so. When he finally rises to move away, he will feel the pain again. Once more he will lie down, and the chances are that he will remain there until found either dead or alive by the hunter.
If my readers, especially my women readers, should feel regret at, the great suffering resulting from fur-hunting, they should recall to mind its chief contributory cause those devotees of fashionable civilization who mince around during the sweltering days of July and August in furs. The mere thought of them once so filled with wrath a former acting Prime Minister of Canada Sir George Foster that he lost his usual flow of suave and classic oratory, and rearing up, roared out in the flouse of Parliament: "Such women get my goat!"
Truly, there is much suffering in the wilderness, especially on account of civilization; but if my readers will be patient enough to wade through these few paragraphs of pain, they may later on find enough novelty, beauty, and charm in the forest to reward them for reading on to the end.
But to return to foxes they are much given to playing dead. Once, while travelling in Athabasca with Caspar Whitney, the noted American writer on Sport and Travel, we came upon a black fox caught in a steel trap. One of our dog-drivers stunned it and covered it with a mound of snow in order to protect its pelt from other animals, so that when the unknown trapper came along he would find his prize in good order. Three days later, when I passed that way, the fox was sitting upon the mound of snow, and was as alive as when first seen. This time, however, my half-breed made sure by first hitting the fox on the snout to stun it, and then gently pressing his moccasined foot over its heart until it was dead the proper way of killing small fur-bearing animals without either injuring the fur or inflicting unnecessary pain.
Colin Campbell, a half-breed at York Factory, once had a different experience. He had been on a visit to an Indian camp with his dog-train and on his way back found a white fox in one of his traps. He stunned it in the usual way and pressed his foot over its heart; and when he was sure it was dead, placed it inside his sled-wrapper and drove home. On arriving at the Fort he unhitched his sled from the dogs, and leaving them harnessed, pulled his sled, still containing its load, into the trading room; where, upon opening the wrapper to remove the load, the fox leaped out and, as the door was closed, bolted in fright straight through the window, carrying the glass with it, and escaped before the dogs could be released from their harness.
There are, however, other ways of catching the fox. One is to chop a hole in the ice on a river or lake, fill the hole with water and place in it a "hung" white-fish, in such a position that, when the water freezes, about one third of the fish will protrude above the ice. Then in the usual way, but without bait or sign, set one or two traps near the fish. When the fox arrives, he may succeed in eating the fish's head, but when he tries to dig the rest of the fish out of the ice, he will become too interested to remain cautious, and in shifting his place of stance will soon be taken prisoner. But sometimes a knowing old fox will first dig about in the snow, and on finding the trap, will thereafter be able to eat the fish in safety.
Mention of the fish bait recalls what strange things occasionalIy happen in relation to hunting. A half-breed hunter, named Pierre Geraud, living near Fort Isle à la Crosse, in laying out his trapping trail one winter, had set one of his mink deadfalls in a swamp close to the water-line; and on visiting the trap after the spring flood, found a large pike caught in it. All the signs showed that when the flood had been at its height the fish had been swimming about, and on discovering the bait set for mink had seized it, and in trying to make away with it had set off the trap, the heavy drop-log falling and killing the fish.
When I expressed surprise that an animal should have intelligence enough not only to find a buried trap, but to dig it up and then spring it without being caught, Oo-koo-hoo explained that it was not so much a matter of animal intelligence as of man's stupidity; for whenever that happened it did not prove to the animal's credit, but to man's discredit; the careless hunter having simply left enough man-smell on the trap to form a guide that told the animal exactly where the trap lay. Then, the overwhelming curiosity of the fox had compelled it to investigate the mystery by digging it up, and when found, the fox in its usual way would play with the strange object; just as a domestic kitten would do, and so the fox would set off the trap.
THE LAST RESORT
On my first trips into the forest, whenever I questioned an Indian hunter as to the cause of this or that, the completeness of his graphic explanation always puzzled me; for I could not understand how it was that when he was not an eye-witness, he knew all the details of the affair as well as though the dead animal itself had told him the full story. But when I, too, began to study Nature's book on woodcraft, it amazed me no longer; for then I realized that to those who had studied enough it was easy to read the drama of the forest; especially in the winter, for then Nature never fails to record i t, and every story is always published just where it happens. Even to those who have not taken the Indian degree in woodcraft, it is not difficult to read in winter time the annals of animal life in the forest, for then Nature describes with ample detail many an interesting story. In winter time, too, even a blind Indian can follow a trail of which a town-bred man with normal sight could see no trace.
If his steel traps fail, the Indian may resort to still another method the gun trap regardless of the fact that this may lessen the value of the animal's pelt. A gun, first carefully cleaned and loaded with the exception of the cap, is placed in a nearly horizontal position about two feet above the snow and lashed securely to two posts; the barrel slanting downward to a point about a foot in height and eight feet away. At that precise spot the bait stick is so fixed that when the fox seizes the bait, its head will be directly in line with the gun-barrel. Fastened to the bait by one end will he a thong, the other end of which will be attached to the trigger, and will discharge the gun when the bait is seized. When all is in readiness, the cap is put on the nipple, and a birch bark shelter arranged to keep the gun-lock free from falling snow. Brush is then placed in the snow in such a way that it will cause the fox to approach from only one direction, and that the one the hunter desires. It is not a good trap, being very uncertain, as whiskey jacks, ermine, mice, or rabbits may meddle with it, and set it off. It is seldom used except for wolverine.
Frequently the value an Indian places upon a certain pelt is determined not according to its quality, but according to the trouble the animal caused him in securing it, and 'for that reason he will sometimes expect more for a red fox pelt than for the skin of a beautiful black fox. Then, in order to retain the Indian's goodwill, the experienced trader will humour him by giving the price asked, and count on making up his loss in another way.
In hunting fur-bearers poison should never be used, since it bleaches the fur and thus reduces its value. Moreover, it is apt to kill in an almost endless chain many forest creatures besides the animal sought, as they may feed on the first victim to the deadly drug.
The hunter's last resort in trapping the coloured fox is to set a snare for him. In setting a snare the Chipewyan and northern Indians always use a tossing-pole, while most of the southern and eastern Indians use a spring-pole; the difference being that a tossing-pole is usually made by bending down a small tree the size of the tree being determined by the size of the game to the top of which is fastened the snare; or the tossing-pole may be made by cutting a pole for that purpose. The result, however, being that the moment the snare is sprung the tossing-pole flies free, and hauling the game into the air, holds it there out of reach of other animals that might rob the hunter of his prize. A spring-pole is made by setting a springy pole in such a position that when the snare is sprung, the tension is released, and the pole, springing up, hauls the animal against a stationary bar set horizontally above the loop of the snare, and holds the quarry there. Many kinds of animals are caught with snares, and in she they run all the way from rabbits to bears and even to the great bull-moose.
HUNTER CAUGHT IN SNARE
Snares, steel traps, and deadfalls that are set for large game are dangerous even for man to approach carelessly, and some-times even the trapper himself has the misfortune to be caught in the very trap he has set for some other animal. Early one winter, in fact, just after the first heavy snowfall, and while some bears were still roaming about, before turning in for their long winter sleep, an Indian hunter I have forgotten his name assisted by his son, had just set a powerful snare for bears. Soon after starting for home, the hunter, discovering that he had left his pipe by the trap, told his son to go on to camp, and he would return to recover his treasure. On arriving at the snare, he saw his pipe lying just beyond his reach at the back of the loop, hut instead of walking round the brush fence and picking it up from behind, as he should have done, he foolishly put his leg through the snare in order to reach and dislodge his pipe. By some evil chance his foot caught upon the loop; and instantly he was violently jerked, heels over head, into the air, and there hung head downward struggling for his life. He had made the tossing-pole from a strong tree, up which his son had climbed with a line, and by their combined weight they had forced the tree top over and down until they could secure it by setting the snare. The tossing-pole, when the snare went off, sprung up with such force that it not only dislocated the hunter's right leg at the knee, but it threw his knife out of its sheath, and, consequently, he had no means by which he could cut the lime, nor could he unfasten it or even climb up for he was hanging clear of the tree. Presently, however, he began to bleed from the nose and ears; and in his violent effort to struggle free, he noticed that he was swinging from side to side; then it dawned upon him that if he could only increase the radius of his swing he might manage to reach and seize hold of the tree, climb up to slacken the line, unfasten the snare, and set himself free. This, after much violent effort, he finally accomplished; but even when he reached the ground, everything seemed utterly hopeless, for on account of his dislocated leg, he could not walk. So there he lay all night long. During twilight, as fate ordained, the wounded man had a visitor; it was a hear, and no doubt the very bear for which he had set his snare. But the bear, in approaching, did not notice the man until it was almost on top of him, and then it became so frightened that it tore up into a neighbouring tree and there remained for hours. By midnight, however, it came down, and then it was the suffering hunter's turn to become alarmed, for the big brute passed very close to him before it finally walked away. A little after sunrise the hunter's son arrived, but not being able to carry his father, and fearing lest the bear might return before he could secure help, he decided to leave his father there, while he went in search of the bear. Tracking it, he soon came upon it and shot it dead. Back he hastened to camp and, with his mother, returned with a sled and hauled the wounded man home.
THE FOX AT HOME
The "coloured" foxes, including the red, the cross, the silver, and the black the latter three being merely colour phases of the former and not separate species, as has frequently been proved, but all four having been found in the same litter mate in February and March. They pair and remain faithful partners. The father also helps in feeding and caring for the young which are born about fifty days after the mating season. The litter contains from three to ten, and when a few weeks old the young are as playful and as interesting as domestic kittens. The den in which they are born may be a hollow tree, a hollow log, or more often an underground tunnel with several entrances and a storeroom besides the living chamber. The nest is never lined, but left quite bare and is kept clean. Their principal food is derived from mice, birds, fowl, and rabbits; and the parents frequently cache food for both their young and them-selves. No wonder they are good providers, for what with their keen sense of scent and their great speed they seldon fail in their hunts. They are fond of open country and have an individual range of very few miles, perhaps ten at the most. In winter they run singly until the mating season; seldom are the tracks of more than two foxes seen together, and their principal enemies are men, wolves, lynxes, and dogs.
As the district through which we were passing was rich in fox-signs, Oo-koo-hoo set a number of traps. Such work takes time, and when we reached a well-wooded grove of second-growth birch, poplars, and along a little creek willows, we began to think of where we should camp for the night. Besides, the old hunter deemed it an ideal spot in which to set lynx and rabbit snares. So while the boys cut wood for the fire and brush for our beds, and then turned to the cooking of supper, Oo-koo-hoo cut a great mass of birch, poplar, and willow branches and tops, and threw them into piles, not only to at-tract the rabbits thither, but to afford them a prolonged feast for many weeks, and thus fatten them for his own use; more-over, the gathering of the rabbits would prove a strong attraction for the lynxes of the region. Sometimes, at such a spot, hundreds of rabbits will feed, and in winter time the place may become such a network of runways that if it happens to be a fairly open hillside one can see from half a mile away the shadows of the endless tracks that mark the glistening snow in all directions.
During the years of great plenty which the Indians and traders assert come about every seventh year the number of rabbits in some sections of the northern forest is almost beyond belief. Then a plague suddenly overtakes them, almost wiping them out of existence, and several years elapse before the disease disappears and they begin to increase again. The plague, of course, is the rabbit's greatest enemy, then follows the lynx, the fox, the wolf, and many other animals and even birds such as the owl and the hawk; but somewhere among that destructive group man plays a prominent part.
THE RABBIT AND THE HUNTER
The rabbit, or more properly the varying-hare, of the north-ern forest is also called the snowshoe rabbit, from the fact that nature has provided it with remarkable feet that allow it to run with ease over the deepest and softest snow. It wears a coat that changes colour with the changing seasons: brown in summer and white in winter. Its food is derived principally from the bark of the poplar, the willow, and the birch. In winter time rabbits are found to be fattest when the moon is full, and that is accounted for by the fact that they feed at night, and feed most when the moon is giving light. Besides, on stormy nights, especially between moons, they remain more under cover and feel less inclined to venture out even to secure their needed food. In all the north woods there is no animal that is of more use to man, beast, or bird, than the rabbit, nor is there any animal that is so friendly to all alike; yet no other creature of the wilderness is so preyed upon as the rabbit. But in winter its safety lies not so much in the great speed it. possesses as in its snowshoe feet and in its skill in dodging. Rabbits mate in March and April, the usual litter of three or four being born about; a month later. The nest is usually on the ground in some sheltered place under brushwood that forms a good protection, and the nest is lined with leaves, grass, or their own cast-off fur.
A rabbit snare is made of fine babiche, sinew, cord, or wire, and the loop is hung over a rabbit runway just high enough to catch it round the neck. In its struggles it sets off the spring or tossing-pole, thus usually ending its sufferings. When thus caught the flesh is tender and sweet; but when caught by a leg the flesh is flabby and tasteless, the reason being that when caught by the neck the rabbit is killed almost instantly ; but when snared by a leg it hangs struggling in pain for hours before it finally bleeds at the nose and dies, or is frozen to death. When the latter happens, however, the rabbit is usually thrown to a dog or used for trap bait. The reason Oo-koo-hoo set the rabbit snares was not so much for present needs as to provide meals for the hunter while on his future rounds; also to keep on hand a goodly supply of trap bait.
Expert hunters, when they have time, prefer to hunt rabbits by calling them. In the rutting season they imitate the love-call of the female, and in other seasons they mimic the cries of the young; in either case, the unsuspecting animals come loping from all directions, and the hunter bowls them over with fine shot. Calling takes much practice, but when the hunter has become an adept, it is the easiest and the quickest way of catching them.
In relation to setting snares for rabbits, Mrs. Wm. Cornwallis King, the wife of a well-known Hudson's Bay Company's chief trader, once had an unusual experience. She had set for rabbits a number of snares made of piano wire, and when visiting them one morning she was astonished and delighted, too, to find caught in one of her snares a beautiful silver fox; stranger still, the fox was caught by its tongue. As usual, after investigation, the snow told the whole story in a graphic way. It showed that the fox had been pursuing a rabbit, both going on the full run, and the latter always dodging in the effort to escape from its enemy. Finally, the rabbit had bolted past the snare, and the panting fox, with its tongue hanging out, following close behind, accidentally had touched its wet tongue against the wire, and the frost of many degrees below zero had instantly frozen it there. Then the fox, struggling to get free, had set off the snare, which closing on its tongue had hauled it into the air, where it had hung with just the tip of its tail and its hind toes resting on the snow. When Mrs. King found it, it was dead.
Thai, evening, when the fire sank low and we turned in, a pack of timber wolves for fully an hour sang us a most interesting lullaby ; such a one, indeed, that it made the goose-flesh run up and down our backs or rather my back just as really fine music always does; and to tell the truth, I enjoyed it more than many a human concert I have heard.
HUNTING THE LYNX
It was cool next morning and cloudy and threatening snow. Five rabbits had been caught during the night, and after break-fast we turned to setting lynx snares. The steel trap is set for the lynx much in the same way as it is for the fox; but for the lynx, a snare is preferable. It is set with or without a tossing-pole, at the entrance of a brush lodge, the base of which is about five feet wide. The bait used is made by rubbing beaver castorum on a bit of rabbit skin placed in a split stick set vertically in the centre of the lodge. A surer way, however, is to also set a steel trap in front of the lodge door, so that if the lynx does not enter, he may be caught while looking in. The Indians often hunt them with dogs, for, when pursued, the lynx soon takes to a tree and then is easily shot. But the most proficient hunters like to hunt them by calling. They imitate its screech and also its whistle, for the lynx whistles some-what like a jack-rabbit, though the sound is coarser and louder. Some Indians are very successful in this mode of hunting.
Besides being able to whistle, the lynx far surpasses the domestic cat in the range and volume of his evening song; and during the rutting season, at sunrise and sunset, he has a peculiar habit of beating or drumming with his forepaws on the hard snow or earth. No doubt it is a form of challenge, used much in the same way as the drumming of cock-grouse; martens and rabbits do the same. The lynx is a wonderful swimmer and is dangerous to tackle in the water, for he can turn with remarkable agility, and board a canoe in a moment. Of all northern animals he is perhaps the most silent walker, for in the night a band of five or six lynxes may pass close beside one's tent and never be heard, though a single rabbit, passing at the same distance, may make enough noise to awaken a sound sleeper. Though he often behaves like a coward, hunters approach him with care when he is caught in a steel trap, as he can make a great spring and when he chooses, can fight desperately. While in summer he is a poor runner, in winter he is greatly aided by his big feet, which act as snow-shoes and help him over the soft snow and the deep drifts. Few animals succeed in killing him, for what with his unusual speed in water and the fact that he can climb a tree with almost the ease of a monkey, his chances of escape are always good.
Lynxes mate in March, the young being born about three months later, the litter consisting of from one to five. The father assists in the support of the kittens, which are much like those of the domestic cat. The lynx's coat is gray mottled with brown, but in winter it turns a lighter colour; in weight he runs from thirty-five to forty-five pounds. His principal food is derived from rabbits and any other animals he cari kill, from beaver down, as well as grouse, ptarmigan, and other birds and fowl; occasionally he will tackle the young of deer, but he never dares to molest man. When his catch is more than sufficient for his present need, he caches the remainder in snow or earth for future use. He is as cleanly as a house cat, and his flesh when cooked resembles a cross between rabbit and veal.
After setting a number of snares for lynxes we resumed our march, and on rounding the end of a little lake, saw two fresh moose-tracks. Following them up, we finally came to a park-like region, where was very little underbrush, and where most of the trees were pine and spruce an ideal spot. for marten. So Oo-koo-hoo, forgetting all about his moose-tracks, made ready to set some marten traps.
For one marten an Indian catches in a steel trap he catches a dozen in wooden deadfalls; but with the white trapper it is different he relies chiefly on the steel traps. Steel traps are set either in the open or in the tracks of the marten in exactly the same way as for foxes, and either with or without tossing-poles. The largest and best deadfalls used by the Indians are those they set for bears. The city-dwelling author, or illustrator, who has not lived in the wilderness, would never think of depicting an Indian trapper with a big hand-auger hanging from his belt, perhaps no more than he would depict a pirate armed with a big Bible; yet, nevertheless, it is a fact that the Indian trapper nowadays carries an auger much as the old buccaneer carried his cutlass thrust through his belt. Somehow or other, I never could associate Oo-koo-hoo's big wooden-handled auger with his gun and powder-horn, and all the while I was curious as to what use he was going to make of it. Now I was to have my curiosity satisfied.
First he selected an evergreen tree about a foot in diameter this time it was a pine and with his axe cut a horizontal notch one to two inches deep; then he blazed the tree six or eight inches down to the notch, in order to form a smooth, flat surface; then he took his big auger and bored down into the tree, at an incline of about twenty degrees, a hole of two inches' diameter and nine inches deep. Allowing at that spot for two feet of snow, he had bored the hole about thirty inches aboveground. Then taking two inch-and-a-quarter, thin, sharp-pointed nails he drove them obliquely into the tree just above the hole, so that about three quarters of each protruded into the hole. He did the same with two other nails below the hole, but this time drove them upward until they, too, protruded into the hole. Both sets of nails were driven in about an inch and a quarter apart.. The bait used was a duck's head placed at the bottom of the hole. The idea was that when the marten scented the bait, he would crawl into the hole to secure it; but when he tried to withdraw, he would find himself entrapped by the four sharp-pointed nails that, though they allowed him to slip in, now prevented him from backing out as they ran into his flesh, and held him until the hunter, placing two fingers of each hand over the four nail-points, seizing with his teeth the animal's tail, and throwing back his head, would draw his victim out. But such work is rather risky, as the hunter may be bitten before he has a chance to kill the marten.
Though it is a very recent mode of trapping only about thirty-five years old it is now considered the best of all ways for taking marten, as the traps not only remain set all winter, but they last for years. Later I learned from a chief factor that it was invented by a Saulteaux Indian named Ke-now-keoose, who was at one time employed as a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company, where he learned the use of carpenter's tools later, when he left the service, he hunted and trapped along the Athabasca, the Slave, and the Mackenzie rivers. Sometimes twenty-five to thirty such traps are set by a hunter in a single day. Mink and ermine are often caught in them, and on one occasion even a wolverine was taken. The wolverine, having scented the bait, followed it up, and while endeavouring to secure the dainty duck's head, thrust his forepaw into the hole and was thus taken prisoner.
Oo-koo-hoo took pains to teach the boys every thing in relation to trapping, and as soon as he was sure they had mastered the details of setting such traps, he went ahead with his axe to blaze the right trees, while the boys followed with the auger, and in the work of boring the holes and driving the nails took turn and turn about. But after all, the old-fashioned deadfall is more humane than any other way of trapping, as it often ends the animal's suffering at once by killing it outright, instead of holding it a prisoner till it starves or is frozen to death, before the hunter arrives on his usual weekly round of that particular trapping path.
Martens mate in February or March, the young being born about three months later, either in a hole in the ground or in a hollow tree; the nest being lined with moss, grass, or leaves, and the litter numbering usually from two to four. The marten is a wonderfully energetic little animal, even more tireless than the squirrel and as great a climber. It is an expert hunter and its food includes birds, fish, chipmunks, birds' eggs, mice, fruit, and rabbits; and it stores its surplus food by burying it.
MINK ON THE FUR TRAIL
By the time Oo-koo-hoo and his grandsons had set twelve or fifteen traps it was nearing noon, so we had lunch before starting off in search of another rich game region. While on our way that afternoon the old hunter again discovered signs of wolverines and it worried him, for it meant not only the destruction of many of his traps, but also the ruining of the pelts of some of the animals he might catch. Continuing, we soon entered an ideal valley for mink, where two turbulent little crystal streams roared at one another as they sprang together among the rocks and then fell down into dark, eddying pools where, no doubt, trout leaped after flies in due season.
The mink is a small animal, about two feet long, including his tail. In colour he is of a dark, rich brown. Though he is not a swift runner and is rather a poor climber, he is an excel-lent swimmer and is a desperate fighter of great strength. Minks mate in February and March; the female burrowing in a bank, a rocky crevice, or beneath a log or a stump, or perhaps in a hollow tree; the nest is lined with moss, feathers, or grass, and the young are born about forty days after the mating season. The minks' food may be flesh, fish, or fowl and, if overstocked, it is stored for future use.
On land, the mink is caught exactly as the fox, the fisher, or the marten is caught, except, of course, that there is a difference in the size of the traps. In water, the steel trap is set just be-low the surface and rests on the muddy or sandy bottom, where it is half covered with soil as it lies in readiness close to the bank where the mink is in the habit of passing in and out of the stream. Mixed bait is placed on the branches of the near-by bushes. In order, however, to better his chances of catching the mink, the hunter may build a deadfall near the trap, where the animal is in the habit of entering the bush. Then extra bait of rancid fish or duck is used. This mode of water-trapping applies, also, to muskrat, otter, and beaver. The mink, however, is a stupid creature, and it does not require great skill to trap him; but. the hunter, nevertheless, must take care when removing him from the trap, for the little brute has the heart of a lion and will tackle anything, regardless of size.
We camped that night on the hillside overlooking "Mink Creek" as Oo-koo-hoo called it, and next morning we again set. out on our circular way, for on leaving our lodges, we first headed almost due west for about three miles, then we turned south for two more, and gradually working round, we were soon facing east; that course we followed for a day, then on the morrow w e worked round toward the north, and finally to the west again, as we neared home. Thus the trapping path was laid in an elliptic form, somewhat suggesting the letter C, with the home camp between the two ends of the letter. Many times during the winter circumstances proved the wisdom of Oo-koo-hoo's plan, especially when the sled became over-loaded with game, and a short cut to camp became desirable. Though no part of his fur path lay more than five miles from the lodges, yet to make the full circuit on showshoes, to examine the traps, and to set some of them, it required a long day, as the path must have covered in a zig-zagging way more than twenty miles. Later on he and Amik laid out, two more such trapping paths: one to the north and the other to the east of Bear Lake. The one to the northward was to be especially for bears and wolves as it was a good region for both those animals. At sup-per time a snow flurry overtook us and whitened the forest. As we sat around the fire that evening, the last evening of our trip, Oo-koo-hoo again began worrying about the presence of wolverines, recalling many of his experiences with those destructive animals. But none of his stories equalled the following, told once by Chief Factor Thompson.
It happened years ago when an old Dog-rib Indian, called Meguir, was living and hunting in the vicinity of Fort Rae on Great Slave Lake. The Dog-rib and his family of five had been hunting Barren Ground Caribou, and after killing, skinning, and cutting up a number of deer, had built a stage upon which they placed the venison. Moving on and encountering another herd of caribou, they killed again, and cutting up the game, stored it this time in a log cache. Again setting out on the hunt for they were laying in their supply of deer meat for the winter they again met with success; but as it was in a district devoid of trees, they simply covered the meat with brush; and while Meguir and his wife set off to haul the first lot of meat to camp, the three grandchildren set to work to haul in the last. On continuing their work the next day the children brought in word that a wolverine, or carcajou, had visited the log cache; so Meguir set off at once to investigate the story.
When he arrived, he found the cache torn asunder, and the meat gone. Wolverine tracks were plentiful and mottled the snow in many directions, but on circling, Meguir found a trail that led away, and on following it up, he came upon a quarter of deer. He circled again, trailed another track, found more meat, and after a few hours' work he had recovered most of the venison; but on smelling it, he found that the wolverine, in its usual loathsome way, had defiled the meat. Then, on going to his stage, Meguir found that it, too, had been visited by the wolverine, as the stage had been torn down and the meat defiled. Indignantat the outrage, the old Dog-rib determined to hunt the carcajou and destroy it. But before doing so, he made sure that all his deer meat was hauled to camp and safely stored upon the stages beside his lodge. That night, however, his old wife woke up with a start and hearing the dogs growling, looked out, and discovered a strange animal scrambling down from one of the stages. At once she screamed to her old man to get his gun as fast as The Master of Life would let him, as the wolverine was robbing them again.
Half-awake, and that half all excitement, the old man rushed out into the snow with his muzzle-loading flintlock and let drive. Instantly one of his dogs fell over. Roaring with rage, the old Indian re-loaded with all speed, and catching another glimpse of the wolverine in the faint light of the Aurora Borealis, let drive again; but as ill-luck would have it, the gun went off just as another of his dogs made a gallant charge, and once more a dog fell dead and the wolverine got away!
Nothing would now do but that the old man must seek his revenge at the earliest possible moment, so when dawn broke he was already following the trail of the malicious raider. All day he trailed it through the snow, and just before dusk the tracks told him that he was very near his quarry; but rather than run the risk of firing in a poor light, he decided not to despatch the brute until daylight came.
According to the northern custom, when he camped that night, he stood his gun and snowshoes in the snow far enough away to prevent their being affected by the heat of the fire. In the morning his snowshoes were gone. Tracks, however, showed that the wolverine had taken them. Again the old mari trailed the thief; but without snowshoes, the going was extra hard, and it was afternoon before he stumbled upon one of his snowshoes lying in the snow, and quite near his former camp, as the "Great Mischief Maker" had simply made a big circuit and come back again. But of what use was one snowshoe? So the old hunter continued his search, and late that day found the other damaged beyond repair.
That night, filled with rage and despondency, he returned to his old camp, and as usual placed his gun upright in the snow away from the heat of the fire. In the morning it was gone. New tracks marked the snow and showed where the carcajou had dragged it away. Several hours later the old man found it with its case torn to ribbons, the butt gnawed, and the trigger broken.
Tired, hungry, dejected, and enraged, old Meguir sought his last night's camp to make a fire and to rest awhile; but when he got there he found he had lost his fire bag containing his flint and steel his wherewithal for making fire. Again he went in search, but fresh-falling snow had so obliterated the trail and so hindered his progress, that it was late before he recovered his treasure, and regained his dead fireplace. Yet still the wolverine was at large.
But instead of thinking of wreaking his rage upon the wolverine, the poor old Indian was so completely intimidated by the wily brute, so discouraged and so despondent, that he imagined that the whole transaction was the work of some evil spirit. As a result, he not only gave up hunting the wolverine, but he gave up hunting altogether, and he and his family would have starved had not friends come to their rescue and rendered them assistance until his grandsons were old enough to take charge.
PREPARING FOR WINTER
After our return to the home-camp we experienced several weeks of perfect Indian summer, and its passing was marked by one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I have ever seen. It happened when the deciduous trees were at their height of autumnal glory, and when as though to add still more to the wonderful scene three inches of clinging snow having fallen during the night, glittered under the brilliant morning sun. Truly it was a glory to behold a perfect panorama of rioting greens, yellows, browns, blues, reds, grays, crimsons, purples, in fact, every colour which an artist's palette could carry; and through it all was ever woven a mass of lace-like brilliant white that dazzled the eyes of the beholder. Only once in fifty years have I beheld a scene so enchanting.
Next day, however, a strong wind blew wild-looking leaden clouds over the forest, and Autumn, taking fright, threw aside her gorgeous rustling mantle and fled away; while the loons on the lake fairly shrieked with laughter.
Meanwhile, the work in preparation for the coming of winter had made good progress. Already the women and children had laid out their own little trapping paths principally for ermine, rabbits, partridges, muskrats, and skunks, the game found nearest camp; and many another thing had the women attended to. Though they still possessed the sticking-plaster and the painkiller supplied by the trader, they refused to rely on the white man's trivial cure-alls, as they could gather better remedies from their own woods. Their chief reason for buying "painkiller" was that they, like other Indians, relished it. as a cocktail on festival occasions; and many a time have I seen a group of Indians Pike civilized society people topping off cocktails (of painkiller) before sitting down to dinner.
In case of illness, however, the Indians resort much to bleeding, and this is the mode of operation: a sharp flint is fastened to the split end of a stick, a U-shaped piece of wood is laid over the intended spot, and the thickness of the wood determines the depth of the incision. The flint end of the stick is raised while the other end is held down in such a way as to bend the stick; on releasing the end containing the flint, the stick strikes down-ward and drives the flint into the flesh to the required depth and no more. The bowl of a pipe is then applied to the cut, and the blood is drawn off through the stem. Young birch roots boiled in a second water make a tea which they sweeten with sugar and use as a laxative. Yellow water-lily roots are boiled until a black sediment forms somewhat similar to iodine in appearance and with a feather dipped in this liquid wounds are painted in order to consume proud flesh and to prevent mortification. The upper tips about four inches long of juniper trees having been boiled, and the outer bark removed, the inner bark is scraped off and mashed up for poultices. The liquor in which the juniper has been boiled is employed for washing wounds, as it causes the rapid formation of a healing cicatrix. To cure colic, the dried root of the "rat root" is chewed, and the juice swallowed.
Among other work that was well under way was the making of the moccasins, known as the "mitten moccasin" by far the best for snowshoeing, as the seam runs round only the outer side of the foot and leaves no puckering above the toes to cause blistering. True, the mitten moccasin is not of the Ojibway style, but Mrs. Oo-koo-hoo had Iearned to make it when she and her husband formerly sojourned among the Wood-Crees on the upper Athabasca.
Supplying the family with socks was a very easy affair, as these articles were simply rectangular shapes, 12 x 18 inches (for adults) cut from duffle—a woollen material resembling an extra closely woven H.B.C. blanket and worn wrapped about the foot. Such socks have an advantage over the ordinary kind as they are more easily dried, and they wear much longer, as the sock can be shifted about every time the wearer puts it on, thus warding off the evil day when holes appear.
Amik, during the summer, had made a number of snowshoe frames, and now the women were lacing them. They used fine caribou thongs, especially fine for the heel and toe. I have seen snowshoes that white men have strung with cord; but cord is of little use, for cord, or rope, shrinks when wet and stretches when dry, whereas deerskin stretches when wet and shrinks when drying. Of all deerskin, however, that of caribou stretches -less when wet than any other; besides, it is much stronger and that is why it makes the best mesh for snowshoes. In lacing a shoe, a wooden needle is used, but the eye, instead of being at one end, is in the centre. Amik had also started work on several hunting sleds of the toboggan type the only kind used by the natives of the Great Northern Forest. They are made of birch wood and not of birch bark, as a noted American author asserted in one of his books on northern life.
A hunting sled is made of two thin boards, split from a birch log by using wooden wedges, and the boards are shaved flat and smooth, first with the aid of a very sharp axe and then with a crooked knife. A hunting sled is ten to twelve inches wide, and commonly eight feet long. The widest part of the sled is at the first cross-bar, then it tapers both ways, an inch less at the tail, and four or five inches less at the end of its gracefully curved prow. That is done to prevent jamming among trees. The two boards are fastened to four cross-bars with deerskin thongs, never with pegs or nails, and the ground-lashing is made fast to the cross-bars. A wrapper of deerskin is provided in which to lash the load. The lashing thong is eighteen to twenty feet in length. Dog-sleds are made much longer, and up to about sixteen inches in width, and are provided with an extra line that trails out behind, by which the driver holds back the sled when going down hill, in order to prevent it from over-running the dogs. A hunting-sled, however, is usually hauled by man by means of a looped strap, or tump-line, with a broad centre which goes over the hunter's shoulders or head, and has its two ends fastened to the first cross-bar below the prow.
During the next few days Oo-koo-hoo and Amik had also finished setting their traps, snares, and deadfalls for all the furred creatures of the woods, including wolves and bears. Already the camp had taken on a business-like air, for the big stretching frames for the skins of moose, bear, and caribou had been erected near the lodges; and as the hunters had secured both moose and caribou, the frames were already in use. Trapping had begun in earnest, and though fairly successful a number of fine skins having been already taken the hunters were still worried over the wolverines. On one path alone they had found nothing but a fox's foot, and the tails of four martens; besides, several of their traps were missing. In another place, where they had dressed a caribou killed by Oo-koo-hoo, and had left the meat overnight for the women and boys to haul in next day, wolverines had found it and defiled it in their usual way.
The women, too, had had their troubles as owls had visited their snares, and robbed them of many a pelt_ Worse in some respects than the wolverine is the owl, for while the wolverine leaves a track that one can trail, and either find what is left of the game, or overtake and punish the marauder, the owl leaves no trail at all, and though he frequently eats only the brain or eyes of the game, he has a habit of carrying the game away and dropping it in the distant woods where it is seldom found. So the women took to setting steel traps on the ends of upright poles upon which they judged the owls would alight, as these birds are much given to resting upon the tips of "ram-pikes," and in that way they had caught several.
One evening early in November, after a hard day's travel through a big storm of wet, clinging snow, we sat by the fire in Oo-koo-hoo's lodge, and happily commented on the fact that we had got everything in good shape for the coming of winter. Next morning, when we went outside, we found that everything was covered with a heavy blanket of clinging snow, and the streams and the lake beginning to freeze over. We found, also, to our amazement that a big bull-moose had been standing on the bank of Muskrat Creek and watching the smoke rising from our lodges as the fires were lighted at sunrise just as I have shown in my painting.
After a hurried breakfast, we three men set out in pursuit of the moose which we overtook within a mile, and then there was meat to haul on sleds to our camp_ That day the temperature fell rapidly, and by night the little streams were strongly frozen, and around the lake the ice stretched far out from the shore. So we gathered up the canoes and stored them for the winter upside down upon stages made for the purpose; and that night before we turned in we saw, for the first time that season, Akwutinoowe "The Freezing Moon."