Oo-koo-hoo Plays The Game
( Originally Published 1921 )
TRAILING THE BEAR
"MY son, a good hunter is never long in doubt; for when he discovers a bear track and follows it for a few hundred paces, he knows whether the track was made by day or by night, whether the bear was large or small, old or young, male or female; whether its coat was in condition or not ; whether the beast was merely wandering or travelling with a purpose in view; whether it was frightened or undisturbed; whether going fast or slow; and whether seeking friends or food. Also, the hunter knows which way the wind was blowing when the track was made, he knows whether the bear felt tired or active, and, furthermore, whether or not it wanted to go to bed."
I laughed aloud.
Instantly the old man's kindly face was clouded with a frown and he exclaimed :
"My son . . . that was the laugh of a monias (green-horn) ", and glaring at me, he added: "At first, I thought better of you, but now I am sure that all white men are fools!"
Realizing my mistake, I sobered, and suggested that, if he would explain I would have a chance to learn the ways of a great hunter.
" My son, it is a simple matter to read a track that is, when one has learned the game. For then one has but to look, re-member, and reason, and then the whole story unfolds before your eyes; just as when you open and read what you white men call a book. And some day, my son, if you try hard to learn, you, too, may be able to read the tales of the Strong Woods Country. Now listen to your grandfather and he will explain: under ordinary conditions a deep, clear track implies action; a faint, shallow one, inaction; the length of the stride indicates the speed; if, when travelling slow, hair is found upon the under-wood, the animal passed at night, for in daylight a bear is as careful as a lynx to avoid striking things; if the bear is young or middle aged, the claw marks are sharp and clean cut; if it is old, they are blunt and blurred. The tracks of the male, though larger, are not so round as those of the female, and the male's toes are not only longer and spread farther apart, but the underside of his foot is not so hairy as that of his mate. Then, too, as you know, there are other signs by which a tracker tells the sex of his quarry. Now if the bear was travelling with a definite purpose in mind, he would travel straight, or as nearly straight as he could through the woods, and in order to save time, he might even occasionally climb a tree to spy out the lay of the land as he frequently does. Then, again, if he were feeding, the ground and growth beside his trail would show it; if suddenly startled, he would leave the familiar sign that all large animals usually leave when frightened; and, moreover, it would be left within fifty paces of the place where he took fright. Furthermore, if he were tired and wanted to rest, he would begin circling down wind, so that he could come about close to his back trail, and then lie down, facing down wind, in such a position that he could see anything he could not scent, and scent anything he could not see. Thus if an enemy approached, his eyes would guard his front while his scent would guard his rear. And now, my son, as a bear usually travels up wind, even a monias of a white man could surmise which way the wind was blowing when the track was made. And always remember, my son, that only fools laugh at common sense.
But don't get discouraged, keep on trying hard to learn, and then perhaps some day, if you live long enough, you may be-come almost as wise as an ordinary Indian."
The perfect season for hunting the black bear, and in fact all other fur-bearing animals, is between the coming of the snow in late autumn and the going of the snow in early spring, for during that intervening season the coat is in its prime; but as the bear spends much of the winter in hibernation, the hunter must make the best of his two short opportunities; that is, unless he already knows where the bear will "den up," and is counting on killing him in his o-wazhe or as the white hunters and traders call it "wash " his den. His wash may consist of a hollow tree or a hollow log, a cave, or any suitable shelter formed by an uprooted tree.
The finest wash I ever saw was in the woods of Quebec, where, many years ago, three birch saplings had taken root in a huge, hollow pine stump, and where, as time passed, the stump, gradually decaying, had allowed the roots of the fast-growing birches to penetrate through the cracks in the stump to the ground. The roots eventually formed the rafters of a moss-and rotten-wood chinked, water-tight roof to the little cavern in which the old pine stump had once stood and where two winters ago slept a bear. There was but a single entrance between two of the now massive birch roots, and it must have proved a tight squeeze when its tenant last entered. The den was shown to me by a hunter who the spring before had happened that way. While pausing to listen to some distant sound, he had heard a stranger one within ten feet of where he stood. He had heard deep breathing and turning to look down at the roots of the birches, he had discovered a full-grown black bear lying there with its head protruding out of the den. The head was turned toward him and the eyes were fixed upon him with a friendly expression. Without moving a single step the hunter raised his rifle and fired, instantly killing the bear that lay motionless scarcely beyond the muzzle of his gun.
THE TRUTH ABOUT BEARS
The black bear's coat is all of a glossy black, save just the muzzle, which is Iight brown. In weight the black bear runs from two hundred to five hundred pounds. Though he is found throughout the Great Northern Forest, he is a comparative stay-at-home, for he seldom roams, even in summer time, more than ten miles from his den, where, if undisturbed, he goes into the same winter quarters, year after year. Consequently, his paths are often clearly defined and well-beaten, for he has the habit of treading repeatedly in his old tracks, and occasionally he blazes his trail by clawing and biting, as high as he can reach, a neighbouring tree. There, too, he frequently leaves other signs as a dog does at a post. Dog like, also, other bears that happen along manifest pleasure or rage according to whether the sign has been left by friend or foe. The mating season is in June, though the female rarely bears young except every second year. The young are born in January while the mother is hibernating; and the cubs, usually two in number, are at. birth very small, weighing only about ten ounces. The she-bear makes a good mother, for though she shows great affection for her babies, she nevertheless reprimands them, and cuffs them as well, whenever they misbehave or fail to comply with her wishes. The cubs are easily tamed, and being natural little romps, they soon become proficient wrestlers and boxers, and in latter years, show so much agility in the manly art that they strike and parry with amazing power, speed, and skill. When hurt, however, the cubs whimper and cry just like children, and if the little tots are badly wounded, the distress of the mother is pitiful to see, for she moans and sheds tears just as any tender-hearted human mother would. Bear-cubs are droll little mischiefs. Not only do they, when tamed, frequently get into trouble through the pranks they play, but they like to imitate at any risk to them-selves the doings of others. As the following example shows:
Years ago, near Fort Pelly, on the Assiniboine River, an old Indian killed a she-bear that was followed by two cubs. Though he skinned and cut up the carcass of the mother, he did riot touch the whimpering babes, and on going to camp, he sent his wife out with a horse to bring in the meat. When the Indian woman arrived at the spot, she found the two cubs cuddled up against the dressed meat of their mother, and crying as if their poor hearts would break. Their affectionate behaviour so touched the motherly heart of the old woman that, after loading the meat aboard the travois a framework of poles stretched out behind the horse she picked up the sobbing children and, wrapping them in a blanket to keep them from falling off the travois, bestrode her horse, arid brought them whimpering into camp.
For some time she kept them tethered beside her lodge where she took good care of them, but when they grew larger and seemed well behaved, she released them and allowed them to run and play with the dogs around camp. In the fall it was her habit to take a hand-net and go down to the river to fish. Standing upon a rock and every once in a while casting in her net, she would land a fish on the bank. For several days the cubs watched her with interest, and then one day, it seems, they decided they ought to try and help their foster-mother; so wading in on their hind legs till the water covered their little round tummies, they would stand perfectly still until a fish would swim near. Then they would make a violent lunge for it, and striking lightning-like blows with their paws, they, too, would land a fish upon the bank. Over and over they repeated the manoeuvre, with evident excitement and pleasure. At last, every time the old woman picked up her net to go fishing, these two went along and helped her with her work. So fond of the sport did they become that, presently, they didn't even wait for her to accompany them, but scurried down to the river by themselves and would often have a day's fishing caught and ready for her before she had put in her appearance.
But a few months later, when the cubs had grown still larger and stronger, they became so boisterous and mischievous that they not only handled the dogs too roughly, but when the old Indian and his wife left camp at any time, they went on the rampage : chasing the dogs about, ransacking the larder, turning the camp topsy-turvy, and scattering everything in con-fusion. So the old couple decided that it was now high time to put their skins upon the skin-stretcher in readiness to sell to the fur-trader.
The black bear is a good swimmer and an excellent tree climber, and the speed with which he can rush up a hillside is surprising. His diet is a varied one, for he is always ready to eat vegetables, roots, berries, insects, nuts, fish, eggs, meat, fruit, and of course sugar or honey; furthermore, he is a killer of small game when he is extra-hungry. The black bear has been given so bad a name by uninformed writers and dishonest story-tellers that most people dread to meet him in the woods; whereas, in truth he is usually more frightened at meeting human beings than they are of meeting him for man is always his greatest and most dangerous enemy. Though I have seen many bears in the bush seventeen on one trip they never caused me any anxiety, and at once took flight. But on one of two rare occasions they did not run, perhaps because they were three in number and all full-grown.
It happened up on the borderline of Alaska. I was walking alone through the mountains on my way to Stewart, and wishing to cross the Marmot River, I took advantage of a great, permanent snowslide that had been annually added to by avalanches from the snow-capped glaciers. The snowslide not only completely blocked the canon, but on either side it reached many hundreds of feet up the almost perpendicular mountains, yet in the middle, where it bridged the river, it was no more than two hundred feet high, though it was about two thousand feet in width. Year in and year out that great snow-bridge spanned the little river, and now when I wanted to make use of it, I had no sooner started over than I discovered three bears with the same intention. They, too, had just come out of the woods, and were only forty paces from me —as I afterward measured. We were all going in the same direction, and though we were exactly opposite one another and all walking in a parallel line, no one ran, and for two thousand feet or more, without stick or stone between us, we had a good opportunity to study each other. As usual, I was armed as I always take care to he with a penknife and a pocket handkerchief.
Occasionally one reads in the daily press shocking stories of the ferocity of bears. What a pity that the truth of these stories cannot always be run to earth! Billy Le Heup, a prospector arid guide of northern Ontario, once having occasion to call for his mail in a little backwoods settlement, opened a newspaper and was shocked to learn that a most harrowing affliction had befallen an old friend of his, by name But I'm sorry I have forgotten it, so Iet us call him Jones. The paper reported that while several of Jones's children were out berry-picking, a great, black bear had attacked them, and killing the youngest, a little girl, had devoured her entirely, save only one tiny fragment; for when the rescue party went in search of the poor little child they found nothing but her blood-stained right hand. Le Heup was so overcome with sorrow and so filled with indignation that he then and there determined to get together a few trapper friends of his and at once start by canoe for the scene of the tragedy, only a few miles away; there to condole with the poor father, trail the huge brute and wreak vengeance upon the child-eating monster. So Bill, with several of the best bear hunters in that region, all well armed, set out in haste for the Jones's clearing. When they arrived, Jones was splitting wood outside his shack. The sorrowing trappers, with downcast eyes, moved slowly toward the bereaved father, and Le Heup, appointed spokesman, offered their condolences on the terrible death of his favourite child. Jones was completely dumbfounded. When it was explained to him what a dreadful thing had happened to his child, he swore he had no idea a bear had ever eaten any one of his children; but he was willing to put their story to the proof, so as he had a lot of children, he called them all out of the house to check them over. To the joyful surprise of the visitors, there among them was little Eva supposed to be eaten, and she even retained her right hand. Thus another newspaper libel upon the poor old black bear the buffoon of the forest was shown to be devoid of truth; yet that story was published in the Toronto papers, and, no doubt, was copied all over the United States.
But though the black bear is a shy, playful brute, usually ready for flight if danger approaches, the tyro should remember that if wounded or cornered he will readily fight. Further-more, if one is unlucky enough to get between a bear cub and its mother, and if the cub should cry out as though you were giving it pain, the mother will attack you as readily as any mother would be she chicken, moose, or woman.
THE WAYS OF THE BEAVER
A few days later Oo-koo-hoo and Amik set out to hunt beavers those wonderful amphibious animals of the Northland that display more intelligence, perseverance, prudence, and morality than many a highly civilized human being.
In appearance the beaver somewhat resembles a greatly magnified muskrat, save that the beaver's hairless, scaly tail is very broad and flat. The coat of the beaver is brown, and the darker the colour the higher the price it brings. An adult beaver may measure from thirty-five to forty-five inches in length, and weigh anywhere from thirty to sixty pounds. The beaver's home is usually in the form of an island house, built in the waters of a small lake or slowly running stream, to afford protection from prowling enemies, much in the same way that the old feudal lords surrounded the ramparts of their castles with broad moats and flooded the intervening space with a deep canal of water, in order to check the advance of enemy raiders. The surrounding shores of the beaver's castle are nearly always wooded with poplars, as it is upon the bark of that tree that the beaver depends most for his food; though at times, other hardwoods contribute to his feast as well as water-lily roots and other vegetation.
The beaver's island-like lodge is a dome-shaped structure that rises from four to seven feet above the water, and measures from ten to thirty feet in diameter on the water-line. It is composed mostly of barkless sticks and poles from one to four inches in diameter, although at times much heavier material is used; and it is tightly chinked with stones and mud and matted vegetation. Frequently, I have watched the building of their lodges. A foundation of water-logged poles and sticks is laid upon the lake or river bottom, next mud and stones are added, then another lot of branches, thus the structure rises in a fairly solid mound until its dome-like top reaches the desired height above the water-line. Then the beavers tunnel their two runways into the centre of the mass from an under-water level on the outside to an over-water level on the inside of the mound_ Next, by gnawing away the inside sticks and excavating the inner mass, the inside chamber is formed, measuring anywhere from four to fourteen feet in width, and a little over two feet in height, with its walls finished fairly smooth. Furthermore, the chamber is provided with two floors each of which covers about half the room. While the lower floor rises from three to six inches above the water level, the upper floor rises from four to eight inches above the lower floor. The tunnels open in the lower floor and it, is the lower floor or level that is used as a drying place and a dining room. The upper level, covered with a mattress of shredded wood, grass, or moss, forms the living and sleeping half of the chamber. Though in winter time most of their meals are eaten in the house, the green, bark-covered sticks being brought into the chamber through the straightest tunnel, the house is kept quite clean and free of all rubbish or filth. In fact, beavers are better housekeepers than some human beings I have known.
A certain amount of ventilation is derived from a few little chinks in the apex of the roof. During the first freezing nights of late fall the beavers plaster the above-water dome of their house with mud which they carry up between their forelegs and chin from the lake bottom, and placing it upon the roof of their house, spread it about in a thick coating, not with their tails, but with their forefeet, where it soon freezes into so solid a mass that it protects the inmates from the attacks of both the severest winter weather and the most savage of four-footed enemies. So strong indeed does the roof then become that even a moose could stand upon it without it giving way. While some writers doubt that beavers plaster the outside of their house with mud, I wish to add that I have not only examined their houses before and after the plastering was done, but on several moonlight nights I have actually sat within forty feet of them and watched them do it.
The winter supply of food, being mostly poplar bark, is derived from the branches of green trees which the beavers cut down in the autumn for that very purpose. While engaged in gnawing down trees the beavers usually work in pairs one cutting while the other rests and also acts as a sentinel to give warning in case an enemy approaches. While cutting down trees they stand or sit in an upright position upon their hind legs and are firmly supported by the tripod formed by the spreading out of their hind feet and tail. They generally choose trees nearest the water on an inclined bank, and usually leaning toward the stream; and while they show no particular skill in felling trees in a certain position, they do display great perseverance, for if it happens, as it sometimes does, that a tree in its descent is checked and eventually held up by its neighbours, the beavers will cut the trunk for the second time, and in some cases even for the third time, in order to bring it down.
At night I have frequently sat by the hour at a time, with the brush-screened bow of my canoe within ten feet of a party of beavers, while they were busily engaged in cutting the branches off a tree that they had felled into the water the previous evening. They work quickly, too, for some mornings I have paddled past a big tree lying in the water, which they had dropped the night before and on returning next day have found all the branches removed, though some of them would have measured five inches in diameter. But watching beavers work at night is not only interesting, it is easy to do, and I have Frequently taken both women and children to share in the sport. Sometimes, right in the heart of the wilderness, I have placed children within fifteen feet of beavers while they were engaged in cutting up a tree.
When branches measure from one to three inches in diameter they are usually cut in lengths of from five to ten feet, and the thicker the branch the shorter they cut the lengths. If the cutting is done on land, the butt of the long thinner length is seized by the beaver's teeth and with the weight resting upon the animal's back, is dragged along the ground over a specially cleared road and eventually deposited in the water. The shorter lengths, sometimes no longer than a couple of feet, but measuring perhaps six or eight inches in diameter, are rolled along the ground by the beaver pushing the log with the fore-feet or shoulder. When the wood is placed in the water, the beaver propels it to its under-water storage place near its lodge, where the wood being green and heavy it is easily secured from floating up and away, by placing a little mud over one end or by interlocking the stick with the rest of the pile. The green wood, however, soon becomes waterlogged and gives no further trouble. Thus, when the lake or river is frozen over, the beaver for it does not hibernate may live in comfort all winter long in its weather-proof lodge with plenty of food stored beneath the ice and just beyond the watery doorway of its home.
HUNTING THE BEAVER
The hunters, arriving at a small lake that lay about three miles to the northwest of Bear Lake, crossed it, and turning up a winding creek, followed the little river until they came to a beaver dam which caused the stream to expand into another little lake that flooded far beyond its old water-line. In it was to be seen three beaver lodges.
Oo-koo-hoo said the scene was somewhat altered since he had visited it four years before, as the dam had been increased both in height and length, and the pond, increasing, too, had reached out close to many a tree that formerly stood some distance from the water. It was a beautiful little mere containing a few spruce-crowned islands, and surrounded by thickly wooded hills whose bases were well fringed with poplars, birches, willows, and alders an ideal home for beaver. Among the little islands stood three snow-capped beaver lodges. Here and there wide-spreading, wind-packed carpets of snow covered the ice, while in between big stretches of clear, glassy ice, acting as skylights, lit up the beavers' submarine gardens around their ice-locked homes.
The hunters were accompanied by three of their dogs, and before they had time to decide where they should first begin work, the dogs began barking at a point between the west lodge and the bank; so they went over to investigate. Evidently the dogs had spied a beaver, for now, though none was in sight, the canines were rushing back and forth in great excitement over a fairly deep submarine runway or clear passageway, through the shallow, rush-matted water under the ice.
Chopping a hole through the ice with his axe, Oo-koo-hoo drove down a couple of crossed poles to block the passageway, and Amik, finding other runways, did likewise at other places. Several of the passageways led to the bank, where, Oo-koo-hoo said, they had what is called "bank lodges " natural cavities in the river bank to which the beavers had counted on resorting in case their house was raided. In other places, where the snow obscured the view, the Indians knocked on the ice with the backs of their axes, to find and follow the hollow-sounding ice that told of runways below, that other stakes might be driven down. The rapping sound, however, instead of driving the beavers out of their lodge, had a tendency to make them remain at home, for as Oo-koo-hoo explained, cutting ice and working around their homes does not always frighten the beavers.
Securing two stouter poles, the hunters now chopped the butts into wedge-shaped chisels, with which they proposed to break open the beavers' lodge. Work was begun about a foot above the level of the snow on the south side, as they explained that the lodge would not only be thinner on that side, but that the sun would make it slightly softer, too and before much headway was made the dogs, all alert, discovered that several of the beavers had rushed out of their house, but finding the passageways blocked had returned home.
Now, strange to say, as soon as the side of the house was broken open and daylight let in, the beavers, becoming curious over t he inflowing light that dazzled their eyes, actually came toward the newly made hole to investigate. Then Oo-koo-hoo, with the aid of a crooked stick, suddenly jerked one of the unsuspecting animals out of the hole and Amik knocked it on the head. Thus they secured four large ones, but left a number of smaller ones unharmed, as Oo-koo-hoo never made a practice of taking a whole family.
In that house the portion of the chamber used for sleeping quarters was covered with a thick mattress of dry "snake-grass," and the whole interior was remarkably clean. After blocking and patching up the hole and covering the place with snow, the hunters threw water over it until it froze into a solid mass, then they removed the stakes from the runways and left the rest of the beavers in peace. Loading their catch upon their toboggans, all set out for home.
BEAVER DAMS AND CANALS
Besides erecting their remarkably strong houses there are two other ways in which the beavers display wonderful skill: in the building of their dams and in the excavating of their canals. Their dams are built for the purpose of retarding, raising, and storing water, in order in summer time to circumvent their enemies by placing a well-watered moat between their foe and their castle; also to flood a wider area so that the far-reaching waters of their pond may lap close to the roots of many otherwise inaccessible trees and thus enable them to fell and float them to their lodge; and in winter time to raise the water high enough to secure their pond from freezing solid and imprisoning them in their lodges where they would starve to death, or if they gnawed their way to freedom, the intense cold of mid-winter would freeze their hairless tails and cause their death; furthermore, should they escape from the weather, they would be at the mercy of all their enemies and would not long survive.
A darn, in the beginning, is usually erected in a small way, just to raise and expand the waters of some small creek or even those of a spring; then, as the years go by, it inconstantly added to, to increase the depth and expansion of the pond, and thus the dam grows from a small one of a few yards in length to a big one of several hundred feet sometimes to even four or five hundred feet in Iength that may bank up the water four or five feet above the stream just outside the dam, and turn the pond into a great reservoir covering hundreds of acres of land.
The dam is more often built of branches laid parallel to the current with their butts pointing up stream, and weighted down with mud and stones; thus layer after layer is added until the structure rises to the desired height and strength. Some dams contain hundreds of tons of material. They are usually built upon a solid bottom, not of rock though big, stationary boulders often are included in the construction for the extra support they furnish. When thus used, boulders often cause the beavers to divert the line of the dam out of its usual graceful and scientific curve that well withstands the pressure from even a large body of water.
The beavers excavate canals sometimes hundreds of feet in length to enable them to reach more easily and float home the wood they have cut from freshly felled trees lying far beyond the reaches of their pond. The canals measure from two to three feet in width and a foot to a foot and a half in depth, and are not only surprisingly clean-cut and straight but occasionally they are even provided with locks, or rather little dams, to raise the water from one level to another generally about a foot at a time to offset the disadvantage of the wood lying on higher and more distant ground than is reached by the waters of the residential pond. Sometimes their canals are fed by springs, but more often by the drainage of rainwater. The building of many of their dams and canals displays remarkable skill and a fine sense of engineering, together with a spirit of perseverance that is astounding. Is it any wonder that the Indians say that the beavers were once human beings, whom, for the punishment of some misconduct, The Master of Life condemned to get down and grovel upon the ground as four-footed animals for the rest of their days.
"Yes, my son," replied Oo-koo-hoo, when we were discussing beavers, "they are a very clever and a very wise people, and it would be better for us if we emulated them more than we do, for as you know, they believe in not talking but in working and making good use of the brains The Master of Life has given them, and that is the only way to be really happy in this world. Besides, he is always true to his wife a fine example to men furthermore, he is a good provider who looks after his children, and is a decent, clean-living fellow who never goes out of his way to quarrel with any one, but just minds his own business and cuts wood."
Could any nation choose a creature more fit for a national emblem? I believe not. For would any wise man compare a useless, screeching eagle, or a useless, roaring lion each a creature of prey to a silent, hard-working, and useful beaver who remains true to his wife all his life, who builds a comfortable home for his children, provides them well with food and teaches them . . . not how to kill other creatures . . . but how to work, . . . how to construct strong, comfortable houses, how to build dams to protect, not only their children, but their homes, too, how to chop down trees for food, how to dig canals to float the food home-, how to store it for the winter, how to keep the home clean and in good order, how to mind their own business and never seek a quarrel, and, at the same time, how to defend themselves desperately if an enemy attacks them.
For his size, the beaver is powerful, so powerful, indeed, that Oo-koo-hoo said: "Remember, my son, the beaver is a very strong animal, he can drag a man after him, and the only way for a hunter to hold him if he is caught in a trap is to lift him off his feet."
Notwithstanding his great strength, however, he is a peace-loving chap, but when a just occasion arises, you ought to see him fight!
BEAVER FIGHTS WOLVERINE
One spring while hunting along a river, some years ago, Oo-koo-hoo discovered a beaver at work upon the bank, and wishing to observe him for a while, kept perfectly still. The beaver was cutting poplar sticks to take them through a hole in the ice to the under-water entrance of his near-by home for his family to feed upon. But presently Oo-koo-hoo discovered another moving object; it was a wolverine, and it was stalking the beaver. When it drew near enough to the unsuspecting worker, it made a sudden spring and landed upon his back. A desperate fight ensued. The wolverine was trying to cut the spinal cord at the back of the beaver's neck; but the short, stout neck caused trouble, and before the wolverine had managed it, the beaver, realizing that the only chance for life was to make for the water-hole, lunged toward it., and with the wolverine still on his back, dived in. On being submerged, the wolverine let go and swain around and around in an effort to get out; but the beaver, now in his element, took advantage of the fact, and rising beneath the foe, leaped at it, and with one bite of his powerful, chisel-like teeth, gripped it by the throat, then let go and sank to watch it bleed to death. A little later, the beaver had the satisfaction of seeing old Oo-koo-hoo walk off with the wolverine's skin.
No . . . beavers do not believe in divorce and on their wedding day usually in February they promise to be true to each other for the rest of their lives, and, more-over, unlike many human beings, they keep their promise. About three months later the husband, seeing his wife is getting ready to welcome new relations, leaves his comfortable home just to be out of the way, and takes up new quarters in a hole in the river bank. While he is there the children any number from one to six arrive, and then can be heard much gentle whimpering, just as though human babies were now living in the old homestead.
When the beaver children grow older they romp in the water much as puppies do on land. If danger approaches, the first beaver to sense it slaps the surface of the water with his broad, powerful tail, making a noise that resounds through the forest as though a strong man had struck the water a violent blow with the broad side of a paddle blade. Instantly the first beaver's nearest companion signals the danger to others by doing the same; then a second later they plunge out of sight in the water and leave behind nothing but a great sound as though an elephant had fallen in.
When married and settled down, the beaver is very domestic a great stay-at-home but when seeking a mate, he travels far and wide, and leaves here and there along the shore scent signals, in the hope of more easily attracting and winning a bride. Beavers are full grown at three years of age, and by that time they have learned how to erect houses, build dams, dig canals, chop down trees, cut up wood, float it home and store it for the winter, and by that time too, they have, no doubt, learned that man is their worst enemy, though the wolverine, wolf, otter, lynx, and fisher are ever ready to pounce upon them whenever a chance offers.
USEFULNESS OF BEAVER
But I had almost forgotten that I owed the reader an ex-planation when I said that the beaver was a very useful creature. I was not thinking of the value of his fur, because that is as nothing compared to the great service he has been rendering mankind, not only today, but for endless generations. How? By the great work he has been doing during the past hundreds and thousands of years. How? By going into rocky, useless valleys and building the dams that checked the rushing rivers that were constantly robbing much rich soil from the surrounding country and carrying it down and out to sea. And his dams, moreover, not only held up those treacherous highway-men, but took the loot from them and let it settle in the valleys, where, as years rolled on, it grew and grew into endless great expansions of level meadow lands that now afford much of the most fertile farming soil to be found in North America; and thus the great industry of those silent workers, who lived ages and ages ago, is even today benefiting mankind. And thus, too, that great work is being steadily carried on by the living beavers of to-day. Could any country in the world have chosen a more inspiring creature than Canada has chosen for her national symbol?
When, on his fall and spring expeditions, Oo-koo-hoo was hunting beavers with the waters free of ice, he placed steel traps in their runways, either just below the surface of the water, or on the bank; and the only bait he used in both cases was the rubbing of castorum on near-by bushes. Also, he built dead-falls much like those he built for bear, but of course much smaller; and again the bait was castorum, but this time it was rubbed on a bit of rabbit skin which was then attached to the bait stick of the deadfall. The deadfalls he built for beavers were nearly always made of dead tamarack never of green poplar otherwise the beavers would have pulled them to pieces for the sake of the wood.
Further, Oo-koo-hoo told me that in the spring he sometimes broke open beaver dams and set traps near the breaks in order to catch the beavers when they came to repair the damage. Such a mode of trapping was, he said, equally successful whether or not there was ice upon the water. He also told me that he had seen other Indians catch beaver with a net made of No. 10 twine, with a three-and-a-half-inch mesh, but that, though the method worked rather well, he had never tried it. The way of all others, that he liked best, was to hunt them by calling, and the best time for that was during the mornings and evenings of the rutting season.
Later in the year, when the ice is gone, and the beaver is swimming, say a foot under water, the hunter can easily follow his course from the appearance of the surface. The same applies to the muskrat, mink, and otter. Muskrats and heavers swim much alike, as they are usually going in search of roots, and, knowing exactly where to find them, they swim straight; but minks and otters swim a zig-zag course for the reason that they are always looking for fish and therefore are constantly turning their heads about; and that rule applies whether their heads are above or below the surface.
When a beaver providing he has not slapped the water with his tail or an otter dives, an observant hunter can judge fairly well as to where the animal is heading for, by simply noting the twist of the tail, a point that helps the hunter to gauge the place where it may rise. The same applies to whales when they sound, though I found while whale hunting that few whalers realized it, and fewer still took advantage of it, for much time was lost while waiting for the whale to rise before the boat could be headed in the right direction. But then the average Indian is much more observant than the average white man.
If a beaver is caught in a steel trap, he will do his utmost to plunge into water and remain there even though he should drown, yet his house may not be in that river or pond; but if he is wounded, he will either try to reach his house or take to the woods.
When in pursuit of beavers it is advisable to watch for them on moonlight nights about eight or nine o'clock, and it is best to be in a canoe, as then there is less danger of the beaver sinking before he can be removed from the water. The hunter, while waiting for a shot, makes a noise with the handle of his knife against a stick in imitation of a beaver cutting wood a sound somewhat similar to that of the boring of a large auger. It is astonishing how far, on a still night, beavers will hear such a sound and come to help their friends at work. When Oo-koo-hoo shot beaver he charged his gun with four slugs and fired for the head, as he explained that ordinary shot was too fine and scattered too much, while a single ball was too large.
OO-KOO-HOO SHOOTS A BEAR
The following morning Oo-koo-hoo and I set out to go the round of the northern trapping trail which for some distance followed the valley of Beaver River, upon the bank of which traps, snares, and deadfalls for bears were set. Along that section of the river there were also traps set for otters, beavers, and muskrats; but the hunting of these amphibious animals was pursued with more diligence in the spring than in the winter. Though we hauled a hunting toboggan, the snow was not yet deep enough for snowshoes, but what a feast of reading the forest afforded us! What tragedies were written in the snow! Here we followed a mink's track as it skirted the river bank that wound in and out among the trees, showing that the mink had leaped here, crouched there, or had been scratching beyond in the snow. Evidently it was in search of food. Presently we noticed another track, that of an ermine. The two trails were converging. Now, apparently, the mink had seen its enemy, and, therefore, in order to get past the ermine and escape trouble, it had increased its speed. At this point the ermine had spied it and had redoubled its speed. Now they had both bounded along with all their might. But as ill-fate would have it, they had met. A violent struggle had ensued. Blood was spattered upon the snow. From the battle-ground only one trail led away. It was that of the ermine. But though the snow was marked by the footprints of only one animal, the trail of two tails plainly showed. It was evident that the ermine had seized its victim by the throat and throwing it over its back, had carried it away. Many other tracks of beasts and birds were printed upon the snow and told in vivid detail stories of life in the winter wilderness.
Beaver River was now frozen firmly enough to bear a man, except in a few places where rapid water kept the ice thin or left the stream open; and as we tramped along we examined a number of traps, from two of which we took an otter and a heaver. But the bear and the wolf traps remained undisturbed though we saw a number of wolf tracks near at hand. Turning westward we ascended a slope and came suddenly upon the fresh track of a bear. It was fairly large, and was travelling slowly; merely sauntering along as though looking for a den in which to pass the winter.
At once Oo-koo-hoo was all alert. Carefully recharging his gun with ball, and seeing that his knife and axe were at hand, he left the toboggan behind, lest it make a noise among the trees and alarm the quarry. In less than a quarter of a mile, however, we came upon a sign that the bear had passed but a few minutes before. The hunter paused to suggest that it would better his approach if I were to follow a little farther in the rear; then he noiselessly continued his pursuit. Slowly he moved forward, cautiously avoiding the snapping of a twig or the scraping of underbrush. After peering through the shrubbery ahead or halting a moment to reexamine the track, he would move on again, but with scarcely any perceptible motion of the upper part of his body. When in doubt, he would stand stock-still and try by sight or hearing to get news of the bear. Luckily, there was no wind, so it made little difference which way we turned in following the trail. But just then there happened a disturbing and irritating thing, for a whiskey jack Canada Jay took to following us, and chirping about it, too. Crossing a rocky patch on the hillside, the bear came into view as it circled a little in order to descend. Presently it left the shadow of the forest and emerging into sunlight on a snow-covered ledge, turned its head as though it had heard a sound in the rear. It was Oo-koo-hoo speaking:
"Turn your head away, my brother . . ." but the report of his gun cut short his sentence, and the bear, leaping forward, disappeared among the growth below. Re-loading his gun, the hunter slowly followed, more cautiously than ever, for he saw from the blood upon the snow that the beast was wounded and, therefore, dangerous. As he went he covered every likely place with his gun, lest the bear should be lurking there and rush at him. At last I saw him pause much longer than usual, then move forward again. Finally he turned, and in a satisfied tone exclaimed : "It's dead!"
The ball had struck just behind the left shoulder and had entered the heart; and the hunter explained that when he saw his best chance, he spoke to the bear to make it pause in order to better his aim.
"And what did you say to him?"
"My son, I said : 'Turn your eyes away, my brother, for I am about to kill you.' I never care to fire at a bear without first telling him how sorry I am that I need his coat."
Then the skinning began, and by noon we had it finished. Loading the head and part of the meat on the sled, I hauled it, while the hunter rolled up the heavy pelt and packed it upon his back with the aid of a Lump-line. Taking our loads back to the river and caching them there, we continued along the trapping trail.
A DEADFALL FOR BEAR
Soon we came to one of the best deadfalls I had ever seen. It was set for bear, and was of the "log-house" kind, with walls nearly six feet high, and a base that was eight feet long by five feet wide in front, while only two feet in width in the rear. It was built in conjunction with two standing trees that formed the two corner posts retaining the huge drop-log. The front of the big trap was left quite open, save for the drop-log that crossed it obliquely. While the thin end of the log was staked to the ground, the thick end, loaded with a platform weighted with stones, projected beyond the far side of the trap at a height of about five feet from the ground. It was ready to fall and crush any unlucky creature that might venture in and touch the bait-trigger. Whatever the drop-log might fall upon, it would hold as though in a vise, and if the bear were not already dead when the hunter should arrive, he would take care to shoot the animal in the head before removing the drop-log.
Snares are also set for bears, and the best of them are made of twenty strands of babiche twisted into the form of a rope. The loop is set about eighteen inches in diameter, and is attached to either a spring-pole or a tossing-pole or, more correctly speaking, a tree sufficiently large to raise and support the weight of the bear. Sometimes a guiding-pole is used in connection with a snare. One end is planted in the ground in the centre of the path and the other, slanting up toward the snare, is used as a guide toward the loop, since a bear walking forward would straddle the pole. In a further effort to getting the animal's head in the right place, the hunter smears the upper end of the pole with syrup.
Another wooden trap is that of the stump and wedge. It is made by chopping down a tree of not less than half a foot in diameter, so that a stump is left about six feet high. The stump is then split, and a long, tapering wedge, well greased, is driven in, and upon it is smeared a coating of syrup or honey as a bait. The bear will not only try to lick off the bait, but in his eagerness to pull out the wedge and lick it, too, will spring the trap and find a paw caught between the closing stump. Also, the Indians sometimes use a stage from the top of which they shoot the bear at night while he passes on his runway; and to attract the bear they imitate the cry of a cub in distress. Steel traps, too, are set for bears. They are very strong with big double springs and weigh about twenty pounds. They, too, are set on the runway of the bears, and are carefully covered with leaves or moss. No bait is used on the trap, but syrup or honey is spread upon a near-by tree to induce the bear to step in the trap.
MARASTY AND THE BEAR
But all bear traps are dangerous to mankind and not in-frequently a man is caught in one. In 1899 a half-breed hunter by the name of Marasty, who lived near Green Lake, about 150 miles north of Prince Albert, went one late spring day to visit his traps, and in the course of his trip carne upon one of his deadfalls set for bear, from which he noticed the bait had been removed, although the trap had not been sprung. Before rebaiting it, however, he built a fire to boil his tea-pail, and sat down to eat his lunch.
After refreshment, Marasty, being a lazy man, decided to enter the trap from in front, instead of first opening up the rear and entering from that quarter, as he should have done. He got along all right until he started to back out, when in some way he jarred the trigger, and, just as he was all free of' the ground-log save his right arm, down came the ponderous drop-log with its additional weight of platform and stones. It caught him just above the elbow, crushed his arm flat, and held him a prisoner in excruciating pain. The poor wretch nearly swooned. Later, he thought of his knife. He would try to cut the log in two and thus free himself. He knew that, handicapped as he was, though he worked feverishly and incessantly, the task would demand many hours of furious toil.
After a while the wind arose and re-kindled his dying fire into life. The sparks flew up and the flames ran over the dry moss toward him. Now there was added the dread of being burnt alive. But he worked his feet violently and succeeded in roughening the ground sufficiently to turn the fire so that it passed on either side of him, and though it continued beyond the wooden trap, eventually died down.
Then he went on with his cutting, but night came on before he had dug into the log more than a few inches. Growing faint, he rested awhile, and later fell asleep. When he awoke, he discovered a full-grown black bear sitting upon its haunches watching him. He shouted to drive the beast away, but, strange to say, the noise did not frighten the bear, for several times it got up and attempted to reach the syrup on the trap. When the captive renewed his shouting and kicking, the bear merely stepped back, sat down, and persisted in maintaining its fearsome watch all night.. Nevertheless, the half-breed was afraid to stop shouting, so he kept it up at intervals all night long. When, however, dawn came, the bear went away.
At sunrise Marasty renewed his efforts to escape, and though his hand was now blistered and sore, he worked for several hours. Then thirst attacked him; and he dug in the ground, but without avail, in the hope of finding moisture. Again he turned to the cutting of the log, but soon exhaustion weakened his exertions. Night came on again and with it carne the bear; but this time he was glad to see the brute, for its presence made him feel less lonely and drove away despair. This time, too, the bear sat around in such a friendly way, that Marasty felt relieved enough to sing some hymns and do a little praying; but when he began to sing a second time, the big black beast lost patience, got up and walked away, much to the regret of the imprisoned hunter.
In the morning the now almost lifeless Marasty heard in the distance the voice of his brother calling his name; but though he shouted wildly in answer, no response came, for the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, and defeated his attempt to benefit by the help that was so near. Later, the unhappy man swooned.
About noon the brother, finding the sufferer's trail, arrived upon the scene, removed the drop-log, picked up the unconscious man, and carrying him to his canoe, cut away the thwarts and laid him in. After a paddle of fifteen miles to the portage landing, he left the stricken wretch in the canoe, and ran four miles to get help. With other men and two horses he speedily returned, rigged up a stage swung between the horses, and laying Marasty thereon, transported him through the bush to his home_
In the meantime, an express had been despatched to Prince Albert to summon a doctor; but the old Indian women could not bear to wait so long for the coming of relief, so filing a big knife into a fine-toothed saw, they cut away the bruised flesh and sawed off the broken hones. They made a dean amputation which they dressed with a poultice made from well-boiled inner bark of juniper, and not only did no mortification set in, but the arm healed nicely; and when the doctor arrived ten days later, he examined the amputation carefully and said that there was nothing for him to do: the old women had done their work so well. Marasty quickly recovered, and next winter he was on the hunting trail again.
HOW BEARS ARE HUNTED
After spending three days upon the trapping trail we re-turned to camp; but because our toboggan was loaded with game, and also because we did not return by our outgoing route, the grandmother and the two boys set out to bring in the bear meat and the bear's head. During the feast that followed Oo-koo-hoo addressed the bear's head with superstitious awe and again begged it not to be offended or angry because it had been killed since they needed both its coat and its fat and flesh to help tide them over the winter In this entreaty Amik did not join perhaps because he was too civilized. After the meal, the skull was hung upon a branch of a pine that stood near the lodges. It reminded me that once I had seen at an old camping place eleven bear skulls upon a single branch; but the sight of bear skulls upon trees is not uncommon when one is travelling through the Strong Woods Country.
That night, when I was sitting beside Oo-koo-hoo, we began talking about bear hunting and he said: "My son, some day you, too, may want to become a great bear-hunter, and when you do go out to hunt alone, don't do as I do, but do as I say, for I am growing old and am sometimes careless about the way I approach game." Puffing away at his pipe, he presently continued: "In trailing bear, the hunter's method of approach, of course, depends entirely upon the information he has gained from the tracks he has discovered. If the hunter sees the bear without being seen, he will approach to within about twenty paces or even ten of the brute before he fires; being, however, always careful to keep some object between him and his quarry. And when he does fire, he should not wait to see the effect, but should immediately run aside for a distance of fifteen or twenty paces, as the first thing a bear does when it is shot is to bite the wound on account of the pain, next it tries to discover who hit it, and remembering from which direction the sound came, it looks up, and seeing the smoke, rushes for it. Then the hunter has his opportunity, for on seeing the beast pass broadside, he fires, and thus stands a good chance of hitting a vital spot.
"At a critical moment a good hunter's movements are not only swift but always premeditated. Nor does he ever treat a bear with contempt: from first to last, he is always on guard. He never takes a chance. Even if the bear drops when the hunter fires, he will immediately re-load and advance very slowly lest the brute be feigning death. The hunter advances, with his gun cocked and in readiness, to within perhaps five paces, and then waits to see if his quarry is really dead. If the bear is not dead and sees that the hunter is off his guard, the chances are it will rush at him. But an experienced hunter is not, easily fooled, for he knows that if an animal makes a choking sound in its throat, caused by internal bleeding, it is mortally wounded; but if it makes no such sound watch out!"
"My son, no animal is ever instantly killed, for there is always a gradual collapse, or more or less of a movement caused by the contraction of its muscles, before death actually comes; but when an animal feigns death, it is always in too much of a hurry about it, and drops instantly without a final struggle, or any hard breathing that is the time when one should wait and be careful.
"Then again, my son, if a wounded or cornered bear comes suddenly upon a hunter, the beast will not at once rush at him, grab him or bite him, but will instantly draw back, just as the hunter will do; then it will sit up upon its haunches for a moment, as though to think over the situation; that pause, slight as it is, gives the hunter a moment to uncover his gun, cock it, and aim, and fire it at the beast's mouth. In such a situation the hunter prefers to fire at its mouth, because if shot in the heart, the bear can still lunge at the hunter before it falls, but if struck in the mouth, the brute is dazed and stops to rub its face; meanwhile, the hunter has a chance to re-load and try for a shot behind the ear, as that is even more fatal than one in the heart. But if the bear happens to he in a tree, the hunter does not try for either the brain or the heart, because the former is usually out of aim, and the latter is protected by the trunk or limb of the tree; so he shoots at the small of the back for that will paralyze it and cause it to let go hold of the tree, and drop to the ground. The fall will leave very little fight in it, or will finish it altogether. But if hit in the head or even in a paw, the chances are that the bear will jump; and then watch out, for it will either run or fight!
"In hunting bears, however, the hunter must remember that he should guard most against scent and sound betraying him, since a bear's sight is not very keen. If the bear happens to be feeding, the hunter may easily approach, provided that the wind is right and he keeps quiet; but if the bear hears the slightest sound or catches a single whiff of scent away he goes! If, however, the hunter approaches in an open place and the bear, seeing him, sits up to get a better look, the hunter should immediately stand perfectly still, and wait thus until the bear again resumes feeding or moves away. Then the hunter rustles forward, but all the while watches keenly to see when it stops to look again; and at the first sign of that the hunter becomes rigid once more. Such tactics may be successful two or three times but rarely more, so then the hunter had best fire. Now, my son, when you go hunting you will know what to do, and if Amik would only pay attention to what I say, he, too, might become a better hunter, for I have had much experience in hunting both black and grizzly bears."
NEYKIA AND HER LOVER
As the weeks passed, the children devoted themselves to their winter play and spent most of their days in the open air. Tobogganing was their greatest sport. Often did they invite me to take part in this, and whenever, in descending a slope, a sled-load was upset, it always created hilarious laughter.
The younger children, even during the severest part of the winter when it registered forty or more degrees below zero, were always kept comfortably warm, sometimes uncomfortably warm, in the rabbit-skin coats that their mother . and their grandmother had made for them. The rabbit skins were cut into thin, spiral strips and twisted, with the hair-side out, about thin thongs, and woven together like a small-meshed fish-net, so that, though the hair overlapped and filled every mesh completely, one's fingers might be passed through the garment anywhere. They also made rabbit-skin blankets in the same way; and of all blankets used in the north woods, none has so many good qualities. A rabbit-skin blanket is less bulky than that of the caribou skin; it is warmer than the famous four-point woollen blanket of the H. B. Co., and not only ventilates better than either of the others, but it is light to carry. It has the drawback, however, that unless it is enclosed in a covering of some light material, the hair gets on everything, for as long as the blanket lasts it sheds rabbit hair. I have tried many kinds of beds, and many kinds of blankets, and sleeping bags, too, even the Eskimo sleeping bag of double skin hairless sealskin on the outside and hairy caribou skin on the inside and many a night I have slept out in the snow when it was fifty degrees below zero, and experience has taught me that the rabbit skin blanket is best for winter use in the northern forest. A sleeping bag that is large enough to get into is too large when you are in it; you cannot wrap it around you as you can a blanket, therefore it is not so warm; besides, it is harder to keep a bag free of gathering moisture than a blanket.
But to return to the children. It used to amuse me to see the boys returning from their hunts carrying their guns over their shoulders. The contrast in size between the weapons and the bearers of them was so great that by comparison the lads looked like Liliputians, yet with all the dignified air of great hunters they would stalk up to their sisters and hand them their guns and game bags to be disposed of while they slipped off their snowshoes, lighted their pipes, and entered the lodge. By the way, I don't believe I have mentioned that in winter time the guns are never kept in the lodges, but always put under cover on the stages, as the heat of the lodges would cause the guns to sweat and therefore to require constant drying and oiling; and for the same reason, in winter time, when a hunter is camped for the night, he does not place his gun near the open fire, but sets it back against a tree, well out of range of the heat.
On one of their rounds of the trapping trails the boys discovered a splendid black fox in one of Oo-koo-hoo's traps, and it was with great pride that the little chaps returned home with the prize.
One sunny day, late in November, while tobogganing with the children on the hillside, our sport was interrupted by the approach of a young stranger, an Indian youth of about seven-teen. He came tramping along on snowshoes with his little hunting toboggan behind him on which was lashed his caribou robe, his tea-pail, his kit bag, and a haunch of young moose as a present to Amik and his wife. In his hand he carried his gun in a moose-skin case. He was a good-looking young fellow, and wore the regulation cream-coloured H. B. capote with hood and turned-back cuffs of dark blue. He wore no cap, but his hair was fastened back by a broad yellow ribbon that encircled his head. At first I thought he was the advance member of a hunting party, but when I saw the bashful yet persistent way in which he sidled up to Neykia, and when I observed, too, the shy, radiant glance of welcome she gave him, I understood; so also did the children, but the little rogues, instead of leaving the young couple alone, teased their sister aloud, and followed the teasing with boisterous laughter. It was then that I obtained my first impression of the mating of the natives of the northern forest. The sylvan scene reminded me of the mating, too, of the white people of that same region, and I thought again of the beautiful Athabasca. Was it in the same way that her young white man had come so many miles on snowshoes through the winter woods just to call upon her? It set me thinking. Again, I wondered who "Son-in-law" could be? Whence did he come?
But, perhaps, after all he was no super-man, or, rather, super-lover, for had not Neykia's beau travelled alone in the dead of winter, over ninety miles, just to see her once again and to speak to her? Shing-wauk The Little Pine as the Indians called him, stayed three days, but I did not see much of him, for I left early the following morning on another round of another trapping-path.
OO-KOO-HOO AND THE WOLF
As a faint gray light crept through the upper branches of the eastern trees and warned the denizens of the winter wilderness of approaching day, the door-skin flapped aside and a tall figure stepped from the cozy fire-lit lodge into the outer sombreness of the silent forest. It was Oo-koo-hoo. His form clad in fox-skin cap, blanket capote, and leggings, made a picturesque silhouette of lighter tone against the darker shadows of the woods as he stood for a moment scanning the starry sky. Re-ntering the lodge, he partook of the breakfast his wife had cooked for him, then he kissed her and went out-side. Going to the stage, he took down his five-foot snowshoes, slipped his moccasined feet into the thongs, and with his gun resting in the hollow of his bemittened hand, and the sled's hauling-line over his shoulder, strode off through the vaulted aisles between the boles of the evergreens; while through a tiny slit in the wall of his moose-skin home two loving eyes watched the stalwart figure vanishing among the trees.
Later on, though the sun was already shining, it was still intensely cold. As we went along, Oo-koo-hoo's breath rose like a cloud of white smoke fifteen or twenty feet in the air before it disappeared. Only the faintest whisper of scuffling snowshoes and scrunching snow could be heard; the sound of the occasional snapping of a twig came as a startling report compared with the almost noiseless tread of the hunter. A little cloud of powdery snow rose above the dragging heels of his snowshoes, and, whirling about, covered the back of his leggings with a coating of white. Onward he strode, twisting through the tangled scrub, stooping under a fallen tree, stepping over a snow-capped log, or pacing along a winter-locked stream.
When Oo-koo-hoo came to a district overgrown with willows interspersed with poplars, be stopped to examine a snare set for lynx. It had not been disturbed, but a little farther on we saw the form of a dead lynx hanging from a tossing-pole above the trail. The carcass was frozen stiff, and the face still showed the ghastly expression it had worn in its death struggle. The rigid body was taken down and lashed to the sled. Besetting the snare, we continued our way. Farther on, in a hilly country timbered with spruce, where there was not much under-growth, we came to marten traps. In swampy places, or where there were creeks and small lakes, we examined traps and deadfalls set for mink, muskrat, beaver, fisher, and otter. Where the country was fairly open and marked with rabbit runways we came upon traps set for foxes and wolves.
The gray, or timber, wolf is trapped in the same way as the coloured fox, save only that the trap is larger. Though the steel trap is much in vogue among white men and half-breeds, the deadfall, even to this day, is much preferred by the Indian. Though, in the first place, it requires more labour to build, yet it requires less for transportation since the materials are all at hand; and, besides, when once built it lasts for years. Then, again, it is not only cheaper, but it is more deadly than the steel trap, for once the animal is caught, it seldom escapes. With the steel trap it is different, as animals often pull away from the steel jaws or even gnaw off a foot in order to get free. If, however, the hunter's deadfalls and traps have been set in vain, and if the wolf has been causing trouble and the hunter is determined to secure him, he will sit up for him at night in the hope of getting a shot at him. Years ago many wolves were destroyed with poison, but nowadays it has gone out of use that is, among the fur-hunters of the forest.
When a wolf is caught in a trap and he sees a hunter approaching, he will at first lie down, close his eyes, and keep as still as possible to escape notice; but should he find that the hunter is still coming on, say to within twenty paces from him, he will fly into a rage, show his fangs, bristle his hair, and get ready for a spring. The hunter usually takes a green stick about a yard long by two inches thick, and instead of striking a great, swinging blow with both hands, he holds the stick in one hand and strikes a short, quick, though powerful, blow, hitting the brute on the snout close to the eyes. That stuns him, and then the hunter, with either foot or knee, presses over the heart until death ensues. But clubbing the wolf is dangerous work, for the hunter may hit the trap and set the captive free, or it may bite him. So the gun is frequently used, but only to shoot the wolf in the head, as a wound any-where else would injure the fur.
Late in the afternoon, as we were approaching a wolf trap, Oo-koo-hoo, who was leading the way, suddenly stopped and gazed ahead. A large wolf was lying in the snow, evidently pretending to be dead. One of its forepaws was held by the trap, and the hunter drew his axe and moved forward. As we came near, the beast could stand the strain no longer, but rose up with bristling hair, champing fangs, and savage growl. When Oo-koo-hoo had almost reached the deeply marked circle in the snow where the wolf had been struggling to gain its freedom, he paused and said:
"My brother, I need your coat, so turn your eyes away while I strike." A momentary calmness came over the beast, but as the hunter raised his axe it suddenly crouched, and with its eyes flashing with rage, sprang for Oo-koo-hoo's throat. Its mighty leap, however, ended three feet short of the mark, for the trap chain grew taut, jerked it down and threw it violently upon its back. Instantly regaining its feet, it dashed away on three legs, and in its effort to escape dragged the clog through the snow. The bounding clog sent the snow flying, and the hunter rushed in pursuit, while the wolf dodged among the trees to escape a blow from Oo-koo-hoo. Then it bolted again, and ran straight for a few yards until the clog caught and held fast. The hunter, pressing on with raised axe, had no time to draw back when the brute sprang for him as it did; luckily, however, his aim was true: the back of the axe descended upon the wolf's head, and it fell dead. This was fortunate for the hunter, as unwarily he had allowed himself so to get between the clog and the beast that the chain almost swung over his snowshoes. If he had missed his aim, no doubt it would have gone hard with him.
A few slant rays of the sun penetrating the deep gloom of the thick forest and reminding us that day was fast passing, we decided to camp there for the night. So we cut a mattress of brush, made a fire, and refreshed ourselves with supper before we started to skin the wolf.
THE WAYS OF A WOLF
Talk of wolves prevailed all evening, and Oo-koo-hoo certainly had a store of information upon that subject. In ex-pressing surprise that a wolf had strength enough to jerk about a big drag-log, as though it were merely a small stick, he replied that once when he had killed a full-grown bull-moose and dressed and hung up the meat, he had left for camp with part of his prize, but on returning again to the cache, he had found a wolf moving off with one of the hindquarters. It must have weighed close upon a hundred pounds. But perhaps, if I quote Charles Mair, the strength and endurance of a wolf will be better realized : "In the sketch of 'North-Western America' (1868) Archbishop Taché, of St. Boniface, Manitoba, recounts a remarkable instance of persevering fortitude exhibited by a large, dark wolf caught in a steel trap at. Isle a la Crosse many years ago. A month afterward it was killed near Green Lake, ninety miles distant., with the trap and connecting wood-block still attached to one of it s hind legs. It had evidently dragged both around in the snow for many a mile, during a period of intense cold, and it is, therefore, not surprising that it was a 'walking skeleton' when finally secured."
Though the timber-wolf is a fast traveller, it cannot out-distance the greyhound or wolf hound; but though it is seldom seen in water it is a good swimmer. Its weight may run from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty pounds, and an extra large wolf may stand close to thirty inches at the shoulder, and be over five feet in length. In colour they range from white to nearly black, but the ordinary colour is a light brownish gray. Usually they mate in February, but whether or not for life, it is hard to say. They breed in a hollow log, or tree or stump, or in a hole in the ground, or in a cave. The young are normally born in April, usually six or eight in a litter, and the father helps to care for them.
Many of the wolves I have seen were running in pairs, some in families, and the greatest number I have ever seen together was seven. That was in Athabasca in the winter time. The seven were in a playful mood, racing around and jumping over one another; and though all were full-grown, five of them displayed the romping spirits of puppies, and I wondered if they could be but one family. Though my dog-driver and I, with our dog-train, passed within about a hundred paces of them, and though we were all on a sunny lake, they never ceased their play for a single moment, nor did they show in any way that they had seen us.
There are several voices of the wilderness that cause some city people alarm and dread, and they are the voices of the owl, the loon, and the timber-wolf. But to me their voices bring a solemn, at times an eerie, charm, that I would gladly go miles to renew. Though much of the wolf-howling has been of little appeal, I have heard wolf concerts that held me spell-bound. On some occasions but always at night they lasted without scarcely any intermission for three or four hours. The first part of the programme was usually rendered according to the sound of their voices by the youngest of the pack; later the middle aged seemed to take the stage; but of all the performance, nothing equalled in greatness of volume or in richness of tone the closing numbers, and they were always rendered by what seemed to be some mighty veteran, the patriarch of the pack, for his effort was so thrilling and awe-inspiring that it always sent the gooseflesh rushing up and down my back. Many a time, night after night, beneath the Northern Lights, 1 have gone out to the edge of a lake to listen to them.
When hunting big game, such as deer, wolves assist one an-other and display a fine sense of the value of team-work in running down their prey. Though the wolf is a shy and cautious animal, he is no coward, as the way he will slash into a pack of dogs goes far to prove. In the North the stories of the wolf's courage are endless; here, for example, is one: "During our residence at Cumberland House in 1820," says Richardson, "a wolf, which had been prowling and was wounded by a musket ball and driven off, returned after it became dark, whilst the blood was still flowing from its wound, and carried off a dog, from amongst fifty others, that howled piteously, but had no courage to unite in an attack on their enemy."
Nevertheless, wolves rarely attack man, in fact, only when they are afflicted with rabies or hydrophobia. No doubt every-one has read, at one time or another, harrowing stories of the great timber-wolves of our northern forest forming themselves into huge packs and pursuing people all over the wilderness until there is nothing left of the unfortunate community save a few odds and ends of cheap jewellery. Even our most dignified and reliable newspapers are never loath to publish such thrilling drivel; and their ignorant readers gulp it all down, apparently with a relishing shudder; for the dear public not only loves to be fooled, but actually gloats over that sort of thing, since it is their hereditary belief.
When I was a boy, I, too, thrilled over such nonsense, and when I made my first trip into the forest I began to delve for true wolf stories, and I have been delving ever since. So far, after over thirty years of digging, I have actually dug up what I believe to be one authentic story of an unprovoked wolf having actually attacked and killed a man. On several occasions, too, I have had the satisfaction of running to cover some of the wolf stories published in our daily press. I read a few years ago in one of Canada's leading daily papers and no doubt the same account was copied throughout the United States a thrilling story of two lumber jacks in the wilds of Northern Ontario being pursued by a pack of timber-wolves, and the exhausted woodsmen barely escaping with their lives, being forced by the ferocious brutes to spend a whole night in a tree at a time when the thermometer registered below zero. I am sorry I have forgotten the exact degree of frost the paper stated, but as a rule it is always close to 70 or 80 degrees below zero when the great four-legged demons of the forest go on the rampage.
THE WOLVES AND GREENHORNS
Several years later, when I was spending the summer at Shahwandahgooze, in the Laurentian Mountains, I again met Billy Le Heup, the hunter, and one night when we were listening to a wolf concert I mentioned the foregoing newspaper thriller. Billy laughed and acknowledged that he, too, had read it, but not until several weeks after he had had a chance to investigate, first hand, the very same yarn; for he, too, had been trailing wolf stories all his life.
It so happened that. Le Heup's work had taken him through the timber country north of Lake Temiscamingue. While stopping one day at a lumber camp to have a snack, three men entered the cookery where he was eating. One of them was the foreman, and he was in a perfect rage. He had discharged the other two men, and now he was warning them that if they didn't get something to eat pretty quick and leave the camp in aof a hurry, he would kick them out. Then, just before he slammed the door and disappeared, he roared out at them that not for one moment would he stand for such rot, as their being chased and treed all night by wolves.
When quiet was restored and the two men had sat down beside Le Heup at the dining table, he had questioned them and they had told him a graphic story of how they had been chased by a great pack of wolves and how they had managed to escape with their lives by climbing a tree only just in the nick of time; and, moreover, how the ferocious brutes had kept them there all night long, and how, consequently, they had been nearly frozen to death.
It was a thrilling story and so full of detail that even "old-. timer" Le Heup grew quite interested and congratulated him-self on having at last actually heard, first hand, a true story of how Canadian timber-wolves, though unprovoked, had pursued, attacked, and treed two men. Indeed, he was so impressed that he decided to back-track the heroes' trail and count for himself just how many wolves the pack had numbered. So he got the would-be lumber-jacks for they were greenhorns from the city to point out for him their incoming trail, which he at once set out to back-track. After a tramp of three or four miles he came to the very tree which from all signs they had climbed and in which they had spent the night. Then desiring to count the wolf tracks in the snow, he looked around, but never a one could he see. Walking away for about a hundred yards he began to circle the tree, but still without success. He circled again with about an eighth of a mile radius, but still no wolf tracks were to be seen_ As a last resort he circled once more about a quarter of a mile from the tree, and this time he was rewarded; he found wolf tracks in the snow. There had been three wolves. They had been running full gallop. Moreover, they had been trailing a white-tailed deer; but never once had either deer or wolves paused in their run, nor had they come within a quarter of a mile of the tree in which the greenhorns from the city had spent the night. Of such material are the man-chasing, man-killing wolf stories made.
Frequently I have had timber-wolves follow me, sometimes for half an hour or so; on one occasion two of the largest and handsomest timber-wolves I ever saw followed me for over two hours. During that time they travelled all round me, ahead, behind, and on either side; and occasionally they came within sixty or seventy feet of me. Yet never once, by action or expression, did they show any signs other than those which two friendly but very shy dogs might have shown toward me.
THE WOLF THAT KILLED A MAN
Of course, wolves will attack a man; when they are trapped, wounded, or cornered just as a muskrat will; but of all the wolf stories I have ever heard, in which wolves killed a man, the following is the only one I have any reason to believe, as it was told me first-hand by a gentleman whose word I honour, and whose unusual knowledge of animal life and northern travel places his story beyond a doubt..
One winter's day in the seventies, when Mr. William Cornwallis King was in charge of Fort Rae, one of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts on Great Slave Lake, he was snowshoeing to a number of Indian camps to collect furs, and had under his command several Indians in charge of his dog-trains. On the way they came upon a small party of Dog-rib Indians, who, after a smoke and a chat, informed him that, being in need of meat, one of their party, named Pot-fighter's-father, had set out three days before to hunt caribou; and as he had not re-turned, they were afraid lest some evil had befallen him. When Mr. King learned that it had been Pot-fighter's-father's intention to return to camp on the evening of the first day, he advised the Indians to set out at once in search of him.
After following his tracks for half a day they came suddenly upon the footprints of an unusually large wolf which had turned to trail the hunter. For some miles the brute had evidently followed close beside the trail of Pot-fighter's-father, diverging at times as though seeking cover, and then again stalking its prey in the open. One Indian continued to follow the old man's trail, while another followed that of the wolf. They had not gone far before they discovered that Pot-fighter's-father had come upon a herd of caribou, and a little farther on they found, lying on the snow, a couple of caribou carcasses that he had shot. Strange to say, the animals had not been skinned, nor had their tongues been removed. More remarkable still, the wolf although passing close to them had not stopped to feed. Soon they came upon another dead caribou, and this time Pot-fighter's-father had skinned it, and had cut out its tongue; but again the wolf had refused to touch the deer.
Continuing their pursuit, they discovered a brush wind-break where the hunter had evidently stopped to camp for the night. Now they noticed that the tracks of the wolf took to cover among the scrub. Approaching the shelter, they read in the snow the signs of a terrible struggle between a man and a wolf. The hunter's gun, snowshoes, and sash containing his knife, rested against the windbreak, and his axe stood in the snow where he had been cutting brush. From the snow the Indians read the story of the long-drawn fight. Here it told how the great wolf had leaped upon the back of the unsuspecting man while he was carrying an armful of brush, and had knocked him down. There it showed that the man had grappled with the brute and rolled it over upon its back. Here the signs showed that the wolf had broken free; there, that the two had grappled again, arid in their struggle had rolled over and over. The snow was now strewn with wolf-hair, and dyed with blood. While the dreadful encounter had raged, the battle-ground had kept steadily shifting nearer the gun. Just a couple of yards away from it lay the frozen body of poor old Pot-fighter's-father. His deerskin clothing was slit to tatters; his scalp was torn away; his fingers were chewed off, but his bloody mouth was filled with hair and flesh of the wolf.
After burying the body of old Pot-fighter's-father in a mound of stones, the Indians determined to continue in pursuit of the wolf. Its tracks at last led them to a solitary lodge that stood in the shelter of a thicket of spruce. There the hunters were greeted by an Indian who was living in the tepee with his wife and baby. After having a cup of tea, a smoke, and then a little chat, the hunters enquired about the tracks of the great wolf that had brought them to the lodge. The Indian told them that during the night before last, while he and his wife were asleep with the baby between them, they had been awakened by a great uproar among the dogs. They had no sooner sat up than the dogs had rushed into the tepee followed by an enormous wolf. Leaping up, the hunter had seized his axe and attacked the beast, while his wife had grab-bed the baby, wrapped it in a blanket, and rushing outside, had rammed the child out of sight in a snowdrift, and returned to help her husband to fight the brute. The wolf had already killed one of the dogs, and the Indian in his excitement had tripped upon the bedding, fallen, and lost his grip upon his axe. When he rose, he found the wolf between himself and his weapon. His wife, however, had seized a piece of firewood and, being unobserved by the wolf, had used it as a club and dealt the beast so powerful a blow upon the small of the back that it had been seriously weakened and had given the Indian an opportunity to recover his axe, with which at last he had managed to kill the wolf.
It was Mr. King's belief, however, that such unusual behaviour of a wolf was caused by distemper, for the brute seemed to display no more fear of mari than would a mad dog. And he added that the behaviour of the wolf in question was no more typical of wolves in general than was the behaviour of a mad dog typical of dogs.
COMING OF THE FUR-RUNNERS
That night, when we returned home, Oo-koo-hoo said to his grandsons: "Ne-geek and Ah-ging-goos, my grandchildren, the fur-runner is coming soon. Tomorrow do you both take the dogs and break a two-days' trail on Otter River in order to hasten his coming."
Next morning the boys set out to break the trail. When they camped on Otter River on the afternoon of the second day they cached in the river ice some fish for the trader's dogs. They chopped a hole and, after placing the fish in, filled it up with water, which they allowed to freeze, with the tail of a single fish protruding, in order to show the fur-runner what was cached below. To mark the spot, they planted a pole with its butt in the hole, and rigged up a tripod of sticks to support it. At the top of the pole they tied a little bag of tea and a choice piece of meat for the trader. At the bend of the river below, where he would surely pass, they erected another pole with a bunch of fir twigs attached, for the purpose of attracting his attention to their tracks.
On their return home they found Oo-koo-hoo and Amik sorting their furs in anticipation of the fur-runner's arrival. Before them lay, among the other skins, the skin of the black fox, and when the boys entered the lodge Oo-koo-hoo addressed the whole family, saying :
"Do not mention the black fox to the fur-runner, since I intend keeping it until I go to the Post, in the hope of making a better bargain there. Now sort your skins, and set aside those you wish to give in payment on your debt to the Great Company."
During the afternoon of the following day Lawson the fur-runner for the Hudson's Bay Company arrived with his dog-train. He shook hands with Oo-koo-hoo and Amik and the boys, and kissed the women and the girls, as the custom of the traders is. It being late in the day, Oo-koo-hoo decided not to begin trading until next morning_ So they spent the evening in spinning yarns around the lire. Shortly after breakfast strange dogs were heard. The boys ran out and saw an unknown man approaching. When the newcomer a French-Canadian half-breed had eaten, and had joined the others in a smoke, he gave me a letter from Free Trader Spear. Then Oo-koo-hoo began questioning him:
"My brother, you are a stranger in this country; so I have given you fire and food and tobacco in friendship. Tell me now why and from whence you come?"
The half-breed replied : "My brother, I come from the Border Lands where the plains and the forests meet and my name is Gibeault. I have come to trade regularly with you as I am now working for Free Trader Spear, whose post, as you know, is near Fort Consolation. You will do well to encourage opposition to the Great Company, and thus raise the price of furs."
The half-breed then presented the hunters with several plugs of "T & B," some matches, tea, sugar, flour, and a piece of "sow-belly." For some time Oo-koo-hoo sat holding a little fresh-cut tobacco in his hand, until Gibeault, taking notice, asked him why he did not smoke it.
"The Great Company always gives me a pipe," replied the hunter.
The runner for the free trader, not to be outdone, gave him a pipe.
"I suppose," began Oo-koo-hoo, "that your heart is glad to see me."
"Yes," replied Gibeault, "and I want to get some of your fur."
"That is all very well, but I will see which way you look at me," returned the Indian.
"I lave you much fur?" asked the half-breed.
"I have enough to pay my debt to the Great Company."
"Yes, I know, but you will have some left, and I want to do business with you, so bring out your furs and I will treat you right."
"That sounds well, but you must remember that though the Great Company charges more, their goods are the best goods, while yours are all cheap rubbish."
Thinking the opportunity a favourable one, Gibeault assumed an air of friendly solicitude and said :
"The Company has cheated your people so many hundred years that they are now very rich. No wonder they can afford to give you high prices for your furs. Free Trader Spear is a poor but honest man. It is to your great advantage to trade part of your furs with me in order to make it worth his while to send me here every winter. As you know, my presence here compels the Company to pay full value for your furs and so you are the one who reaps the greatest benefit."
"That is partly true," answered Oo-koo-hoo, "but I must be loyal to the Company. You are here today and away tomorrow; but the Company is here for ever. But I will not be hard on you; I will wait and see how you look at me."
For a while the dignified Indian sat puffing at his pipe and gazing at the fire. Every line of his weather-beaten and wrinkled but handsome face was full of sterling character. At times his small eyes twinkled as a flash of cunning crept into them, and a keen sense of humour frequently twitched the corners of his determined mouth. Then he brought out a pack of furs and, handing it to Lawson, said:
"This is to pay the Great Company for the advances they gave us last summer."
Lawson took the bundle without opening it, as it would not be checked over until he delivered it at Fort Consolation. Resenting the Indian's attitude toward Gibeault he began:
"I see, now that there's another trader here, it's easy for you to forget your old friends. The free trader comes and goes. Give him your furs, an' he doesn't care whether you're dead to-morrow. It's not like that with the Great Company. The Company came first among your people, and since then it has been like a father, not only to all your people before you, but to you as well. Whenever your forefathers were smitten with hunger or disease, who looked after them? It wasn't the free trader; it was the Company. Who sells you the best goods? It isn't the free trader; it's the Company. Who gave you your debt last fall and made it possible for you to hunt this winter? It wasn't the free trader; it was the Company. My brother, you have none to thank but the Great Company that you're alive today."
With a grunt of disapproval Oo-koo-hoo sullenly retorted:
"The Priest says it is The Master of Life we have to thank for that. I am sure that the Commissioner of the Great Company is not so great as God. It is true you give us good prices now, but it is also true that you have not given us back the countless sums you stole from our fathers and grandfathers and all our people before them; for did you not wait until the coming of the free traders before you would give us the worth of our skins? No wonder you are great masters; it seems to me that it takes great rogues to become great. masters."
The angry Lawson, to save a quarrel, bit his moustache, smiled faintly and, presenting the hunter with even more than Gibeault had given, said:
"Never mind, my brother, you're a pretty smart man."
Without replying, Oo-koo-hoo accepted the present so eagerly that he jerked it out of the trader's hand. That pleased Lawson. Presently the Indian threw down a bear skin, saying:
"My brother, this is to see how you look at me."
Now the way of the experienced fur-runner is to offer a big price often an excessive price for the first skin. He calculates that it puts the Indian in a good humour and in the end gives the trader a chance of getting ahead of the native. That is just what Lawson did, and Gibeault refused to raise the bid.
"My brother," said the Indian addressing the latter, "you had better go home if you cannot pay better prices than the Great Company."
Gibeault, nettled, outbid his rival for the next skin, and thus it went on, first one and then the other raising the prices higher and higher, much to the delight of the Indians. Oo-koo-hoo had already sold a number of skins for more than their market value before it dawned on the white men that they were playing a losing game. Though glaring savagely at each other, both were ready to capitulate. Lawson, pretending to ex-amine some of Gibeault's goods, stooped and whispered:
"We're actin' like fools. If we keep this up our bosses will fire us both."
"Let's swap even you take every other skin at your own figure," returned the French half-breed.
"Agreed," said Lawson, straightening up.
No longer outbidding one another, they got the next few skins below the market price. But before the traders had made good their loss the Indian gathered up his furs and turning to the fur-runners with a smile, said :
"My brothers, as I see that you have agreed to cheat me, I have decided that I and my people will keep all our furs until we go out next spring; so it is now useless for you to remain any longer."
Having read the note Gibeault brought me from Free Trader Spear, I hastened to hand the half-breed my reply, accepting Mr. and Mrs. Spear's invitation to be their guest for a few days when everyone would be gathering at Fort Consolation to attend the New Year's dance; and again I wondered if "Son-in-law" would be there.