Voyages From Montreal Through The Continent Of North America To The Frozen And Pacific Oceans In 1789 And 1793 With An Account Of The Rise And State Of The Fur Trade

SOME ACCOUNT OF THE CHEPEWYAN INDIANS.

They are a numerous people, who consider the country between the
parallels of latitude 60. and 65. North, and longitude 100. to
110. West, as their lands or home. They speak a copious language, which
is very difficult to be attained, and furnishes dialects to the various
emigrant tribes which inhabit the following immense track of country,
whose boundary I shall describe.[1] It begins at Churchill, and runs
along the line of separation between them and the Knisteneaux, up the
Missinipi to the Isle a la Crosse, passing on through the Buffalo Lake,
River Lake, and Portage la Loche: from thence it proceeds by the Elk
River to the Lake of the Hills, and goes directly West to the Peace
River; and up that river to its source and tributary waters; from whence
it proceeds to the waters of the river Columbia; and follows that river
to latitude 52. 24. North, and longitude 122. 54. West, where the
Chepewyans have the Atnah or Chin Nation for their neighbours. It then
takes a line due West to the seacoast, within which, the country is
possessed by a people who speak their language[2] and are consequently
descended from them: there can be no doubt, therefore, of their progress
being to the Eastward. A tribe of them is even known at the upper
establishments on the Saskatchiwine; and I do not pretend to ascertain
how far they may follow the Rocky Mountains to the East.

It is not possible to form any just estimate of their numbers, but it is
apparent, nevertheless, that they are by no means proportionate to the
vast extent of their territories, which may, in some degree, be
attributed to the ravages of the small-pox, which are, more or less,
evident throughout this part of the continent.

The notion which these people entertain of the creation, is of a very
singular nature. They believe that, at the first, the globe was one
vast and entire ocean, inhabited by no living creature, except a mighty
bird, whose eyes were fire, whose glances were lightning, and the
clapping of whose wings were thunder. On his descent to the ocean, and
touching it, the earth instantly arose, and remained on the surface of
the waters. This omnipotent bird then called forth all the variety of
animals from the earth, except the Chepewyans, who were produced from a
dog; and this circumstance occasions their aversion to the flesh of that
animal, as well as the people who eat it. This extraordinary tradition
proceeds to relate, that the great bird, having finished his work, made
an arrow, which was to be preserved with great care, and to remain
untouched; but that the Chepewyans were so devoid of understanding, as
to carry it away; and the sacrilege so enraged the great bird, that he
has never since appeared.

They have also a tradition amongst them, that they originally came from
another country, inhabited by very wicked people, and had traversed a
great lake, which was narrow, shallow, and full of islands, where they
had suffered great misery, it being always winter, with ice and deep
snow. At the Copper-Mine River, where they made the first land, the
ground was covered with copper, over which a body of earth had since
been collected, to the depth of a man’s height. They believe, also,
that in ancient times their ancestors lived till their feet were worn
out with walking, and their throats with eating. They describe a
deluge, when the waters spread over the whole earth, except the highest
mountains, on the tops of which they preserved themselves.

They believe, that immediately after their death, they pass into another
world, where they arrive at a large river, on which they embark in a
stone canoe, and that a gentle current bears them on to an extensive
lake, in the centre of which is a most beautiful island; and that, in
the view of this delightful abode, they receive that judgment for their
conduct during life, which terminates their final state and unalterable
allotment. If their good actions are declared to predominate, they are
landed upon the island, where there is to be no end to-their happiness;
which, however, according to their notions, consists in an eternal
enjoyment of sensual pleasure, and carnal gratification. But if their
bad actions weigh down the balance, the stone canoe sinks at once, and
leaves them up to their chins in the water, to behold and regret the
reward enjoyed by the good, and eternally struggling, but with
unavailing endeavours, to reach the blissful island, from which they are
excluded for ever.

They have some faint notions of the transmigration of the soul; so that
if a child be born with teeth, they instantly imagine, from its
premature appearance, that it bears a resemblance to some person who had
lived to an advanced period, and that he has assumed a renovated life,
with these extraordinary tokens of maturity.

The Chepewyans are sober, timorous, and vagrant, with a selfish
disposition that has sometimes created suspicions of their integrity.
Their stature has nothing remarkable in it; but though they are seldom
corpulent, they are sometimes robust. Their complexion is swarthy;
their features coarse, and their hair lank, but always of a dingy black;
nor have they universally the piercing eye, which generally animates the
Indian countenance. The women have a more agreeable aspect than the
men, but their gait is awkward, which proceeds from their being
accustomed, nine months in the year, to travel on snow-shoes and drag
sledges of a weight from two to four hundred pounds. They are very
submissive to their husbands, who have, however, their fits of jealousy;
and, for very trifling causes, treat them with such cruelty as sometimes
to occasion their death. They are frequently objects of traffic; and
the father possesses the right of disposing of his daughter.[3] The men
in general extract their beards, though some of them are seen to prefer
a bushy black beard, to a smooth chin. They cut their hair in various
forms, or leave it in a long, natural flow, according as their caprice
or fancy suggests. The women always wear it in great length, and some
of them are very attentive to its arrangement. If they at any time
appear despoiled of their tresses, it is to be esteemed a proof of the
husband’s jealousy, and is considered as a severer punishment than
manual correction. Both sexes have blue or black bars, or from one to
four straight lines on their cheeks or forehead, to distinguish the
tribe to which they belong. These marks are either tattooed, or made by
drawing a thread, dipped in the necessary colour, beneath the skin.

There are no people more attentive to the comforts of their dress, or
less anxious respecting its exterior appearance. In the winter it is
composed of the skins of deer, and their fawns, and dressed as fine as
any chamois leather, in the hair. In the summer their apparel is the
same, except that it is prepared without the hair. Their shoes and
leggins are sewed together, the latter reaching upwards to the middle,
and being supported by a belt, under which a small piece of leather is
drawn to cover the private parts, the ends of which fall down both
before and behind. In the shoes they put the hair of the moose or
reindeer with additional pieces of leather as socks. The shirt or coat,
when girted round the waist, reaches to the middle of the thigh, and the
mittens are sewed to the sleeves, or are suspended by strings from the
shoulders. A ruff or tippet surrounds the neck, and the skin of the
head of the deer forms a curious kind of cap. A robe, made of several
deer or fawn skins sewed together, covers the whole. This dress is worn
single or double, but always in the winter, with the hair within and
without. Thus arrayed a Chepewyan will lay himself down on the ice in
the middle of a lake, and repose in comfort; though he will sometimes
find a difficulty in the morning to disencumber himself from the snow
drifted on him during the night. If in his passage he should be in want
of provision, he cuts a hole in the ice, when he seldom fails of taking
some trout or pike, whose eyes he instantly scoops out, and eats as a
great delicacy; but if they should not be sufficient to satisfy his
appetite, he will, in this necessity make his meal of the fish in its
raw state; but, those whom I saw, preferred to dress their victuals when
circumstances admitted the necessary preparation. When they are in that
part of their country which does not produce a sufficient quantity of
wood for fuel, they are reduced to the same exigency, though they
generally dry their meat in the sun.[4]

The dress of the women differs from that of the men. Their leggins are
tied below the knee; and their coat or shift is wide, hanging down to
the ankle, and is tucked up at pleasure by means of a belt, which is
fastened round the waist. Those who have children have these garments
made very full about the shoulders, as when they are travelling they
carry their infants upon their backs, next their skin, in which
situation they are perfectly comfortable and in a position convenient to
be suckled. Nor do they discontinue to give their milk to them till
they have another child. Childbirth is not the object of that tender
care and serious attention among the savages as it is among civilized
people. At this period no part of their usual occupation is omitted,
and this continual and regular exercise must contribute to the welfare
of the mother, both in the progress of parturition and in the moment of
delivery. The women have a singular custom of cutting off a small piece
of the navel string of the new-born children, and hang it about their
necks: they are also curious in the covering they make for it, which
they decorate with porcupine’s quills and beads.

Though the women are as much in the power of the men, as other articles
of their property, they are always consulted, and possess a very
considerable influence in the traffic with Europeans, and other
important concerns.

Plurality of wives is common among them, and the ceremony of marriage is
of a very simple nature. The girls are betrothed at a very early period
to those whom the parents think the best able to support them: nor is
the inclination of the women considered. Whenever a separation takes
place, which sometimes happens, it depends entirely on the will and
pleasure of the husband. In common with the other Indians of this
country, they have a custom respecting the periodical state of a woman,
which is rigorously observed: at that time she must seclude herself from
society. They are not even allowed in that situation to keep the same
path as the men, when travelling: and it is considered a great breach of
decency for a woman so circumstanced to touch any utensils of manly
occupation. Such a circumstance is supposed to defile them, so that
their subsequent use would be followed by certain mischief or
misfortune. There are particular skins which the women never touch, as
of the bear and wolf; and those animals the men are seldom known to
kill.

They are not remarkable for their activity as hunters, which is owing to
the ease with which they snare deer and spear fish: and these
occupations are not beyond the strength of their old men, women, and
boys: so that they participate in those laborious occupations, which
among their neighbours are confined to the women. They make war on the
Esquimaux, who cannot resist their superior numbers, and put them to
death, as it is a principle with them never to make prisoners. At the
same time they tamely submit to the Knisteneaux, who are not so numerous
as themselves, when they treat them as enemies.

They do not affect that cold reserve at meeting, either among themselves
or strangers, which is common with the Knisteneaux, but communicate
mutually, and at once, all the information of which they are possessed.
Nor are they roused like them from an apparent torpor to a state of
great activity. They are consequently more uniform in this respect,
though they are of a very persevering disposition when their interest is
concerned.

As these people are not addicted to spirituous liquors, they have a
regular and uninterrupted use of their understanding, which is always
directed to the advancement of their own interest; and this disposition,
as may be readily imagined, sometimes occasions them to be charged with
fraudulent habits. They will submit with patience to the severest
treatment, when they are conscious that they deserve it, but will never
forget or forgive any wanton or unnecessary rigour. A moderate conduct
I never found to fail, nor do I hesitate to represent them, altogether,
as the most peaceable tribe of Indians known in North America.

There are conjurers and high-priests, but I was not present at any of
their ceremonies; though they certainly operate in an extraordinary
manner on the imaginations of the people in the cure of disorders.
Their principal maladies are, rheumatic pains, the flux and consumption.
The venereal complaint is very common; but though its progress is slow,
it gradually undermines the constitution, and brings on premature decay.
They have recourse to superstition for their cure, and charms are their
only remedies, except the bark of the willow, which being burned and
reduced to powder, is strewed upon green wounds and ulcers, and places
contrived for promoting perspiration. Of the use of simples and plants
they have no knowledge; nor can it be expected, as their country does
not produce them.

Though they have enjoyed so long an intercourse with Europeans, their
country is so barren, as not to be capable of producing the ordinary
necessaries naturally introduced by such a communication and they
continue, in a great measure, their own inconvenient and awkward modes
of taking their game and preparing it when taken. Sometimes they drive
the deer into the small lakes, where they spear them, or force them into
inclosures, where the bow and arrow are employed against them. These
animals are also taken in snares made of skin. In the former instance
the game is divided among those who have been engaged in the pursuit of
it. In the latter it is considered as private property; nevertheless,
any unsuccessful hunter passing by, may take a deer so caught, leaving
the head, skin, and saddle for the owner. Thus, though they have no
regular government, as every man is lord in his own family, they are
influenced, more or less, by certain principles which condone to their
general benefit.

In their quarrels with each other, they very rarely proceed to a greater
degree of violence than is occasioned by blows, wrestling, and pulling
of the hair, while their abusive language consists in applying the name
of the most offensive animal to the object of their displeasure, and
adding the term ugly, and chiay, or still-born.[5]

Their arms and domestic apparatus, in addition to the articles procured
from Europeans, are spears, bows, and arrows, fishing nets, and lines
made of green deer-skin thongs. They have also nets for taking the
beaver as he endeavours to escape from his lodge when it is broken open.
It is set in a particular manner for the purpose, and a man is employed
to watch the moment when he enters the snare, or he would soon cut his
way through it. He is then thrown upon the ice where he remains as if
he had no life in him.

The snow-shoes are of a very superior workmanship. The inner part of
their frame is straight, the outer one is curved, and it is pointed at
both ends, with that in front turned up. They are also laced with great
neatness with thongs made of deer-skin. The sledges are formed of thin
slips of board turned up also in front, and are highly polished with
crooked knives, in order to slide along with facility. Close-grained
wood is, on that account, the best; but theirs are made of the red or
swamp spruce-fir tree.

The country, which these people claim as their land, has a very small
quantity of earth, and produces little or no wood or herbage. Its chief
vegetable substance is the moss, on which the deer feed; and a kind of
rock moss, which, in times of scarcity, preserves the lives of the
natives. When boiled in water, it dissolves into a clammy, glutinous
substance, that affords a very sufficient nourishment. But,
notwithstanding the barren state of their country, with proper care and
economy, these people might live in great comfort, for the lakes abound
in fish, and the hills are covered with deer. Though, of all the Indian
people of this continent they are considered as the most provident, they
suffer severely at certain seasons, and particularly in the dead of
winter, when they are under the necessity of retiring to their scanty,
stinted woods. To the Westward of them the musk-ox may be found, but
they have no dependence on it as an article of sustenance. There are
also large hares, a few white wolves, peculiar to their country, and
several kinds of foxes, with white and grey partridges, etc. The beaver
and moose-deer they do not find till they come within 60 degrees North
latitude; and the buffalo is still further South. That animal is known
to frequent an higher latitude to the Westward of their country. These
people bring pieces of beautiful variegated marble, which are found on
the surface of the earth. It is easily worked, bears a fine polish, and
hardens with time; it endures heat, and is manufactured into pipes or
calumets, as they are very fond of smoking tobacco; a luxury which the
Europeans communicated to them.

Their amusements or recreations are but few. Their music is so
inharmonious, and their dancing so awkward, that they might be supposed
to be ashamed of both, as they very seldom practise either. They also
shoot at marks, and play at the games common among them; but in fact
they prefer sleeping to either; and the greater part of their time is
passed in procuring food, and resting from the toil necessary to obtain
it. They are also of a querulous disposition, and are continually
making complaints; which they express by a constant repetition of the
word eduiy, “it is hard,” in a whining and plaintive tone of voice.

They are superstitious in the extreme, and almost every action of their
lives, however trivial, is more or less influenced by some whimsical
notion. I never observed that they had any particular form of religious
worship; but as they believe in a good and evil spirit, and a state of
future rewards and punishments, they cannot be devoid of religious
impressions. At the same time they manifest a decided unwillingness to
make any communications on the subject.

The Chepewyans have been accused of abandoning their aged and infirm
people to perish, and of not burying their dead; but these are
melancholy necessities, which proceed from their wandering way of life.
They are by no means universal, for it is within my knowledge, that a
man, rendered helpless by the palsy, was carried about for many years,
with the greatest tenderness and attention, till he died a natural
death. That they should not bury their dead in their own country,
cannot be imputed to them as a custom arising from a savage
insensibility, as they inhabit such high latitudes that the ground never
thaws; but it is well known, that when they are in the woods, they cover
their dead with trees. Besides, they manifest no common respect to the
memory of their departed friends, by a long period of mourning, cutting
off their hair, and never making use of the property of the deceased.
Nay, they frequently destroy or sacrifice their own, as a token of
regret and sorrow.

If there be any people who, from the barren state of their country,
might be supposed to be cannibals by nature, these people, from the
difficulty they, at times, experience in procuring food, might be liable
to that imputation. But, in all my knowledge of them, I never was
acquainted with one instance of that disposition; nor among all the
natives which I met with in a route of five thousand miles, did I see or
hear of an example of cannibalism, but such as arose from that
irresistible necessity, which has been known to impel even the most
END 4 civilized people to eat each other.

EXAMPLES OF THE CHEPEWYAN TONGUE

Man Dinnie.
Woman Chequois.
Young man Quelaquis.
Young woman Quelaquis chequoi.
My son Zi azay.
My daughter Zi lengai.
My husband Zi dinnie.
My wife Zi zayunai.
My brother Zi raing.
My father Zi tah.
My mother Zi nah.
My grandfather Zi unai.
Me, or my See.
I Ne.
You Nun.
They Be.
Head Edthie.
Hand Law.
Leg Edthen.
Foot Cuh.
Eyes Nackhay.
Teeth Goo.
Side Kac-hey.
Belly Bitt.
Tongue Edthu.
Hair Thiegah.
Back Losseh.
Blood Dell.
The Knee Cha-gutt.
Clothes or Blanket Etlunay.
Coat Eeh.
Leggin Thell.
Shoes Kinchee.
Robe or Blanket Thuth.
Sleeves Bah.
Mittens Geese.
Cap Sah.
Swan Kagouce.
Duck Keth.
Goose Gah.
White partridge Cass bah.
Grey partridge Deyee.
Buffalo Giddy.
Moose deer Dinyai.
Rein deer Edthun.
Beaver Zah.
Bear Zass.
Otter Gaby-ai.
Martin Thah.
Wolverine Naguiyai.
Wolf Yess (Nouhoay).
Fox Naguethey.
Hare Cah.
Dog Sliengh.
Beaver-skin Zah thah.
Otter skin Naby-ai thith.
Moose-skin Deny-ai thith.
Fat Icah.
Grease Thless.
Meet Bid.
Pike Uldiah.
White-fish Slouey.
Trout Slouey zinai.
Pickerel G’Gah.
Fish-hook Ge-eth.
Fish-line Clulez.
One Slachy.
Two Naghur.
Three Tagh-y.
Four Dengk-y.
Five Sasoulachee.
Six Alki tar-hy-y.
Seven
Eight Alki deing-hy.
Nine Cakina hanoth-na.
Ten Ca noth na.
Twenty Na ghur cha noth na.
Fire Coun.
Water Toue.
Wood Dethkin.
Ice Thun.
Snow Yath.
Rain Thinnelsee.
Lake Touey.
River Tesse.
Mountain Zeth.
Stone Thaih.
Berries Gui-eh.
Hot Edowh.
Cold Edzah.
Island Nouey.
Gun Telkithy,
Powder Telkithy counna.
Knife Bess.
Axe Thynle.
Sun
Moon Sah.
Red Deli couse.
Black Dell zin.
Trade, or barter Na-houn-ny.
Good Leyzong.
Not good Leyzong houlley.
Stinking Geddey.
Bad, ugly Slieney.
Long since Galladinna.
Now, today Ganneh.
Tomorrow Gambeh.
By-and-bye, or presently Garehoulleh.
House, or lodge Cooen.
Canoe Shaluzee.
Door The o ball.
Leather-lodge N’abalay.
Chief Buchahudry.
Mine Zidzy.
His Bedzy.
Yours Nuntzy.
Large Unshaw.
Small, or little Chautah,
I love you Ba eioinichdinh.
I hate you Bucnoinichadinh hillay.
I am to be pitied Est-chounest-hinay.
My relation Sy lod, innay.
Give me water Too hanniltu.
Give me meat Beds-hanniltu.
Give me fish Sloeeh anneltu.
Give me meat to eat Bid Barheether.
Give me water to drink To Barhithen.
It is far off Netha uzany,
Is it not far Nilduay uzany.
It is near Nitha-hillai.
How many Nilduay.
What call you him, or that Etlaneldey.
Come here Etla houllia
Pain, or suffering Yeu dessay.
It’s hard I-yah.
You lie Untzee.
What then Eldaw-gueh.

[1] Those of them who come to trade with us, do not exceed eight hundred
men, and have a smattering of the Knisteneau tongue, in which they carry
on their dealings with us.

[2] The coast is inhabited on the North-West by the Eskimaux, and on the
Pacific Ocean by a people different from both.

[3] They do not, however, sell them as slaves, but as companions to
those who are supposed to live more comfortably than themselves.

[4] The provision called pemmican, on which the Chepewyans, as well as
the other savages of this country, chiefly subsist in their journeys, is
prepared in the following manner: The lean parts of the flesh of the
larger animals are cut in thin slices, and are placed on a wooden grate
over a slow fire, or exposed to the sun, and sometimes to the frost.
These operations dry it, and in that state it is pounded between two
stones; it will then keep with care for several years. If, however, it
is kept in large quantities, it is disposed to ferment in the spring of
the year, when it must be exposed to the air, or it will soon decay.
The inside fat, and that of the rump, which is much thicker in these
wild than our domestic animals, is melted down and mixed, in a boiling
state with the pounded meat, in equal proportions: it is then put in
baskets or bags for the convenience of carrying it. Thus it becomes a
nutritious food, and is eaten, without any further preparation, or the
addition of spice, salt, or any vegetable or farinaceous substance. A
little time reconciles it to the palate. There is another sort made
with the addition of marrow and dried berries, which is of a superior
quality.

[5] This name is also applicable to the foetus of an animal, when
killed, which is considered as one of the greatest delicacies.