The trappers muse on the comings and goings of the mysterious caribou herds while also recounting periods of starvation in which they had to eat their own dogs.
June 1, 1927
The Land of Feast and Famine - Summer on Great Slave Lake
There are many things which happen during the course of a year when one lives face to face with the wilderness and must rely entirely upon his dogs and his gun. The first matter of interest is the caribou, for they represent food. We have all encountered them, have seen the herds streaming out across the country, beneath a forest of antlers; we have all gorged ourselves on their flesh, haunted by the possibility of a day when the country would be empty of them, and the cold press in upon us and squeeze the life from our wretched bodies. We piece our recollections together and build for ourselves a picture of the caribou and its migrations, but we never succeed in discovering the first clue to the solution of the riddle of this mysterious animal.
Klondike Bill tells us about the time he was almost trampled underfoot by a herd of many thousand caribou. He had to crouch behind his sled, he said, whilst the herd, terrified by wolves, rushed by on every side. Joe had a hand-to-hand encounter with wolves up in the vicinity of the Coppermine River and escaped by the skin of his teeth. Bablet relates how once he was on the point of losing his dogs up on the Barrens — the very worst situation which could have confronted him. They were just making off with the sled in chase of a band of caribou, and Bablet had had no other choice but to shoot his train-leader. " The best dog that ever worked in the traces," he concludes. We others are not so willing to take his word on the latter point, however, for what trapper will ever admit that any but his own are the best dogs in the land? And woe be unto the man who, by innuendo or otherwise, dares to belittle them! Such is even worse than to mention to a man his wife's imperfections! A trapper may curse at his dogs and flog them unmercifully, but he always stands ready to do battle for them.
Price has had a tough time of it during the latter part of the winter. He was on a long journey east when the caribou vanished completely. The dogs starved and one of them •— one of the most powerful beasts I have ever seen — began to get nasty. A primitive struggle for supremacy developed between dog and man. The dog was harnessed at the time, but it had become so wild and violent that it dragged the rest of the team with it when it decided to launch a lunging, snapping attack. At length, hopping up on the sled, it continued to give battle from there. Price conquered after a time, but it was a victory dearly won, and he would rather have fought with a grizzly bear, he says. Later, on that same journey, he became snow-blind, was taken so whilst he was off looking to one of his traps and had to feel his way back over his own tracks in the snow in order to find his dogs. "Wasn't much fun," he adds dryly.
But, just the same, the one who had had the toughest time of all was certainly old Klondike Bill. Last autumn he had set off into the country with five big strapping dogs, and this spring he returned with but two. The other three he had eaten about Christmas time when he was starving on the shores of Kasba Lake. We all know of the affair, but it is a matter which no one ever mentions.