Historical Events

twitter-icon_edited.png
Copy Link

One of these Eskimo had in this small river valley killed thirty or thirty-five sheep from June to August, 1908, and thirty-seven from September, 1908, to May, 1909, subsisting with his whole family almost entirely on sheep meat.

October 8, 1908

rollo-meat-diabetes_edited.jpg

My Life with the Eskimo - Mountain Sheep

Man The Fat Hunter
Facultative Carnivore
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Ovis dalli (Nelson ). Northern Mountain Sheep. Imp'nak (Alaskan Eskimo). 

Lamb, during the first year, No'wak. 

Two-year old, with short horns, Ki-rūtai'lak. 

Adult female, Kūl'la -vủk. 

Adult male, Ang - a -ti-shūg-růk (literally big male). Slavey Indian name, Tho. 


The White Sheep probably never ranged east of the Mackenzie, although they are said to be still fairly common in the mountains on the west side of the river from Fort Norman to the west side of the delta. The Endicott Mountains, or that branch of the northern Rockies which runs northwest from the western edge of the Mackenzie delta, form a divide ten or fifteen miles from the coast west from the coast at Herschel Island and seventy-five or one hundred miles from the coast at the Colville, the largest river flowing into the Arctic in northern Alaska. Sheep were formerly quite numerous on the heads of nearly all the rivers on the Arctic side of the divide, at least as far west as the Colville. It is probable that until comparatively recent times, before whaling ships began to winter at Herschel Island in 1889, the sheep were not much hunted in this region. The population was sparse, and the Caribou were larger, more abundant, and more easily taken. The gradual extermination of the Caribou in northwestern Alaska, combined with other causes, has for many years induced Eskimo from the rivers at the head of Kotzebue Sound to move across to the Colville, at the same time that many Colville Eskimo have gradually moved eastward, occupying one mountain valley after another until the sheep became too scarce to support them. A considerable number of sheepskins have been sent west each year with the Cape Smyth natives who came east each year to barter white men goods for Sheep and Caribou skins. In my expedition into the Endicott Mountains from October, 1908, to April, 1909, I hunted sheep with the Eskimo on both sides of the Endicott Mountain divide, and found sheep much more common on the north side of the divide than on the south side, although the south side of the mountains is an uninhabited wilderness. On the Hula-hula River, which has a course of about forty-five miles in the mountains and about the same distance across the central plain, we found two families of Eskimo sheep -hunters. One of these Eskimo had in this small river valley killed thirty or thirty-five sheep from June to August, 1908, and thirty-seven from September, 1908, to May, 1909, subsisting with his whole family almost entirely on sheep meat. This man's clothing from head to foot was made of sheepskins, his tent of sheepskins, and even his snowshoes strung with sheepskin thongs. Many people in the north prefer the skin of the Mountain Sheep to Caribou for clothing. Although the outer hair of the Sheep is brittle, only the ends of the hairs break off, and the sheepskin never becomes wholly denuded, while the Caribou skin garment becomes bare in spots on very slight provocation. 


Although the rocky slopes where the sheep feed look pretty barren, the sheep manage to find enough to eat. The stomachs usually contain grass, and sometimes moss. The natives say the sheep do not browse on willows, although they often descend to the willows in the summer time. In winter the sheep usually keep to the higher ridges where the snow is less deep. They do not appear to paw the snow away, as it is seldom crusted hard, but browse through the snow, pushing it aside with the nose. Sheep are singularly unsuspicious of danger from above, although they are continually on the alert for enemies from below. Their eyesight is almost telescopic, the scent and hearing equally acute, and it is practically impossible to approach them from below. The hunter therefore always endeavors to work around some adjoining ridge or ascend some creek valley and approach them from above. In this manner, the native hunters sometimes approach within fifteen or twenty yards and kill several out of one band. The lambs are said to be born very early in the season, much earlier than the Caribou, while the snow is still on the ground. The natives told me that in summer the sheep sometimes go up on the ice-capped mountains when the mosquitoes get very bad on the lower ranges, but that they come down again towards evening, as there is no grass on the high mountain tops. 


Although the numbers of sheep have been greatly reduced, I believe that a few are still found near the head of every mountain river from the Colville to the Mackenzie. The natives hunt strictly for meat and skins, and the habitat of the sheep prevents the hunters in this particular region from picking up sheep as a side line to other game hunting and trapping. When a local influx of hunters cuts down the number of sheep beyond a certain limit in some mountain valley, pressure of hunger soon causes the people to move out. Word is passed along that the said river is starvation country, and an automatic close season affords the sheep a chance to recuperate. The Eskimo in the Endicott range occasionally capture a sheep by setting rope nooses or snares in the paths which the sheep make through the willow thickets while crossing from one side of a river valley to another. A few wolves are found on the sheep range, and I have seen wolf tracks following sheep's tracks high up into the mountains, so that probably a few are killed by Wolves.