Samuele Hearne travels with the Northern Native Americans in order to explore the Northwest Passage and explains how they were reliant on fish alone followed by other animals like deer and beaver.
April 1, 1770
A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean.
The remaining part of this month passed on without any interruption, or material occurrence, to disturb our repose, worth relating: our fishing nets provided us with daily food, and the Indians had too much philosophy about them to give themselves much additional trouble; for during the whole time not one of them offered to look for a partridge, or anything else which could yield a change of diet.
As the time may now be supposed to have lain heavy on my hands, it may not be improper to inform the reader how I employed it. In the first place, I embraced every favourable opportunity of observing the latitude of the place, the mean of which was 58° 46' 30" North; and the longitude by account was 5° 57' West, from Prince of Wales's Fort. I then corrected my reckoning from my last observation; brought up my journal, and filled up my chart, to the place of our residence. I built also some traps, and caught a few martins; and by way of saving my ammunition, set some snares for partridges. The former is performed by means of a few logs, so arranged that when the martin attempts to take away the bait laid for him, he with very little struggle pulls down a small post that supports the whole weight of the trap; when, if the animal be not killed by the weight of the logs, he is confined till he be frozen to death, or killed by the hunter going his rounds.
To snare partridges requires no other process than making a few little hedges across a creek, or a few short hedges projecting at right angles from the side of an island of willows, which those birds are found to frequent. Several openings must be left in each hedge, to admit the birds to pass through, and in each of them a snare must be set; so that when the partridges are hopping along the edge of the willows to feed, which is their usual custom, some of them soon get into the snares, where they are confined till they are taken out. I have caught from three to ten partridges in a day by this simple contrivance; which requires no further attendance than going round them night and morning.
-- April 1st, 1770
I have already observed that nothing material happened to disturb our repose till the first of April, when to our great surprise the fishing nets did not afford us a single fish. Though some of the preceding days had been pretty successful, yet my companions, like true Indians, seldom went to sleep till they had cleared the tent of every article of provision. As nothing was to be caught in the nets, we all went out to angle; but in this we were equally unsuccessful, as we could not procure one fish the whole day. This sudden change of circumstances alarmed one of my companions so much, that he began to think of resuming the use of his gun, after having laid it by for near a month.
Early in the morning we arose; when my guide Conne-e-quese went a hunting, and the rest attended the nets and hooks near home; but all with such bad success, that we could not procure enough in one day to serve two men for a supper. This, instead of awakening the rest of my companions, sent them to sleep; and scarcely any of them had the prudence to look at the fishing nets, though they were not more than two or three hundred yards from the tent door.
-- April 1770.
My guide, who was a steady man, and an excellent hunter, having for many years been accustomed to provide for a large family, seemed by far the most industrious of all my crew; he closely pursued his hunting for several days, and seldom returned to the tent till after dark, while those at the tent passed most of their time in smoking and sleeping.
--April 10th 1770.
Several days passed without any signs of relief, till the 10th, when my guide continued out longer than ordinary, which made us conjecture that he had met with strangers, or seen some deer, or other game, which occasioned his delay. We all therefore lay down to sleep, having had but little refreshment for the three preceding days, except a pipe of tobacco and a draught of water; even partridges had become so scarce that not one was to be got; the heavy thaws had driven them all out towards the barren grounds. About midnight, to our great joy, our hunter arrived, and brought with him the blood and fragments of two deer that he had killed. This unexpected success soon roused the sleepers, who, in an instant, were busily employed in cooking a large kettle of broth, made with the blood, and some fat and scraps of meat shred small, boiled in it. This might be reckoned a dainty dish at any time, but was more particularly so in our present almost famished condition.
-- April 11 1770.
After partaking of this refreshment, we resumed our rest, and early in the morning set out in a body for the place where the deer were lying. As we intended to make our stay but short, we left our tent standing, containing all our baggage. On our arrival at the place of destination, some were immediately employed in making a hut or barrocado with young pine trees; while one man skinned the deer, the remainder went a hunting, and in the afternoon returned to the hut, after having killed two deer.
Several days were now spent in feasting and gluttony; during which the Indians killed five more deer and three fine beavers; finding at last, however, that there was little prospect of procuring either more deer or beavers, we determined to return to our tent, with the remains of what we had already obtained.
-- April 22 1770.
The flesh of these deer, though none of the largest, might with frugality have served our small number, (being only six) for some time; but my companions, like other Indians, feasted day and night while it lasted; and were so indolent and unthinking, as not to attend properly to the fishing nets; so that many fine fish, which had been entangled in the nets, were entirely spoiled, and in about twelve or fourteen days we were nearly in as great distress for provisions as ever.