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The flesh of the buffalo is exceedingly good eating; and so entirely free from any disagreeable smell or taste, that it resembles beef as nearly as possible

January 9, 1772


A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772

Samuel Hearne

Man The Fat Hunter
Human Predatory Pattern
Facultative Carnivore
Pre-civilization races
Carnivore Diet

The lake is stored with great quantities of very fine fish; particularly between the islands, which in some parts are so close to each other as to form very narrow channels, like little rivers, in which I found (when angling for fish) a considerable current setting to the Eastward.

The fish that are common in this lake, as well as in most of the other lakes in this country, are pike, trout, perch, barble, tittameg, and methy; the two last are names given by the natives to two species of fish which are found only in this country. Besides these, we also caught another kind of fish, which is said by the Northern Indians to be peculiar to this lake; at least none of the same kind have been met with in any other. The body of this fish much resembles a pike in shape; but the scales, which are very large and stiff, are of a beautifully bright silver colour; the mouth is large, and situated like that of a pike; but when open, much resembles that of a sturgeon; and though not provided with any teeth, takes a bait as ravenously as a pike or a trout. The sizes we caught were from two feet long to four feet. Their flesh, though delicately white, is very soft, and has so rank a taste, that many of the Indians, except they are in absolute want, will not eat it. The Northern Indians call this fish Shees. The trout in this lake are of the largest size I ever saw; some that were caught by my companions could not, I think, be less than thirty-five or forty pounds weight. Pike are also of an incredible size in this extensive water; here they are seldom molested, and have multitudes of smaller fish to prey upon. If I say that I have seen some of these fish that were upwards of forty pounds weight, I am sure I do not exceed the truth.

1772. January.

Buffalo, moose, and beaver were very plentiful; and we could discover, in many parts through which we passed, the tracks of martins, foxes, quiquehatches(wolverines), and other animals of the furr kind: so that they were by no means scarce: but my companions never gave themselves the least trouble to catch any of the three last mentioned animals; for the buffalo, moose, and beaver engaged all their attention; perhaps principally so on account of the excellency of their flesh; whereas the flesh of the fox and quiquehatch are never eaten by those people, except when they are in the greatest distress, and then merely to save life. Their reasons for this shall be given in a subsequent part of my Journal.

1772. January.

The buffalo in those parts, I think, are in general much larger than the English black cattle; particularly the bulls, which, though they may not in reality be taller than the largest size of the English oxen, yet to me always appeared to be much larger. In fact, they are so heavy, that when six or eight Indians are in company at the skinning of a large bull, they never attempt to turn it over while entire, but when the upper side is skinned, they cut off the leg and shoulder, rip up the belly, take out all the intestines, cut off the head, and make it as light as possible, before they turn it to skin the under side. The skin is in some places of an incredible thickness, particularly about the neck, where it often exceeds an inch. The horns are short, black, and almost straight, but very thick at the roots or base.

The head of an old bull is of a great size and weight indeed: some which I have seen were so large, that I could not without difficulty lift them from the ground; but the heads of the cows are much smaller. Their tails are, in general, about a foot long, though some appear to be, exclusive of the long brush of hair at the end, longer. The hair on the tails of the bulls is generally of a fine glossy black; but the brush at the end of the cows' tails is always of a rusty brown, probably owing to being stained with their urine.

The hair of the body is soft and curled, somewhat approaching to wool; it is generally of a sandy brown, and of an equal length and thickness all over the body: but on the head and neck it is much longer than it is on any other part.

1772. January.

The Indians, after reducing all the parts of the skin to an equal thickness by scraping, dress them in the hair for clothing; when they are light, soft, warm, and durable. They also dress some of those skins into leather without the hair, of which they make tents and shoes; but the grain is remarkably open and spungy, by no means equal in goodness to that of the skin of the moose: nor am I certain that the curriers or tanners in Europe could manufacture these skins in such a manner as to render them of any considerable value; for, to appearance, they are of the same quality with the skins of the musk-ox, which are held in so little estimation in England, that when a number of them was sent home from Churchill Factory, the Company issued out orders the year following, that unless they could be purchased from the Indians at the rate of four skins for one beaver, they would not answer the expence of sending home; a great proof of their being of very little value.

1772. January.

The buffalos chiefly delight in wide open plains, which in those parts produce very long coarse grass, or rather a kind of small flags and rushes, upon which they feed; but when pursued they always take to the woods. They are of such an amazing strength, that when they fly through the woods from a pursuer, they frequently brush down trees as thick as a man's arm; and be the snow ever so deep, such is their strength and agility that they are enabled to plunge through it faster than the swiftest Indian can run in snow-shoes. To this I have been an eye-witness many times, and once had the vanity to think that I could have kept pace with them; but though I was at that time celebrated for being particularly fleet of foot in snow-shoes, I soon found that I was no match for the buffalos, notwithstanding they were then plunging through such deep snow, that their bellies made a trench in it as large as if many heavy sacks had been hauled through it. Of all the large beasts in those parts the buffalo is easiest to kill, and the moose are the most difficult; neither are the deer very easy to come at, except in windy weather: indeed it requires much practice, and a great deal of patience, to slay any of them, as they will by no means suffer a direct approach, unless the hunter be entirely sheltered by woods or willows. The flesh of the buffalo is exceedingly good eating; and so entirely free from any disagreeable smell or taste, that it resembles beef as nearly as possible: the flesh of the cows, when some time gone with calf, is esteemed the finest; and the young calves, cut out of their bellies, are reckoned a great delicacy indeed. The hunch on their backs, or more properly on their shoulders, is not a large fleshy lump, as some suppose, but is occasioned by the bones that form the withers being continued to a greater length than in most other animals. The flesh which surrounds this part being so equally intermixed with fat and lean, is reckoned among the nicest bits. The weight, however, is by no means equal to what has been commonly reported. The tongue is also very delicate; and what is most extraordinary, when the beasts are in the poorest state, which happens regularly at certain seasons, their tongues are then very fat and fine; some say, fatter than when they are in the best order; the truth of which, I will not confirm. They are so esteemed here, however, that many of them are brought down to the Company's Factory at York as presents, and are esteemed a great luxury, probably for no other reason but that they are far-fetched; for they are by no means so large, and I think them not so fine, as a neat's tongue in England.

The moose deer is also a large beast, often exceeding the largest horse both in height and bulk; but the length of the legs, the bulk of the body, the shortness of the neck, {255} and the uncommon length of the head and ears, without any appearance of a tail, make them have a very awkward appearance. The males far exceed the females in size, and differ from them in colour. The hair of the male, which is long, hollow, and soft, like that of a deer, is at the points nearly black, but a little way under the surface it is of an ash colour, and at the roots perfectly white. The hair of the female is of a sandy brown, and in some parts, particularly under the throat, the belly, and the flank, is nearly white at the surface, and most delicately so at the root.

1772. January.

Their legs are so long, and their necks so short, that they cannot graze on level ground like other animals, but are obliged to brouze on the tops of large plants and the leaves of trees during the Summer; and in Winter they always feed on the tops of willows, and the small branches of the birch-tree; on which account they are never found during that season but in such places as can afford them a plentiful supply of their favourite food: and though they have no fore-teeth in the upper-jaw, yet I have often seen willows and small birch-trees cropped by them, in the same manner as if they had been cut by a gardener's sheers, though some of them were not smaller than common pipe-stems; they seem particularly partial to the red willow.

In Summer they are generally found to frequent the banks of rivers and lakes, probably with no other view than to have the benefit of getting into the water, to avoid the innumerable multitudes of muskettos and other flies that pester them exceedingly during that season. There is also a variety of water-plants, of which the moose are very fond, and which are adapted to their necessities in a peculiar manner during the Summer season, as they can easily brouze on them when nearly emerged in water, to avoid the torment of the flies.

1772. January.

The head of the moose is, as I have observed, remarkably long and large, not very unlike that of a horse; but the nose and nostrils are at least twice as large. The ears are about a foot long, and large; and they always stand erect. Their faculty of hearing is supposed to be more acute than either their sight or scent; which makes it very difficult to kill them, especially as the Indians in those parts have no other method of doing it but by creeping after them, among the trees and bushes, till they get within gun-shot; taking care always to keep to leeward of the moose, for fear of being overheard. In Summer, when they frequent the margins of rivers and lakes, they are often killed by the Indians in the water, while they are crossing rivers, or swimming from the main to islands, &c. When pursued in this manner, they are the most inoffensive of all animals, never making any resistance; and the young ones are so simple, that I remember to have seen an Indian paddle his canoe up to one of them, and take it by the poll without the least opposition: the poor harmless animal seeming at the same time as contented along-side the canoe, as if swimming by the side of its dam, and looking up in our faces with the same fearless innocence that a house-lamb would, making use of its fore-foot almost every instant to clear its eyes of muskettos, which at that time were remarkably numerous.

I have also seen women and boys kill the old moose in this situation, by knocking them on the head with a hatchet; and in the Summer of one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, when I was on my passage from Cumberland House to York Fort, two boys killed a fine buck moose in the water, by forcing a stick up its fundament; for they had neither gun, bow, nor arrows with them. The common deer are far more dangerous to approach in canoes, as they kick up their hind legs with such violence as to endanger any birch-rind canoe that comes within their reach; for which reason all the Indians who kill deer upon the water are provided with a long stick that will reach far beyond the head of the canoe.

The moose are also the easiest to tame and domesticate of any of the deer kind. I have repeatedly seen them at Churchill as tame as sheep, and even more so; for they {258} would follow their keeper any distance from home, and at his call return with him, without the least trouble, or ever offering to deviate from the path.

1772. January.

The flesh of the moose is very good, though the grain is but coarse, and it is much tougher than any other kind of venison. The nose is most excellent, as is also the tongue, though by no means so fat and delicate as that of the common deer. It is perhaps worth remarking, that the livers of the moose are never found, not even at any time of the year; and, like the other deer, they have no gall. The fat of the intestines is hard, like suet; but all the external fat is soft, like that of a breast of mutton, and when put into a bladder, is as fine as marrow. In this they differ from all the other species of deer, of which the external fat is as hard as that of the kidnies.

The moose in all their actions and attitudes appear very uncouth, and when disturbed, never run, only make a kind of trot, which the length of their legs enables them to do with great swiftness, and apparently with much ease; but were the country they inhabit free from under-wood, and dry underfoot, so that horsemen and dogs might follow them, they would become an easy prey, as they are both tender-footed and short-winded: But of this more hereafter.

1772. January.

The skins of the moose, when dressed by the natives, make excellent tent-covers and shoe-leather; and in fact every other part of their clothing. These, like the skins of the buffalo, are of very unequal thickness. Some of the Indian women, who are acquainted with the manufacture of them, will, by means of scraping, render them as even as a piece of thick cloth, and when well dressed they are very soft; but not being dressed in oil, they always grow hard after being wet, unless great care be taken to keep rubbing them all the time they are drying. The same may be said of all the Indian-dressed leather, except that of the wewaskish, which will wash as well as shammoy-leather, and always preserve its softness.

 The female moose never have any horns, but the males have them of a prodigious size and weight, and very different in shape from those of the common deer. The extremity of each horn is palmated to the size of a common shovel, from which a few short branches shoot out; and the shaft of the horn is frequently as large as a common man's wrist. They shed them annually like the common deer. The horns of the moose are frequently found to exceed sixty pounds weight; and their texture, though of a large size and of such rapid growth, is much harder than any other species of deer-horns in those parts.

Though the flesh of the moose is esteemed by most Indians both for its flavour and substance, yet the Northern Indians of my crew did not reckon either it or the flesh of the buffalo substantial food. This I should think entirely proceeded from prejudice, especially with respect to the moose; but the flesh of the buffalo, though so fine to the eye, and pleasing to the taste, is so light and easy of digestion, as not to be deemed substantial food by any Indian in this country, either Northern or Southern. The moose have from one to three young at a time, and generally bring them forth in the latter end of April, or beginning of May.