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"Two caribou were hardly sufficient meat to go on with, so that I went across the Horton River a mile or two east of where the Eskimo went to get the cached meat, and shot three caribou and a fine specimen of white wolf. This wolf was not only fat and excellent eating..."

March 22, 1911

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 15

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Man The Fat Hunter
Facultative Carnivore
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

When about four miles from the eastern end of the lake we left it, striking off on the north side to make a short cut along the southern side of some steep hills which run east towards the Coppermine. We were traveling now on high ground and could see south across the valley of the Kendall bands of caribou grazing about six miles away. We accordingly camped, for our meat had about run out and it seemed well to replenish our stores. 


I happened at this juncture to be suffering from a chafed foot on account of having worn a badly made stocking the day we left home. Dr. Anderson and Natkusiak therefore undertook to hunt, and I stayed at home to give my foot a chance to recover. Tannaumirk, who was a fair seamstress, also stayed at home mending boots and stockings and incidentally telling me folk-lore stories which I wrote down in the original language as he told them. Tannaumirk could never be relied upon for an enterprise of moment, but he had many good qualities, among which were an unvarying cheerfulness and an inexhaustible fund of folk-lore tales, songs, and charms, which he had at first, like the rest of his countrymen, been loath to repeat to me on account of being used to having white men make game of him for doing so. But now that he had found that I had a real interest in such things he never tired of telling them. 


In the evening when our hunters came home they reported having seen caribou in great numbers, but they had not had the best of luck. Dr. Anderson had shot two and Natkusiak had failed to get any. It had been a bright sunshiny day and Dr. Anderson had carelessly gone without glasses, with the result that he was slightly snow blind the following morning. 


Seeing that the subject has been mentioned, it may be worthwhile to say that we have tried glasses of all colors and makes and have found the amber ones, made on the same principle as light filters for cameras, to be far superior to blue, green, plain smoked, or any other variety. The Eskimo goggles,which are made of pieces of wood with two narrow slits for the eyes, each about large enough for a half-dollar to be slipped through it, are satisfactory in that they do not cloud over and that they protect the eyes from snow-blind ness; but the difficulty with them is that the range of vision is so restricted that it is as if you were looking out through a pair of key holes in a door. This is especially troublesome on rough ice or uneven ground, where you keep stubbing your toe against every obstacle, for through the narrow slits you can see what is in front of your feet only by looking directly down. 


As my chafed foot was not completely recovered yet, and as Dr. Anderson was snow-blind, it fell to Natkusiak and Tannaumirk to go for the meat of the caribou Dr. Anderson had shot. It was an other cold, clear day as it had been the day before, and it furnished us with yet another example of the fact that Eskimo do not have com passes in their heads, for although the caribou had been killed and cached only about seven miles away from camp, Natkusiak was unable to find them in an all-day search and the two of them returned home after dark with an empty sled. This meant loss of valuable time, and worst of all, the consumption by us and our dogs of the few remaining pounds of dried meat we had brought with us from home. It is of course always wise to eat your green meat first and keep the light and condensed dried meat to the last. 


The place where the two deer were cached was plainly visible with the glasses from our camp, so that it seemed likely that the next day Natkusiak and Tannaumirk would be able to find it, which it turned out that they did. We had delayed so long now, however, that two caribou were hardly sufficient meat to go on with, so that I went across the Horton River a mile or two east of where the Eskimo went to get the cached meat, and shot three caribou and a fine specimen of white wolf. This wolf was not only fat and excellent eating, but its skin was of great value, either scientifically or commercially;-scientifically because the animal is rare, and commercially because the Eskimo of the Mackenzie district and therefore the members of our own party value the skin highly as trimming for their winter coats. A wolfskin of the type which the Eskimo most admire can, when cut into strips, be sold for as much as twelve foxskins, which being translated into dollars at the prices quoted in 1912 would mean from one hundred to one hundred and twenty dollars for each wolfskin. Natkusiak and Tannaumirk heard my shooting when I bagged the three caribou, and after discovering the cached meat they came over and helped me skin, and took on their sled some of the meat. The next day we spent in hauling the rest of the meat to camp and in making a platform cache upon which to leave behind what we could not take with us. Besides meat, we left also in this cache the valuable wolfskin and the skins of two caribou which we intended for scientific specimens. We knew very well that this cache would not be safe from wolverines, but counted on the rarity of those animals in these parts for a chance to get back before everything had been destroyed. The wolves and foxes, we knew, would be unable to steal from a seven-foot high platform.