Townsend's Across the Rockies to the Columbia


CHAPTER XVI

Northern excursion - Large shoals of salmon - Indian mode of catching them - House near the beach - Flathead children - A storm on the bay - Loss of provision - Pintail ducks - Simple mode of killing salmon - Return to Chinook - Indian garrulity - Return to Fort George - Preparations for a second trip to the Sandwich Islands - Detention within the cape.

October 17th.- I left Chinook this morning in a canoe with Chinamus, his two wives, and a slave, to procure shell-fish, which are said to be found in great abundance towards the north. We passed through a number of narrow slues which connect the numerous bays in this part of the country, and at noon debarked, left our canoe, took our blankets on our shoulders and struck through the midst of a deep pine forest. After walking about two miles, we came to another branch, where we found a canoe which had been left there for us yesterday, and embarking in this, we arrived in the evening at an Indian house, near the seaside, where we spent the night.

In our passage through some of the narrow channels today, we saw vast shoals of salmon, which were leaping and curvetting about in every direction, and not unfrequently dashing their noses against our canoe, in their headlong course. We met here a number of Indians engaged in fishing. Their mode of taking the salmon is a very simple one. The whole of the tackle consists of a pole about twelve feet long, with a large iron hook attached to the end. This machine they keep constantly trailing in the water, and when the fish approaches the surface, by a quick and dexterous jerk, they fasten the iron into his side, and shake him off into the canoe. They say they take so many fish that it is necessary for them to land about three times a day to deposit them.

The house in which we sleep to-night is not near so comfortable as the one we have left. It stinks intolerably of salmon, which are hanging by scores to the roof, to dry in the smoke, and our bed being on the dead level, we shall probably suffer somewhat from fleas, not to mention another unmentionable insect which is apt to inhabit these dormitories in considerable profusion. There are here several young children; beautiful, flat-headed, broad-faced, little individuals. One of the little dears has taken something of a fancy to me, and is now hanging over me, and staring at my book with its great goggle eyes. It is somewhat strange, perhaps, but I have become so accustomed to this universal deformity, that I now scarcely notice it. I have often been evilly disposed enough to wish, that if in the course of events one of these little beings should die, I could get possession of it. I should like to plump the small carcass into a keg of spirits, and send it home for the observation of the curious.

18th.' Last night the wind rose to a gale, and this morning it is blowing most furiously, making the usually calm water of these bays so turbulent as to be dangerous for our light craft. Notwithstanding this disadvantage, the Indians were in favor of starting for the sea, which we accordingly did at an early hour. Soon after we left, in crossing one of the bays, about three-quarters of a mile in width, the water suddenly became so agitated as at first nearly to upset our canoe. A perfect hurricane was blowing right ahead, cold as ice, and the water was dashing over us, and into our little bark, in a manner to frighten even the experienced chief who was acting as helmsman. In a few minutes we were sitting nearly up to our waistbands in water, although one of the women and myself were constantly bailing it out, employing for the purpose the only two hats belonging to the party, my own and that of the chief. We arrived at the shore at length in safety, although there was scarcely a dry thread on us, and built a tremendous fire with the drift-wood which we found on the beach. We then dried our clothes and blankets as well as we could, cooked some ducks that we killed yesterday, and made a hearty breakfast. My stock of bread, sugar, and tea, is completely spoiled by the salt water, so that until I return to Fort George, I must live simply; but I think this no hardship: what has been done once can be done again.

In the afternoon the women collected for me a considerable number of shells, several species of Cardium, Citherea, Ostrea, &c., all edible, and the last very good, though small.

The common pintail duck, (Anas acuta,) is found here in vast flocks. The chief and myself killed twenty-six to-day, by a simultaneous discharge of our guns. They are exceedingly fat and most excellent eating; indeed all the game of this lower country is far superior to that found in the neighborhood of Vancouver. The ducks feed upon a small submerged vegetable which grows in great abundance upon the reedy islands in this vicinity.

The next day we embarked early, to return to Chinook. The wind was still blowing a gale, but by running along close to the shore of the stormy bay, we were enabled, by adding greatly to our distance, to escape the difficulties against which we contended yesterday, and regained the slues with tolerably dry garments.

At about 10 o'clock, we arrived at the portage, and struck into the wood, shouldering our baggage as before. We soon came to a beautiful little stream of fresh water, where we halted, and prepared our breakfast. In this stream, (not exceeding nine feet at the widest part,) I was surprised to observe a great number of large salmon. Beautiful fellows, of from fifteen to twenty-five pounds weight, darting and playing about in the crystal water, and often exposing three-fourths of their bodies in making their way through the shallows. I had before no idea that these noble fish were ever found in such insignificant streams, but the Indians say that they always come into the rivulets at this season, and return to the sea on the approach of winter. Our slave killed seven of these beautiful fish, while we made our hasty breakfast, his only weapon being a light cedar paddle.

We reached Chinook in the evening, and as we sat around the fires in the lodge, I was amused by the vivid description given to the attentive inhabitants by Chinamus and his wives, of the perils of our passage across the stormy bay. They all spoke at once, and described most minutely every circumstance that occurred, the auditors continually evincing their attention to the relation by a pithy and sympathizing hugh. They often appealed to me for the truth of what they were saying, and, as in duty bound, I gave an assenting nod, although at times I fancied they were yielding to a pro- pensity, not uncommon among those of Christian lands, and which is known by the phrase, " drawing a long bow."

21st.'The wind yesterday was so high, that I did not consider it safe to attempt the passage to Fort George. This morning it was more calm, and we put off in a large canoe at sunrise. When we had reached the middle of Young's bay, the wind again rose, and the water was dashing over us in fine style, so that we were compelled to make for the shore and wait until it subsided. We lay by about an hour, when, the water becoming more smooth, we again got under way, and arrived at Fort George about noon.

On the 5th of November, I returned to Vancouver, and immediately commenced packing my baggage, collection, &c., for a passage to the Sandwich Islands, in the barque Columbia, which is now preparing to sail for England. This is a fine vessel, of three hundred tons, commanded by Captain Royal; we shall have eight passengers in the cabin; Captain Darby, formerly of this vessel, R. Cowie, chief trader, and others.

On the 21st, we dropped down the river, and in two days anchored off the cape. We have but little prospect of being able to cross the bar; the sea breaks over the channel with a roar like thunder, and the surf dashes and frets against the rocky cape and drives its foam far up into the bay.

I long to see blue water again. I am fond of the sea; it suits both my disposition and constitution; and then the reflection, that now every foot I advance will carry me nearer to my beloved home, is in itself a most powerful inducement to urge me on. But much as I desire again to see home, much as I long to embrace those to whom I am attached by the strongest ties, I have nevertheless felt something very like regret at leaving Vancouver and its kind and agreeable residents. I took leave of Doctor McLoughlin with feelings akin to those with which I should bid adieu to an affectionate parent; and to his fervent, "God bless you, sir, and may you have a happy meeting with your friends," I could only reply by a look of the sincerest gratitude. Words are inadequate to express my deep sense of the obligations which I feel under to this truly generous and excellent man, and I fear I can only repay them by the sincerity with which I shall always cherish the recollection of his kindness, and the ardent prayers I shall breathe for his prosperity and happiness.

30th.' At daylight this morning, the wind being fair, and the bar more smooth, we weighed anchor and stood out. At about 9 o'clock we crossed the bar, and in a few minutes were hurrying along on the open sea before a six-knot breeze. We are now out, and so good bye to Cape Disappointment and the Columbia, and now for home, dear home again!