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BRINGING THE FURS TO PRINCE ALBERT IN WINTER.
history of the race—forty million dollars worth: twenty million of which were handled in New York and Chicago and St. Louis and St. Paul; some five millions passing through Edmonton and Winnipeg and Montreal and Quebec, three millions for home consumption, two millions plus for export. Five years ago I went through all the Minutes of the Hudson's Bay Company in London from 1670 to 1824, and have transcripts of those Minutes now in my library. In not a single year did the fur record exceed half a million dollars worth. Compare that to the American traffic today of twenty millions; or to the three and four hundred thousand dollar cargoes that each of the Hudson's Bay Company and Revillons' ships bears to Europe from Canada yearly. The muskrat marshes of New Jersey and Delaware have been hunted diligently for half a century; yet they last year yielded between four and five million pelts of the little water rodent that lines fur coats. •
There is another remoter but understandable cause for these cycles of seeming scarcity and higher prices for furs. "Once in seven years, regular as the years come round, from some cause that I have never heard any scientist explain, rabbits die off in the North of pestilence," said the Revillons' chief guide to me, as we canoed down Saskatchewan River two vears
whom we had taken on as paddler for an especially long stretch of rapids, "and when waupoose is scarce, all the otherfellows are going to go meat hungry."
"It's like this," explained the head guide. "When rabbits fall off, lynx and wolverine and all the other meat eaters are not going to be in as good fur the next year—won't likely have as fine litters; and the kits may starve. That means scarce fur for a year. The rabbit plague is about due now. That means higher prices for the rabbit eaters next year."
"Do they always have this plague every seven years?" I asked.
"Always have since I have come to the country; and that is twenty-four years ago."
"And the fur is always better when the animals eat meat?"
"No—not of all animals. It is of lynx
Indian Packers Portaging Past A Rapid.
A Trapper Of The North.
and wolverine: but when the marten, or what the Russians call wood sable, eats mice, like a cat it grows poor and lean. You always find the marten in the berry country; and when it eats berries, it is fat and its fur is fine and beautifullyglossy. Its pelt will command all the way from $8 to $32 according to quality. I tell you a few of those fellows will make you rich. The fur doesn't require any dyeing, just drying and tanning; and it doesn't spoil in sun or rain. We usually catch them in dead falls; and when they are meat hungry, they will eat each other's heads off in the traps. You
always get the mink and the muskrat best in the small game marsh country; and the marten and the lynx in the wood and berry country where rabbit is plentiful. Otter are hard to get because at the season when they are in colonies, the fur is no good—a trapper won't take them. When the fur is in season, they are off solitary. You look out for them fishing round ice holes."
"How much can a good Indian hunter make in a season?" I asked this because in nearly all accounts written about furs, you read a wail of reproach at milady for wearing furs when trapping entails such hardship and poverty on the part of the hunter.
"A good hunter easily earns $600 or $700 a winter if he will go out and not hang round the minute he gets a little ahead. It takes from $3,000 to $4,000 to outfit a small free trader to go up North on his own account. This stock, he will turn over three or four times at a profit of one hundred per cent, on the supplies. For example, $10 cash will buy a good black ofter up North . In trade, it will cost from $12 to $15. On the articles of trade, the profit will be fifty per cent. The otter will sell down at Edmonton from $20 to $30. It's the same of muskrat. At the beginning of the season when the kits are plentiful and small, the trader pays nine cents for them up North. Down at the fur market he will get from twenty-five to sixty cents for them according to size. There were 132,000 muskrat came to one firm of traders alone in Edmonton this year, which they will sell at an advance of fifty per cent."
At the very next fur post, where we stopped—the big game country west of old Fort Pitt—it was easily estimated that the trader took in $40,000 of supplies a year, and sent out $125,000 of furs; but it is not all so profitable and easy as it sounds. Comes the hard year when the pest sweeps off the rabbits or drought dries out old marshes—which latter is very seldom owing to the supply of moisture from the winter's heavy snow—and the Indian hunters, who never save, demand advances on credit from the trader. If he refuses, they will never again bring him a pelt. To hold their good will he advances flour, tea and perhaps some clothes. When the good years come again, he finds that the Indian owes a prior debt to some other trader. If the banks will not carry him past this second into a third season, the free trader goes bankrupt. At the first post where we stopped in the swamp or muskrat country north east of the Saskatchewan, we met a free trader, who had bought 32,000 muskrat his first year and cleaned up a tidy profit; but his second year in order to hold trade, he extended too much credit. Winter set in early and lasted late. The muskrat hunt was poor. The Indians could not pay their debts and the trader sold out to The Company —The Company standing for only one firm in the Northwest—the H. B. C. which old-timers irreverently translate, "Here B.C." "How much fur comes yearly to Ed
monton?" I asked. If you look at the map you will see that Edmonton is the jumping off place to three of the greatest fur fields of North America—down MacKenzie River to the Arctic, up Peace River to the mountain hinterland between the Columbia and the Yukon, east through Athabasca Lake to the wild Barren Land inland from Churchill and Hudson Bay.
"Well, we can easily calculate that. I know about how much is brought in to each of the traders there."
I took pencil while he gave me the names. It totalled up to $600,000 worth for 1908. When you consider that in its palmiest old days of exclusive monopoly, The Company never sold more than half a million dollars worth of furs a year, $600,000 total for Edmonton alone does not sound like a scarcity of furs.
The question may be asked, do not these large figures presage the hunting to extinction of fur bearing animals? I do not think so; and my knowledge of the West is not gained from the windows of a Pullman car as much expert knowledge of the Northwest is. Two years ago a very flamboyant article came out accusing a circle of writers on the Northwest—myself among the number—of gross misstatement of facts. "Canadian fakirs," was I believe the phrase. Among other questions, it was asked with that mock indignation so comic with sparse
m Fur Buyers At Edmonton.
knowledge, how these writers dare refer to "blood-hounds" in a country where no dog exists but the husky; or call travel difficult in a land where "fur traders could as easily go from Edmonton to Klondike as a postman could go his daily rounds in an Eastern town." At the time that article appeared, I was camping in the fur country storm stead at Cumberland Lake, and had to hang my boots on my tent post to keep them from being eaten at night not by huskies— huskies have much better manners—but by the mongrel packs locally known as "the string band," half wolf-hound half bloodhound bred by the fur traders for length and speed of limb in the traces, which rove Northern woods in ravening hordes. My guide, camped down at the big beached canoe, happened to be the man whom the Government had selected to pilot a path from Edmonton to Klondike. Not a man alive ever went through to the gold field that way. He happened to be one of the men who came back alive. Most of the others didn't. So much for Pullman car expert knowledge on the West.
Take a map of the Northern fur country. Take a good look at it—not just a Pullman car glance. The Canadian Government, to whom I am proud to owe allegiance and have more than once contributed facts for their official publications, have again and again advertised thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of acres of free land. Latitudinally, that is perfectly true. Wheat-wise, it
isn't. When you go seventy miles north of Saskatchewan River (barring Peace River in sections) you are in a climate that will grow wheat all right— splendid wheat, the hardest and finest in the world. That is, twenty hours of sunlight—not day light but sun light—force growth rapidly enough to escape late spring and early fall frosts; but the plain fact of the matter is, wheat land does not exist north of the Saskatchewan except in sections along Peace River. What does exist? Cataracts countless—Churchill River is one succession of cataracts; vast rivers; lakes unmapped, links and chains of lakes by which you can go from the Saskatchewan to the Arctic without once lifting your canoe; quaking muskegs— areas of amber stagnant water full of what the Indians call mermaid's hair, lined by ridges of moss and sand overgrown with coarse goose grass and "the reed that grows like a tree" muskrat reed, a tasseled corn-like tufted/growth sixteen feet high—areas of such muskeg mile upon mile. I traversed one such region above Cumberland Lake seventy miles wide by three hundred long where you could not find solid ground to camp the size of your foot. What did we do? That is where the uses of a really expert guide came in: moored our canoe among the willows, cut willows enough to keep feet from sinking, spread oil cloth and rugs over this, erected the tents over all, tying the guy ropes to the canoe thwarts and willows, as the ground would not hold the tent pegs.
It doesn't sound as if such regions would ever be over-run by settlement— does it? Now look at your map, seventy miles north of Saskatchewan. From the north-west corner up by Klondike to the south-east corner down in Labrador is a distance of more than 3,000 miles. From the South to North is a distance of almost 2.000 miles. I once asked a guide with a truly city air—it might almost have been a Harvard air—if these distances were "as the crow flies." He gave me a look that I would not like to have a guide give me too often—he might maroon a fool on one of those swamp areas.
"There ain't no distances as the crow flies in this country," he answered. "You got to travel 'cording as the waters collect or the ice goes out."
Well, here is your country, 3,000 by 2,000 miles, a great fur preserve. What exists in it? Very little wood, and that small. Undoubtedly some minerals. I myself saw brought by an Indian from some unknown mine on Churchill River a piece of pure natural copper the size of a man's hand. What else exists? A very sparse population of Indians, whose census no man knows, for it has never been taken; but when the total Indian population of Canada is only 100.000. and you deduct from the total those on reserves and those on the Pacific Coast, it is a pretty safe guess to say there are not 20,000 Indians all told in the North fur country. I put this guess tentatively and should be glad of information from any one in a position to guess closer. I have asked the Hudson's Bay Company and I have asked Revillons how many white hunters and traders they think are in the $m country of the North. I have never met any one, who placed the number in the North at more than 2,000. Spread 2,000 white hunters with 10,000 Indians— for of the total Indian population half are women and children—over an area the size of two-thirds of Europe —I ask you frankly, do you think they are
going to exterminate the game very fast? Remember the climate of the North takes care of her own. White men can stand only so many years of that lonely cold, and they have to come out; or they dwarf and degenerate.
Take a single section of this great Northern fur preserve—Labrador, which I visited some years ago. In area, Labrador is 530,000 square miles, two and a half times the size of France, twice the size of Germany, twice the size of Austria-Hungary. Statistical books set the population down at 4,000; but the Moravian missionaries there told me that including the Eskimo who come down the coast in summer and the fisherman who come up the coast in summer the total population was probably 17,000. Now Labrador is one of the finest game preserves in the world. On its rocky hills and watery upper barrens where settlement can never come are to be found silver fox—the finest in the world, so fine that the Revillons have established a fur trading post for silver fox on one of the islands—cross fox almost as fine as silver, black and red fox, the best otter in the world, the finest marten in America, bear of every variety, very fine Norway lynx, fine ermine, rabbit or hare galore, very fine wolverine, fisher, muskrat, coarse harp seal, wolf, cariboo, beaver, a few mink. Is it common sense to think the population of a few thousands can hunt out a fur empire here the size of two Germanies?
(Concluded in May number.)