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THE GREAT PLAINS OF CANADA.
WITH PICTURES BY FREDERIC REMINGTON.
HE northern portions of the and illimitable sunshine in summer, or of fierce, two great continents which howling winter tempests shutting down about
make up the non-in- the lonely traveler as he struggles forward, the sular land surface of only spot of color in the weltering waste of the globe afford room snow, with no friendly shrub or tree or shelfor great plain areas tering hill greeting his tired senses, only to find wholly unlike, in ex- an enforced halting-place where darkness overtent at least, any simi- takes him, from whose frozen torpor and death lar areas in other lati- no morning mayarouse him-it is quite another tudes. On both con- to have experienced these things in one's own
tinents these broad person. tracts are very much alike in general features. Among the mountains there are grandeur and They lie well toward the Arctic Ocean; they solitude: mists wreathe the lofty summits, and slope gradually toward the northern sea; their lie along the valleys where the rivers run; mornriver-systems converge toward the pole; and ing and evening bathe the snowy, ice-clad they are scantily wooded and mostly covered peaks in floods of golden and crimson glory; with nutritious grasses. Marshes of great ex- from moment to moment shadows, tints, and tent abound, and such lakes and inland seas as tones of color come and go to mark the passexist are shallow and more or less brackish in ing hours; and climb where you will, the proscharacter. At the northern edge of the con- pect is always limited, bounded, varied. Even tinents the surfaces sink more and more to the the barren, unsociable sea is not without changsea-level; the streams grow sluggish and broad; ing aspects and motions, fraught indeed, at and the frozen sea invades the land in count- times with danger and terror; but the traveler less inlets, bays, and channels, leaving above who has passed many seasons in the grandthe surface many low, swampy islands, which est mountain scenery, or has sailed on many are little more than mud-banks.
a sea, has yet to find, in an acquaintance with No one, I think, who is acquainted with the the great plains, a new set of novel and strange great plains of our own western continent lying experiences. north of the great lakes can read the narratives Perhaps the first thing which will impress of the expeditions sent out in search of the him will be the absence of what Mr. John BurJeannette explorers, or Mr. George Kennan's roughs calls an atmosphere. For the first time accounts of Siberian travel, without being im- in his life he will feel that he is out of doors, or pressed with the likeness suggested between that his eyes have been suddenly opened. Obthe Asiatic steppes and the “Great Lone Land” jects which under other circumstances would of the western hemisphere. Many of Mr. Ken- have tempered and softened outlines, or would nan's descriptions of the country through which be altogether invisible, now seem as sharply he passed on his memorable journey to the defined as the shadows of houses or trees in the penal colonies and the prison mines of eastern glare of the electric light. There is no toning Siberia are equally well suited to the almost of the light, and between the blades of grass boundless tracts west of Hudson's Bay, and on the ridge of some slope many rods away northward to the region of the Great Slave from him, he sees with utmost distinctness to Lake. Indeed, I know of no more graphic and unimaginable distances. The sky rises like a truthful portraitures of many parts of what used wall about him, and through the limitless air to be marked on the maps as British North the sun shines like a resplendent disk of burAmerica, and is now more commonly known nished metal. Upward, if he look long and as the British Northwest, or the Canadian steadfastly, he will lose the illusion of blueness, Northwest, than these same narratives; but I and will seem to be looking into blue-black am sure no words or pictures can adequately depths, which will convey to his mind with a convey to the mind the real impressions which new meaning the notion of space. The distant these regions make upon one who lives among forests, where they exist, and the low, tumbled and travels over them in long journeys in sum- hills, grassy and rounded to their summits, are mer and winter. It is one thing to talk of vast- seen without disguise or softening; and moving ness and solitude and silence, of transparent air animals or trains of carts show every detail VOL. XLIV.-74.
with the distinctness of close proximity. Per- sound, even at night; but on the treeless chance a herd of white-tailed deer, of antelope, plains, in the midst of normal activity, there is or possibly of elk, challenges him to a feat of silence as of the grave. Even a hurricane is arms, and he is chagrined to find that he has comparatively inaudible, for there are no waunderrated the distance of the game, and that ters to dash, no forests to roar, no surfaces to his shot has only served to startle his quarry. resound, while the short grasses give forth no In the morning he looks out over the landscape perceptible rustle; and there is something awfar beyond the spot where he will take his mid- ful in the titanic rush of contending natural day meal, beyond even his next night's camp. forces which you can feel, but cannot see or As this experience is repeated from day to day hear. The wind may sweep away your breath with unvarying monotony, his spirits begin to on a current of sixty miles an hour, and the
a flag, and a depression comes over him that may clouds may rush through the sky as in a torverge toward hopelessness. If the surface of nado, but no sounds confound the ear. A winthe country is flat for many miles, as is often ter blizzard, which carries on its frigid breath the case, this effect is intensified, and the ho- destruction to life, which blinds the eyes, and rizon appears to be rising all about him and which drives the particles of ice and snow with approaching nearer and nearer to swallow up cutting force against the frozen cheek and the sky and overwhelm him. He longs for a through all but the heaviest fur clothing, is tree or the slope of a hill to break the unvary- comparatively inaudible, and the traveler aping sameness of level horizon and to suggest pears to himself to struggle vainly with an imto him new vistas. Even clouds and storm are placable, ghostly force which fills the whole welcome, for they at least bring shadows and creation. When, also, nature is undisturbed in changing lights and movement.
tranquil summer mood, and the sky is blue and I shall never forget the peculiar sensation flecked with fleecy clouds floating far aloft, all of being challenged which I experienced when, sound seems to have died out of the world, after a long railway journey from St. Paul, Min- and a mantle of silence enfolds everything. nesota, one day in April
, some years ago, I ar- Partaking of the predominant natural sentirived at the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and, ment, man becomes silent also; he ceases to as the clear morning sun rose above the level talk to his mates and becomes moody and horizon unbroken by hill or tree, I went out to taciturn. The merry song of the voyager, rethe edge of the town and looked away over the echoing between wooded shores, the shout, the brown grass, now faintly flushed with the first joke of the cheerful traveler here are stilled tender green of early spring. It was easy to im- stifled you might almost say — by the immeaagine that an almost audible voice invited me surable muffle of silence. Here are no woods to to penetrate the untraversed regions toward the give back the answering shout, and the crack north and west, and to discover the mysteries of the rifle is insignificant. The cry of the passof the wilderness where almost unknown rivers ing wild-fowl in the darkness, as you lie awake ran, where vagrant, unbreathed winds were ever in your tent at midnight, comes to you with blowing, where wild animals and water-fowl a weird, faint, far-away sound as if heard in a lived unmolested; and it was with impatience dream, and even the rare thunder breaks imthat the necessary delay of preparation for a potently on the continent of silence. Ifa comlong journey far from civilization, with unknown rade is lost, and you wish to make some sign perils and hardships to be encountered, was en- to direct him to the camp, no noise which you dured. This sense of challenge, which is not can make with voice or firearms will be of any less an invitation to meet nature at first hand, avail, for such noises will penetrate only a few without the conventionalities and the expedi- rods at farthest. By day the only resource is a ents of long use, is, I presume, one of the pecu- flag on some elevation or a smoke of burning liar experiences of the pioneer and the explorer grass; by night rockets must be sent up as at in every clime, whether by land or sea; and it sea, or, if these have not been provided, firemust be practically unknown to the dweller in brands from the camp-fire may be thrown up old communities, and not less to the ordinary with some hope of success. No one can know, tourist, to whom the thought of absence from until he has experienced it, the longing which his usual associates and the conveniences of takes possession of one who has been for weeks mails and telegraphs and daily papers seems practically separated from speaking men, once only painful.
more to hear the sounds of common life, the We speak of darkness which can be felt. roar of the city streets, the sound of bells, and Similarly we may speak of silence which can be even the crowing of the cock in the early dawn. heard, and this is another impressive element The Red River of the North, as it used to of an experience of the plains. On the sea, ex- be called on the maps of our boyhood, when cept in calm, and in the forest and among the Green Bay was an obscure trading-post, and places of human habitation, there is always the Mississippi River, except by name, was
familiar to few, rises in the State of Minne- countless turns, swinging in the course of censota in the same divide which sends a portion turies from one side of the flood-plain to the of its waters southward on their long journey other, obliterating old curves and forming new to the Gulf of Mexico. By a short portage it ones, but never moving in a straight line for a is easy to pass from the head-waters of the dozen rods, until the whole alluvial deposit has Mississippi to those of the Red River, whence a been worked over time and again. continuous passage is open northward through The general aspect of the Great Lone Land Lake Winnipeg, the Sea or Nelson's River, of the Canadian Northwest is that of a broad and Hudson's Bay even to the Arctic Ocean. plain lying inclined at a low angle of elevation The river flows westward at first, but, presently against the eastern base of the Rocky Mounturning, it forms the boundary line between tains, sloping both eastward toward Hudson's Minnesota and Dakota. It drains a broad, Bay and northward toward the Arctic Ocean. level valley, and winds tortuously between There may be said to be no rock-exposures clay banks like an irregular canal, fringed with throughout the whole area, and rarely does the a sparse growth of oak, ash, and box-elder, surface rise even into low, rounded hills. In which nowhere spreads out into a forest. The two expeditions of nearly a thousand miles valley is so broad and flat that only from the each, in a direct line northwest from Winnipeg, appearance of low elevations at a great distance my notes, made daily, show that rock in situ was to the east and the west can you correct your seen only once, and that at Stony Mountain, impression that the surface is that of an upland not more than fifty or sixty miles from the city plain. Here are great areas of a heavy, fertile named. Here is an outcrop of blue limestone of soil, which within a few years have become cele- excellent quality for building purposes. It is perbrated for the immense crops of wheat grown haps fifty feet in height, and it covers an area on them. Flowing away from the sun, the river of not more than a square mile. In a few places suffers from disastrous foods, for while the ad- on the head-waters of the Red Deer, the Batvancing season thaws the snows along its upper tle, and the two Saskatchewan rivers, a few laycourse, the lower portions are yet locked in ice. ers of a yellowish sandstone were observed in At such times the valley is covered for miles the cut banks of the streams adjacent to strata with water to a depth of several feet, and as of a poor quality of bituminous coal. The surlate as the month of April or May the city of face of the country is, however, in many places Winnipeg, lying at the junction of the Assini- thickly strewn with granite boulders, generally boin with the Red River, about sixty miles north of rounded form, sometimes abounding in the of the international boundary line, is liable to shallow marshes, the surrounding hills being be overflowed. During a part of the year small destitute of them; or again, the slopes and the steamers navigate the river from a point in Min- tops of the elevations are covered with them, nesota to Winnipeg, and thence to Lake Win- while none appear in the depressions, the disnipeg; but, below the city named, the channel, position of them appearing to be entirely caprinowhere deep, is obstructed with shallows and cious. For hundreds of miles at a stretch it is rapids at the few places where the underlying possible to go without finding a stone as large rock approaches the surface; while, nearer the as the fist, and, along the beds of the rivers, the lake, the stream becomes so broad and shallow fragments of limestone brought down from the as to be of small commercial importance. The mountains in the annual freshets are carefully Assiniboin, rising about 450 miles west of its gathered by the few inhabitants as a source of junction with the Red River, flows through a the lime used for making the mortar with which level or rolling plain to the eastward with many they daub the spaces between the logs of their short turns, receiving no important tributaries. poor cabins. There are some hilly tracts, but At favorable seasons of the year steamboats the highest elevations are less than two hundred of small size and light draft can go as far west feet, and the summits are smoothly rounded as Portage la Prairie, a distance of about 70 and covered with grass, like the more level surmiles, and occasionally they push their way faces below. Occasionally sand-hills are met even up to the Hudson's Bay trading-post of with, consisting of loose white sand, in which a For Ellice, about 350 miles from Winnipeg. few stunted poplars find a precarious foothold. Here the river lies in a deep valley between The prevailing winds are constantly changing precipitous bluffs more than one hundred feet the contours of these hills, and they are at all in height. In this portion of its course it af- times, except when covered deep in snow, exfords a striking illustration of the action of tremely difficult to traverse with vehicles or streams in working over the materials along animals. Blinding sand-storms frequently occur their courses. From the bluffs on which the in their vicinity, against which it is difficult to post is situated you look down into the valley advance. Shallow marshes and shallow lakes where the stream, now only a narrow creek are numerous, the latter often having neither fringed with willows and poplars, winds with inlet nor outlet, and varying in size from small ponds to large areas many miles in extent. Not west. Throughout much of their courses these infrequently the traveler discovers well-defined, rivers sweep along with great velocity in broad ancient sea-beaches composed of rounded peb- but comparatively shallow channels, lined in bles and fine sand, generally overlaid by the some parts with a scanty growth of cottonclay soil of the country, and appearing where the woods and poplars of little commercial value. surface has been removed or broken through. The soil through which they cut their way is Hudson's Bay, a vast, shallow body of wa- a yellow clay containing great quantities of fine
, ter, an inland sea, constitutes the great drain- sand. It is easily dissolved by water, and, as age-basin of the wide region under consid- a consequence, the streams are always turbid, eration. It is 600 by goo miles in its greatest sand-bars are constantly forming and changing, dimensions, and it is large enough to contain all and quicksands abound. Navigation in these the other inland waters of the western hemi- streams is beset with all the difficulties which sphere without sensible increase. Into it flow characterize the Missouri, if not with still from the west all the waters of a wide region greater ones. Yet, during three or four weeks which do not find their way northward to the in June and July, a few stern-wheel steamers Arctic Ocean through the Athabasca and the of light draft leave the city of Winnipeg on the Peace rivers, the chief affluents of the mighty flood-waters, and, making a precarious passage Mackenzie system. The principal channels of down the Red River, traverse the length of these accumulated waters are the Red River al- Lake Winnipeg with difficulty, and stem the ready spoken of, the Saskatchewan rivers, and current of the North Saskatchewan in the hope the Churchill, or English, River. The Saskat- of reaching the Hudson's Bay Company's tradchewan rivers, known as the North and South ing-post of Edmonton before the waters fall. Saskatchewan, take their rise in the foot-hills Occasionally they accomplish their endeavor, of the Rocky Mountains at a considerable dis- and land their cargoes of supplies at the head tance asunder, the South Saskatchewan receiv- of navigation at Edmonton, within one huning as its principal affluents the Red Deer River dred miles of the Rocky Mountains, after a and, nearer the mountains, the Bow and the tedious voyage of nearly two thousand miles; Belly rivers. The Battle River drains the area but more frequently these boats are stranded between the Red Deer River and the two Sas- on the shifting sand-bars, perhaps four or five katchewans, and empties into the North Sas- hundred miles from any settlement, in a totally katchewan at Battleford, in longitude 108°. uninhabited country. Here they must remain The latter stream, flowing in a direction a little until another season in the charge of two or north of east in its upper course, presently turns three men, who provide a store of fuel and to the eastward; then bending to the southeast, prepare for a long nine or ten months of abit approaches to within twenty miles of the solute isolation and the rigors of an arctic south branch, parallel to which it flows for winter; or, when news of the almost expected some 300 miles, when the two streams unite disaster has reached some settlement by a mestheir waters near Fort à la Corne in longitude senger on foot or on horseback, a brigade of 105°, latitude 53o. Receiving the waters of carts is fitted out and despatched to convey Lake Winnipeg and of the adjacent body of the stores by land to the point for which they water known by the two names Lake Manitoba were shipped, while the steamer winters where and Lake Winnipegosis at their northern ex- she was stranded. tremity, not less than 260 miles from where the Another feature of this great drainage area Red River discharges into Lake Winnipeg, the is the valleys which in the course of centuries direction of the river thenceforth is northeast- the rivers have cut out for themselves. They ward, until the mighty food pours into Hud- are often of great depth, and in places have very son's Bay, in longitude 93°, latitude 570. steep walls. Arriving at the brink of the valley
Thus this Saskatchewan river-system drains of the South Saskatchewan at one time in my an area extending through a region measured journeyings, I sent out a guide in one direcby some twenty-five degrees of longitude and tion, while I went in another, to search for a some fifteen degrees of latitude; and some slope sufficiently gradual to enable us to get notion of the magnitude of these streams can the wagons down in safety. After a half-day's be obtained from the fact that about midway search, we agreed upon a place for the underin the course of the North Saskatchewan, be- taking. The valley of the Red Deer River is fore it unites with the south branch, it four three hundred feet deep and three miles wide. hundred yards broad, or as broad as the Ohio Aware of its general course and situation, as I at Cincinnati, while nearer Lake Winnipeg it approached it with my half-breed guide on a becomes much broader still. The Indian name wagon, I was surprised that no sign of it apof the two great branches of the system, Sas- peared. The rolling surface of the prairie seemed katchewan, means “swift-flowing," and it is to stretch out to the horizon without a break, applied to many other streams in the far North- and yet, if the maps were only approximately
correct, I knew that we could not be more must have crossed a dry fork and that the river than a mile or two from the edge of the de- lay in some depression further on. It was nepression. At length, in the treeless expanse in cessary, therefore, to return to our starting-point, front of us, we observed what appeared to be and, driving some miles down-stream, to make a single small fir-tree three or four feet in height, another attempt. This we did, and at length standing alone in the plain. Approaching it, came to the stream, which was flowing with a we came presently to the edge of the valley, moderately rapid current, not yet having lost and found that the small fir was only the tip the impetus derived from the Rocky Mountain of a great tree standing far down the steep de- slopes, some two hundred miles distant. Its clivity, while still below were whole groups of waters still retained some of the characteristics Conifera whose tops did not reach half-way up of a mountain stream, being clearer, colder, to the general level of the country. A brief in- and less bitter than those of streams nearer their spection showed us that no descent was possi- mouths. In the banks of a small tributary of ble for vehicles or animals, and, picketing our the main stream I discovered several thin layers horses, we set out to descend, if possible, on of a poor quality of bituminous coal. This subfoot. After a tortuous and toilsome task we stance is found in nearly all the river-banks of reached the bottom, but we could not discover the country near the mountains, and in places the stream, although we pressed our way to the it is of such abundance and quality as to render opposite valley walls. We concluded that we it of great commercial value; and as the country
Vol. XLIV.- 75.