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“When the Caribou Failed”: Ilia Tolstoy in the Barren Lands, 1928-1929

by Graham A. MacDonald
Calgary, Alberta

Manitoba History, Number 45, Spring/Summer 2003

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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‘Nobody knows the way of the wind and the caribou.’
Old Chipewyan Proverb

Ilia Tolstoy (centre) from How the Silent Enemy was Made, 1930.

Few pockets of the Canadian landscape have resisted attempts at familiarization as much as the great swath of land north of the Churchill River, composing parts of Manitoba and the old District of Keewatin. Until World War II it remained largely terra incognita to all except those born to the land: the Chipewyan and the so-called “Caribou Eskimos.” Despite the relative proximity of this landscape to Churchill, one of the oldest fur trade centres of the north, this harsh territory was one of the last and most frustrating to be organized for purposes of trade, and it was not really opened up in any regular way until the later nineteenth century with the establishment of a post at Brochet in 1859. By 1945 the region still sustained but a small number of trappers and establishments and these only on a sporadic basis. [1]

The shifting tree-line traverses this territory on a northwest course from Churchill defining “the land of little sticks” and helps mark the territorial divide between the traditional lands of the Chipewyan, more properly called the Etheneldile-dene (the ‘caribou-eating people’), and the lands of the Inuit to the north. [2] There are but few accounts of this border territory in the early centuries of European contact. Most famous are Heame’s relations of travel, made between 1769 and 1772, from Prince of Wales Fort at Churchill. He trekked a number of routes across the barrens, reaching as far as the Coronation Gulf on the Arctic coast. [3] A much more fragmentary, but nevertheless fascinating episode, dates from the journey made in 1714-16 by the spirited Chipewyan Woman, Thanadelthur. Under the sponsorship of HBC trader James Knight at York Factory, her trek was made in the cause of fostering domestic peace and commercial relations between the Cree and Chipewyan, and it took her far west past Nueltin Lake into the country north of Lake Athabasca. [4]

As competition for the furs of this “captivating Athabasca” unfolded after 1785, the tree-line country remained on the margins. David Thompson, still with The Hudson’s Bay Company, established Bedford House on the southern tip of Reindeer Lake in 1796. In 1809, Richard Sutherland was sent to winter at the north end of the lake, initiating the first elementary trading contact with the Lac Du Brochet area. [5] The main movement of the fur trade frontier in those years was towards the northwest rather than north however, and it was not until 1859 that the Hudson’s Bay Company established a permanent post at Brochet. In this case, the HBC did not live up to its normal reputation of having been “Here Before Christ” for the Oblates had already established a mission there in 1856. [6] J. A. Rogers observed that Brochet “was at that time one of the few posts established in caribou country. The Chipewyans in those days were sufficient unto themselves, with little or no interest in trading furs for white man’s goods.” [7]

Few others left any record of the country along the tree-line until the later nineteenth century when the Tyrrell Brothers made a number of appraisals for the Geological Survey of Canada. [8] In 1896, the Rev. John Lofthouse penetrated inland along the “Tha-anne” River from the coast north of Churchill to a point about three days from the Kazan River and Lake “Tath-Kyed.” [9] By World War I, these reports had been supplemented by a handful of other accounts left by traders, church workers, a few naturalist-explorers, and police officers. It would only be with the inspections made by Kaj Birket-Smith under the auspicies of the Fifth Thule Expedition in the early 1920s that systematic information about the inland Inuit started to be compiled. [10]

Traditional survival on the barrens depended much upon the movements of the caribou herds. [11] The failure of the animals to appear on schedule at a given place could have serious consequences for resident bands, and this remained true well into the twentieth century. Captain

Thierry Mallet’s 1930 memoir contains a chapter “When the Caribou Failed.” A veteran trader of the Revillon Freres Fur Trading Company, he recounted one dramatic episode of what was to become an all too familiar phenomenon in the eastern arctic in the depression years and after World War II: the spectre of starvation among the inland Inuit. In the course of a trek northeast from the Ennadai Lake area, he recalled: [12]

...we were in plain sight of the whole band of Eskimos. The igloos were built on a rocky point, while the entire tribe seemed to be scattered a mile or so out on the ice.

“Fishing,” was our thought, and at once we knew that our friends were in a bad way. No Eskimo fishes inland through the ice in winter unless he has missed the herds of caribou in the fall and has been unable to stock up with meat and fat until the next spring.

Mallet was not the first to have noticed the periodic failures of the caribou to arrive. In The Wildlife of Canada (1920), Angus Buchanan reviewed some of the earlier reports of this failure in the Lac Du Brochet area north of Reindeer Lake, as reported by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Roderick Macfarlane: “Caribou seen each year from 1874 till 1884: none seen from 1885 until the autumn of 1889.” [13] In his own venture into the tree-line country in 1914 and 1915, (well beyond news of recent war) Buchanan thought at first that he too, was destined to miss the caribou, even though their signs were everywhere in the immediate landscape: [14]

Day after day I waited — and watched.... Everything in the land had at first been beautiful in my eyes — but God! how the awful silence of its vast space grips you. Even now I felt it, even before the great covering of snow had muffled every corner of the earth, and land and water came to be bound in iron ice-grip.

The consequences of such a failure of the caribou to appear in this area were later made famous by Farley Mowat with the publication of People of the Deer in 1952. [15]

At about the same time that Thierry Mallet was preparing his memoir, an expatriate Russian from the United States, Ilia Tolstoy, was making his way north by rail to the Pas, destined for the barren lands of Keewatin. His party had left Winnipeg on August 14, 1928, and he too was in search of caribou, but only indirectly for purposes of traditional survival. He and his travelling companions were attempting to obtain film footage which would contribute to William Douglas Burden and William C. Chanler’s production, The Silent Enemy, one of the last and greatest of the silent films, released in 1930. [16]

Ilia Andreevich Tolstoy

Ilia Tolstoy
Source: Explorers Club Archives

A grandson of the great novelist, Leo Tolstoy, ilia Tolstoy was born at Toptivovo, Tula, Russia, to Andrey L. Tolstoy and Olga Diterichs, daughter of Czarist officer, General K. K. Diterichs. Following schooling in Odessa and the Moscow School of Agriculture, he was a cornet in the Imperial Cavalry and served at Tashkent. He later joined the Lieb Guards Dragoon for the White Army during the revolution. A taste for horses and exploration developed early in life. In 1915, at the age of only twelve, he was assistant to the Director of Cavalry Training Command, and traveled on horseback from Samarkand to Pewhawar. In 191718 he worked for the Russian Department of Agriculture and was on assignment in Turkestan. Between 1922 and 1924 he was active on the Volga, assisting with famine relief. Unsympathetic to the new Soviet regime, Tolstoy emigrated to the United States in 1924 and took further training at William Penn College followed by studies in animal husbandry at the University of Iowa, Ames. In 1927, Tolstoy became associated with the explorer and naturalist, William Douglas Burden, an associate and trustee of the New York Museum of Natural History. It was in connection with Burden’s production of the film, The Silent Enemy, that Tolstoy undertook a venture into the Canadian barren lands of Keewatin in search of the caribou. Following this expedition, Tolstoy spent time in Alaska assisting in the planning of the new Mount McKinley National Park. He was inducted into the Explorers Club in New York in 1931. Throughout the 1930s he was involved in several film ventures and expeditions to Central and South America, and he did important work in the development of underwater photography. His greatest adventure came during World War II when, as a U.S. Army Colonel, he and Colonel Brook Dolan ventured to Tibet in the service of “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the American Office of Strategic Services. The details of this venture were published in the National Geographic Magazine (August, 1946). Tolstoy’s interests in conservation were many. He was one of the founders of Marineland in Florida, of the Bahamas National Trust, and he served on the Caribbean Conservation Commission. He was also active in supporting the Tolstoy Foundation in New York State, established by his Aunt, Alexandra Tolstoy, and in work in support of Tibet and Tibetan refugees.

The script for the film had been initially developed by Burden around the theme of hunger and starvation as one of the perennial enemies of pre-Columbian Aboriginal peoples. [17] Since Burden and Chanler had no motion picture making experience, they “looked for a film crew with a Hollywood background.” They hired as director, H. P. Carver, who had previously been a general manager for William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Productions and who had already directed a film on Indian themes. He also shared Burden’s interest in wilderness. [18] Burden had drawn the inspiration for his initial treatment from episodes in The Jesuit Relations, but it was H. P. Carver’s son, Richard, who was instrumental in detailing the working script. [19]

Northern Manitoba and the Keewatin district west of Hudson Bay showing Tolstoy's route to the Nueltin and Windy Lakes region.

Of prime importance to Burden and Chanter was the question of camera work. They signed on Marcel Le Picard as first cameraman. He had the difficult task of considering the various problems associated with shooting a dramatic film in the snow conditions of a northern Ontario winter, [20] Authenticity of human-animal interaction was a guiding aesthetic principle for the producers. [21] Other camera men hired included Frank M. Broda, Otto Durholz, Horace D. Ashton and William Casel, the last two who would accompany Tolstoy into the barrens in the fall of 1928. [22] Their assignment was to capture footage of large numbers of barren ground caribou on the move at a location where Native hunters would have attempted to encounter them. The Windy Lake area on the western edge of Nueltin Lake provided just such a strategic setting. This vast and complicated body of water (pronounced Nutheltin by the Chipewyan) straddled the Manitoba and Keewatin border. According to the American conservationist, Ernest Oberholtzer, (who with an Ojibwa, Billy McGee, had made a remarkable journey through the area in 1912), it was called “Sleeping Island Lake” by the local Native peoples. [23]

It is not clear just how the decision was made to go to Nueltin. Burden and Tolstoy were both knowledgeable about North American wildlife conditions, based on their studies and from field experience and the literature. [24] They were also well connected with the zoological research establishment in New York, including acquaintance with the influential President of the New York Zoological Society, Madison Grant, an expert on caribou. [25] Thierry Mallet of the Paris-based fur trade firm, Revillon Freres, was also consulted in advance, for he had travelled from the Pas to the Kazan River in 1926 and is acknowledged in the film’s promotional literature. [26] It is unlikely, based on the evidence, that Burden’s organization had any contact with Oberholtzer, but the route taken north by Tolstoy was essentially the same as that taken by Oberholtzer. [27] Officials with the Hudson’s Bay Company were undoubtedly contacted in Winnipeg before the party departed north. [28] Supplementary information and advice was picked up, sometimes fortuitously, while en route. The ultimate destination appears to have been established well in advance however, for Tols toy was a thoroughly organized man in all matters. [29] Once moving north beyond the middle Churchill River however, the party would be moving into little understood territory where few could assist them.

We have already seen that in the last half of the nineteenth century only a small number of fur trade posts were established in the Keewatin District. Precious few were added in the first decades of the twentieth, these often being of a rather temporary nature. [30] While most of these posts were far removed from each other, there was one geographic focus where a number of them were found in relatively close proximity. The tree-line associated with the “land of little sticks” passes north of Nueltin Lake. On the western edge of the lake there is an important location for human provisioning owing to the local topography along Windy River which encourages the caribou, during its southern fall migration, to funnel together and cross at predictable locations. In his quest for realistic wildlife film footage of the caribou en masse, it was to this vicinity that Tolstoy headed, as did Francis Harper twenty years later when undertaking his important study of the barren ground caribou. [31] In the literature of The Silent Enemy, the impression is given that Tolstoy failed to find the caribou. [32] Some qualification of the extent of the failure is required however. On this trip he and his party did see thousands of head, but from the standpoint of cinematography, the big herd had not come close enough for their purpose.

Tolstoy’s timing was appropriate, for from mid-August through November, based on the reports of local knowledge, one was likely to see crossing Windy River large numbers of caribou, (elements of what is today called the great Kaminuriak Herd), heading for the wintering grounds in the forests to the south. [33] In reaching his destination, Tolstoy was aided by the small network of company and independent traders and also by traditional inhabitants on the land. [34]

The trip north from the railhead at The Pas unfolded in the following way. Tolstoy and his companions travelled by canoe along the Saskatchewan River to Cumberland House. There the party took on six local Cree canoe men to make the journey north towards Nueltin Lake. [35] The route took them north to Namew Lake and Sturgeon Landing, and north again into Amisk (Beaver) Lake. From there it was via the Sturgeon Weir River into Lake Corneille, through Pelican Narrows, (where Revillon Freres maintained a trading post), into Wood Lake, and then across the divide between the Saskatchewan and Churchill River systems, via the famous Frog Portage. [36] It was at this portage that Wallace Laird, a trader for Revillon Freres, returning to Pelican Narrows from Lac La Ronge, encountered the Tolstoy Party heading in the opposite direction. [37] Once on the Churchill, Tolstoy and friends canoed northeast until they reached the mouth of the Reindeer River, along which they followed north into the vast lake of the same name, and then on to Brochet at its far end near the mouth of the Cochrane River. This river brought the party to the much smaller Lac Du Brochet, some distance south of the divide between the Seal and Thlewiaza River systems. They crossed this divide into the headwaters of the Thlewiaza, which rises in the country southwest of Kasmere Lake and eventually flows through the confusion of Lake Nueltin and then easterly into Hudson Bay at a point between Arviat (Eskimo Point) and Churchill. [38] By entering the Thlewiaza, the Tolstoy party was on the last leg to its destination, the Revillon Freres Post at Windy Lake on the northeastern edge of the much larger Nueltin Lake. [39] Tolstoy later reported that the entire journey had taken them over 97 portages. [40] (See Tolstoy’s route, Map 1.)

Of the few outsiders who had previously visited these parts of the barren lands, most had come during the spring, summer and fall, retiring from the country for the winter. This was necessarily not the case with Tolstoy’s venture. His party planned to winter over if necessary, in keeping with its main purpose, which was to meet the fall migration, in which caribou would be making their way south through the “land of little sticks” and into the fringes of the woodlands where they could receive some protection from the harsh winter winds and be able to feed, with the aid of their large snow-shovel-like hooves, on the vegetation beneath the less crusted-over forest floor.

Ilia Tolstoy (centre) with Long Lance (left) and Bob Hennessey on the Temagami set of The Silent Enemy.
Source: Glenbow-Alberta Archives

As noted above, in these parts of twentieth century Canada, the “silent enemy” of the film script was still very much a reality, suggesting that the producer’s instincts concerning the theme were sound. While it did not have disastrous consequences for the survival of Tolstoy and his well-provisioned party, the winter of 1928-29 proved to be another year “when the caribou failed.” [41] It was again Wallace Laird who has preserved some account of what transpired between his August encounter with the expedition at Frog Portage and the retreat of the party from Windy Lake in late December. Laird, having been at the Maria Lake outpost, was heading towards Kasba Lake west of Nueltin, in hopes of doing some trade with a few barren ground Chipewyans. While en route, and crossing Kasmere Lake, he once again met the Tolstoy party, heading south this time. R. H. Cockburn summarized this meeting: [42]

Tolstoy explained how after encountering Laird on Frog Portage months before, they had made good time to Brochet and had succeeded in canoeing on to Windy Lake before freeze-up — a stiff voyage. There they were billeted at the Revillon Post. But disappointment awaited them, for the caribou, always unpredictable, failed to come within range of their cameras.

The logic of the Caribou crossing at Windy River.
Adapted from Harper, 1955.

Movements had been made northward from Windy Lake in search of the caribou, for Tolstoy later reported meetings with “Eskimos.” The most humorous incident of the trip he stated, was their reception of eighteen Eskimo trappers in their small tent and a debauch of raisins and chocolate. [43] With mounting evidence that no large number of caribou had moved south, there was little point in remaining for the rest of the winter in hopes of catching sight of them moving north again in spring.

Tolstoy purchased dogs from local Chipewyans and Inuit and teamed up with local trapper George Yandle, a Swede or German-American, who also had a cabin on Nueltin Lake. He was known to be a partner of Husky Harris, Windy Smith and Alfred Peterson. and he ranged as far north as Padlei Post. [44] The expanded Tolstoy party headed south by dogsled in late December, heavily loaded, and was finding the going slow when encountered by Laird on Kasmere Lake. Upon hearing the reports of the scarcity of caribou, Laird was easily persuaded to give up the remainder of his journey to the Kasba hunters, whose whereabouts were unknown, and join the Tolstoy party heading for Brochet. After arriving at Laird’s Kasmere Lake Post, Tolstoy made an arrangement to hire Laird and one of his sleds to help ease the trip south. Laird agreed and thereby unexpectedly spent Christmas at Brochet. He later related to Manitoba artist Clarence Tillenius, that he felt somewhat pampered by Tolstoy, who was generous in sharing his provisions. [45]

The Revillon Freres Post at Windy Lake (1929) where Tolstoy and his party were billeted.
Source: R. H. Cockburn

Tolstoy and Laird parted company at Brochet. On about the first day of February, 1929, the party arrived back in Winnipeg from The Pas, having spent over five months in the north country. Yandle had come down with them and upon arriving in Winnipeg informed reporters that he had not been out to “civilization” for some fifteen years. His response was to purchase some fancy spats with zippers. [46] Asked about their mode of winter travel, Tolstoy exclaimed: “Wonderful animals these Eskimo dogs! I am taking five of them back with me to New York.” He added that “We did 800 miles with them in about a month, and after two days rest made the forty-nine miles from Sturgeon Landing to The Pas in seven and a half hours.” [47]

Thus came to an end what for Tolstoy was a somewhat bitter-sweet adventure. The pleasures of his normal inclination towards exploration were tempered by the failure to obtain the desired film footage. As a student of wildlife, Tolstoy reported that the “caribou of the Barrens have made more changes in their habits in the past three years than they have done for a century.” He attributed these shifts in behaviour to the effects of fire and the slow creeping in of civilization. While some scientists and old-timers were of the view that the herds were decreasing, Tolstoy was of the opinion that they were increasing but moving further away in their great sweeping circles. He concluded by urging the use of airplanes for use in the future scientific study of caribou migration. [48] This suggestion has since become an important element of wildlife management. [49]

Detail of the Windy River region. The various ridges north of the post would channel the southward moving caribou towards Windy River and South Bay further to the east.

The need for film footage still remained, but it was necessary to give the Tolstoy team a well-deserved rest. H. P. Carver sent a new film crew, headed by assistant Director, Earl Welch, by air to a location near Point Barrow on the north slope of Alaska. In this vicinity the Loman Brothers of Nome (the so-called “Reindeer Kings of Alaska”) maintained large numbers of domesticated reindeer which they had purchased between 1914 and 1921, and which could be readily photographed. [50] The slight compromise implied by the need to use domesticated reindeer, was one of the few aspects of the film which did not please Burden. [51] It did not displease devotees of the film however, and some remarkable scenes came out of this Alaskan footage, including the sequences involving the thirteen year old Ojibwa actor, George McDougal, who played ‘Cheeka’. [52]

William Burden, who along with William Chanler produced The Silent Enemy in 1930, one of the last great silent films.

Ilia Tolstoy was just one of many interesting people associated with the making of the film, The Silent Enemy. Notable was the involvement of Sylvester Long, better known to the world as “Long Lance,” in one of the main roles as Baluk. Tolstoy, who sometimes acted as film director when Carver had to be absent, became a good friend and confidant of the troubled Long Lance. They were known to entertain their associates on the set with arm-wrestling matches. Tolstoy became instrumental in tracing down the details of Long Lance’s true identity, doing his best to put wagging tongues to rest, and becoming even closer to Long Lance in the process. Too much came undone for Long Lance in the two years after the release of the film however, and he took his own life in 1932. [53]

Other personalities of note in the film included the main female lead, Neewa, played by a Penobscot from Maine, Molly Dellis Nelson, or Molly Spotted Elk. [54] There was also the important figure of Chief Chetoka, played by Chauncey Yellow Robe, closely related to Sitting Bull on his mother’s side. A striking figure, bearing a strong resemblance to Sitting Bull, he was first seen by Burden while visiting the displays in the New York Museum of Natural History. Burden approached him on the spot about playing a role in the film. [55] Despite its great technical and dramatic merits, the film was not a commercial success owing to its release at just the very time when sound track motion pictures were coming into vogue and owing to luke-warm promotion by Paramount. [56]

Ilia Tolstoy as a boy and his sister Sonya with their famous novelist grandfather, Leo Tolstoy, 1909.

The Silent Enemy was far from the last of Tolstoy’s involvements with exploration, film and wildlife. He was to become involved in experimentation with underwater photography as an aspect of his initiatives in marine conservation in Florida, the Caribbean and in South America. [57] His most notable contribution to exploration came during World War II. In 1942, as a U.S. Army Colonel, he trekked into Tibet, destination China, with Captain Brooke Dolan on a special diplomatic assignment in the service of “Wild Bill” Donovan of the new American Office of Security Services (OSS). [58] The excellent illustrated article that Tolstoy later produced for the National Geographic Society leads into the question of why Tolstoy wrote so little in his lifetime, when he clearly had much to say. [59]

When he came out of the barrens in 1929, he was naturally asked about his relationship with his famous grandfather, and about his own interests. These he claimed to be all oriented towards animal husbandry. Did he have ambitions in literature? “With a name like mine,” he replied, “I dare not.” [60] Is this part of the explanation for the lack of any record of the barren lands expedition and several other exploration episodes? Clearly, he could write well when he chose to do so. Some light on this question is shed by the eminent writer of political biographies, Robert Payne. He encountered Tolstoy in Kunming, China in 1945. Kunming was the site of an American air base and supply depot where Payne was temporarily living in a vodka factory owned by a White Russian, Grigory Shelestian. When Tolstoy, who was also in the city, appeared at the factory it was a great event for Shelestian, being a great devotee of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Payne found that Tolstoy was not inclined to speak much about the Tibet expedition, perhaps owing to its official nature, but preferred to talk about his famous grandfather. Shelestian was grateful for this, since they could talk Russian together on a subject he loved. Interestingly, Shelestian was of the view that “the grandfather’s shadow fell heavily on the grandson.” Perhaps here is one more hint at the grandson’s reluctance to put pen to paper. Tolstoy’s achievements were nevertheless many. From his earliest days a man of action, it may be that his disposition towards adventure encouraged a private inner sense that the best was always in the doing. In introducing Rosemary Jones Tung’s 1980 book A Portrait of Lost Tibet, richly illustrated with photographs taken by Tolstoy and Dolan, Payne noted that both of these explorer’s were now dead, and that “we shall not see their like again.” [61]


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following during the preparation of this article: Julia Clark of the Abbe Museum of Bar Harbour, Maine; R. H. Cockburn, Bunny McBride, Donald B. Smith, Clarence and Penny Tillenius, Tanya Tolstoy Penkrat, The Explorer’s Club of New York.

1. On the development of fur trade activity in the Keewatin District, see Peter J. Usher, Fur Trade Posts of the Northwest Territories, 1870-1970 (Ottawa: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1970), p. 139 ff.

2. See Fred Breummer, ‘The Tree-line’ The Beaver, Outfit 309 (2) (1978), 26-31. For a review of literature and material culture of the Chipewyan of this area, see Loraine Brandson, From Tundra To Forest: A Chipewyan Resource Manual (Winnipeg: Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, 1981); on the interior Inuit, see ‘Father Caste Meets the Inland Eskimo’ (1868) Eskimo 57 (1960), 3-15. The literature on the “Caribou Eskimo” is reviewed in Signs of the Past at Eskimo Point: Cultural Resources and Tourism Opportunities. Report to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, North West Territories (Winnipeg: The Crocus Group, 1982). For a series of fine photographs of Chipewyan life at Caribou, Manitoba, just south of the North West Territories boundary, see Richard Harrington and Clifford Wilson, Northern Exposures (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1953), pp. 10-31.

3. Samuel Hearne, A Journey From Prince of Wales Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean, J. B. Tyrrell, ed. (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1911), End Map, ‘Exhibiting Mr. Hearne’s Tracks’.

4. David F. Pelly, Thelon: A River Sanctuary (Hyde Park: Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association. 1996), pp. 7-10; James F. Kenney, ed. The Founding of Churchill, Being the Journal of Captain James Knight. (Toronto: J. M. Dent, 1932), pp. 55-59: Sylvia Van Kirk, ‘Thanadelthur’ The Beaver Outfit 304 (4) (1974), 40-45.

5. David Thompson, Narrative of his Explorations in Western North America, 1784-1814. J. B. Tyrrell, ed. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1916), pp. 133-34; J.A. Rogers, ‘Lac Du Brochet’ The Beaver (March, 1945), p. 11.

6. Rogers, (1945), 11-13.

7. Rogers (1945), p. 11.

8. J. B. Tyrrell, Report on the Doobant, Kazan and Ferguson Rivers and the Northwest Coast of Hudson Bay. (Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1897); Report on the country between Athabasca Lake and Churchill River. Part D. Annual Report. Vol. 8. (Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1896); J. W. Tyrrell, Across the Sub-Arctics of Canada. (Toronto: William Briggs, 1897).

9. J. Lofthouse, ‘A Trip on the Tha-Anne River, Hudson Bay’ Geographical Journal 13 (1899), 276

10. See Bibliography.

11. Bryan C. Gordon, ‘Prehistoric Chipewyan Harvesting at a Barrenland Caribou Water Crossing’ The Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology 7 (1)(1977), 69-83.

12. Thierry Mallet, Glimpses of the Barren Lands (New York: Revillon Freres, 1930), p. 129.

13. Angus Buchanan, The Wildlife of Canada (London: John Murray, 1920), p. 108. Buchanan was citing MacFarlane’s statistics as reported in Charles Mair and Roderick MacFarlane, Through the Mackenzie Basin (Toronto: William Briggs, 1908), p. 168.

14. Buchanan (1920), p. 110.

15. Farley Mowat, People of the Deer (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1952.)

16. This film was produced by the Paramount Studios. It is currently available in a DVD release. The Silent Enemy. 1992. Film Preservation Associates. The Milestone Collection. ID9362MLSDVD.

17. William Douglas Burden in interview with Donald B. Smith, May 4, 1977. Glenbow Alberta Archives. Donald B. Smith Fonds. Tape-recording. RCT-292.

18. The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indian. Milestone Film and Video. Filmrelease.

19. William Douglas Burden, et al. How the Silent Enemy Was Made. Souvenir Edition. Paramount Pictures, (c. 1930), p. 8; Burden in conversation with Smith (1977).

20. Picard didnot always have an easy time adjusting to winter conditions. See Kevin Brownlow, The War, the West and the Wilderness. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1979), p. 555.

21. Burden in Conversation with Smith (1977).

22. W. Douglas Burden, et al, (c. 1930), pp. 9,12; Brownlow, (1979), p. 550 ff.

23: Joe Paddock, Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001), p. 89.

24. Burden has left a memoir of many of his experiences as explorer and naturalist. See W. Douglas Burden, Look to the Wilderness. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1956).

25. Burden In Conversation with Smith (1977); Burden et al. (c.1930), pp.3, 5; and see Madison Grant, The Caribou. New York Zoological Society, Seventh Annual Report. (New York: 1902); and A. W. F. Banfield, A Revision of the Reindeer and Caribou, Genus Rangifer (Ottawa: Ministry of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, 1961), p. 6.

26. Thierry Mallet, ‘Exploring the Kazan’ The Beaver (March, 1950), 22-25; Burden et al., (1930), p. 3; Burden in Conversation with Smith (1977); Personal communication, Clarence Tillenius, Winnipeg, to the author, February 2003.

27. See Paddock, (2001), p. 80; and R. H. Cockburn, ‘Voyage to Nutheltin’ The Beaver (Jan.-Feb. 1986), 4-27. Contact between Burden/Tolstoy and Oberholtzer is unlikely since in 1939, that other intrepid explorer of the Nueltin Lake country, P. C. Downes, only learned of Oberholtzer’s trip after coming out from his own venture into the barrens and encountering Cecil “Huskey” Harris at Churchill, who recalled Oberholtzer’s trip. Downes tracked down Oberholtzer, later acknowledging his 1912 achievement in his book, Sleeping Island (1943). See Cockburn (1986), p. 5.

28. However, The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Beaver Magazine, then still very much a company organ, makes no mention of Tolstoy’s presence in Winnipeg in 1928 or 1929.

29. Cockburn (1990), p. 17; Explorer’s Club of New York. Archives. Ilia Tolstoy to Ward Randol, Sept. 21, 1970; Donald B. Smith, Long Lance: The Story of a True Imposter (Toronto: MacMillan, 1982), pp. 198-204; Tolstoy no doubt had consulted the reports of J. B. Tyrrell, whose important geological map of 1897 indicates the edge of the barren lands running east to west through the very centre of Nueltin Lake. See J. B. Tyrrell, Report on the Doobaunt, Kazan and Ferguson Rivers and the Northwest Coast of Hudson Bay. (Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1897), Endmap.

30. See Usher, (1970), p. 139 ff., and also R. H. Cockburn, ‘Revillon Man’ The Beaver 70 (1) (1990), p. 17.

31. See Francis Harper, The Barren Ground Caribou of Keewatin (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1955) and other works of Harper’s in the Bibliography.

32. The official story concerning Tolstoy’s filming of the caribou is diplomatic but often less than accurate. W. Douglas Burden et al. How the Silent Enemy was Made. Souvenir Edition. Paramount Pictures (c. 1930), p.8; Milestone Films and Video. Re-release: ‘The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indians’, 1992. Supplemental tape-recorded interview: W. Douglas Burden with Kevin Brownlow; Brownlow (1979), 558-9; Bunny McBride, Molly Spotted Elk: A Penobscot in Paris (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), pp. 114-15; and Burden in conversation with Smith (1977).

33. See George Calef, Caribou and the barren-lands (Toronto: Firefly Books, 1981), pp. 16-17; John P. Kelsall, The Migratory Barren-ground Caribou of Canada (Ottawa: Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1968), Ch. 4.

34. See Cockburn (1990), pp. 17, 19; on the lives of traders active in this area in the twentieth century, see Gerry Dunning, “When the Foxes Ran” (Air Ronge, Saskatchewan: n.d.).

35. Cockburn (1990), p. 17.

36. A post at Pelican Narrows was established by the HBC in 1793 to counteract the Montreal traders moving into the Athabasca country. Abandoned in 1799, it was re-opened in 1818. A new post was established in 1874 on the north shore of Pelican Lake.

37. Cockburn (1990), p. 17.

38. An inspection of 1:250,000 topographical map sheets for this area is instructive for conveying the complexity of the landscape. For the headwaters of the Thlewiaza, Windy Lake and Nueltin Lake see Energy Mines and Resources. Topographical Series. Kasmere Lake Sheet. MN, Ennadai Lake Sheet, 65C, and Nueltlin Lake Sheet, 65B.

39. Photographs of the Revillon Freres post at Windy Lake appear in Cockburn (1990). Photos of posts at Windy River (Charles Schweder’s post) and the post at Simon’s Lake, appear in Dunning (n.d.). The latter are based on photos taken by Francis Harper.

40. Ilia Tolstoy, quoted in: ‘Northern Caribou Changing Habits’ Victoria Colonist, Feb. 2, 1929. The Windy Lake Trading Post was at 60 degree, 35’N and 99 degrees 50’W.

41. That is to say, the caribou failed in the particular locale frequented by Tolstoy. If he had been in the Fort Reliance area with W.H.B Hoare, in February of 1929, he might well have obtained his required film footage. See W. H. B. Hoare, Journal of a Barrenlander, 1928-1929 (Ottawa: 1990), p. 112. See also, Kalsall (1968), Ch. 4.

42. Cockburn (1990), pp. 18-19.

43. ‘Northern Caribou Changing Habits’ Victoria Colonist, Feb. 2, 1929.

44. On Yandle, see Cockburn (1990), p. 19; Dunning (n.d.), p. 68.

45. Cockburn (1990), p. 19; Personal Communication, Tillenius to the author, Feb. 2003.

46. ‘Northern Caribou Changing Habits’ Victoria Colonist, Feb. 2, 1929. Only the most fleeting glimpses of George Yandle are available in the literature. In addition to the Wallace Laird references, he is mentioned by Norwegian trapper Frits Oftedal (b. 1905) who entered the Hook Lake country in 1926. He claimed to have stayed in George Yandle’s cabin at Nueltin in 1929 and stated that Yandle drowned on September 24, 1929. (Dunning. n.d. p. 68). This seems to be a confusion of dates however. W. Gillies Ross mentions purchasing, in 1934, a freighter canoe from “a Swedish trapper named Ralph Yandle” at Padlei Post. (W. Gillies Ross, ‘On the Barrens, 1934’ The Beaver (Autumn, 1968), p. 52). The name “Ralph” is undoubtedly a confusion. Officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Churchill reported George Yandle’s death by drowning in 1936 and a brief obituary notice to that effect was published in the March, 1937 issue of The Beaver (p. 58).

47. Ibid.

48. ‘Northern Caribou Changing Habits ‘ Victoria Colonist, Feb. 2, 1929.

49. Northwest Territories. Wildlife Service. Beverly and Kaminuriak Caribou. Monitoring and Land Use Controls. Completion Report No. 1. (Yellowknife: 1978); Sandford D. Schemnitz, ed. Wildlife Management Techniques Manual. 4th ed. Rev. (Washington, D.C. The Wildlife Society, 1980), pp. 294-5.

50. Brownlow (1979), p. 559; Burden in Conversation with Smith (1977). See also, E. Newton-White, ‘What is a Reindeer - Anyway?’ The Canadian Forum 10 (1930), 395-6, and H. John Russell, The Nature of Caribou: Spirit of the North, (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1998), p. 18 ff.

51. Brownlow (1979), p. 559; Burden in Conversation with Smith (1977). See also, E. Newton-White, ‘What is a Reindeer - Anyway?’ The Canadian Forum 10 (1930), 395-6, and H. John Russell, The Nature of Caribou: Spirit of the North, (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1998), p. 18 ff.

52. See McBride, (1995), pp. 108-9, 115.

53. The complete story is told in Donald B. Smith, Long Lance: The Story of a True Imposter (Toronto: MacMillan, 1982).

54. See McBride, (1995).

55. Burden in conversation with Smith (1977).

56. Burden in conversation with Smith (1977); Brownlow (1979), pp. 55960.

57. Explorer’s Club of New York. Archives. Tolstoy Papers.

58. See Corey Ford, Donovan of OSS (Boston: Little Brown, 1970), pp. 134, 213-16.

59. Ilia Tolstoy, ‘Across Tibet from India to China’ National Geographic Magazine 90 (2) (August, 1946), 169-222.

60. ‘Northern Caribou Changing Habits’ Victoria Colonist, Feb. 2, 1929.

61. Robert Payne, ‘Foreword’ to Rosemary Jones Tung, A Portrait of Lost Tibet. Photographs by Ilya Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan (New York: 1980), pp. ix-xi. See also Robert Payne, Eyewitness: A Personal Account of a Tumultuous Decade, 1937-1946 (Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1972), pp. 258-9; and Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (Washington: Counterpoint, 1999), pp. 532-50.


Archival Materials

Abbe Museum Archives. Bar Harbor, Maine. “The Silent Enemy” Fonds. Alberta Glenbow Institute, Calgary. Donald B. Smith Fonds.

Explorer’s Club of New York. Archives. Ilia Tolstoy Personal Papers. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Winnipeg.

Letters of A. Wallace Laird. Private Collection of Robert H. Cockburn.

Milestone Film and Video. Re-release: ‘The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indians’ 1992. Supplemental tape-recorded interview: W. Douglas Burden with Kevin Brownlow.

Published Works

Birket-Smith, Kaj, The Caribou Eskimos. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition. Vol. 5. Part I and II. Copenhagen: 1929.

Birket-Smith, Kaj, Geographical Notes on the Barren Grounds. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition. Vol. 5. Part IV. Copenhagen. 1929.

Brownlow, Kevin, The War, the West and the Wilderness. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1979.

Buchanan, Angus, Wild Lift in Canada. London: John Murray, 1920.

Burden, W. Douglas, Look to the Wilderness. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1956.

Burden, W. Douglas, et al. How the Silent Enemy Was Made. Souvenir Edition. Paramount Pictures, (c.1930).

Calet. George. Caribou and the barren-lands. Toronto: Firefly Books, 1981.

Canada. Report of the Royal Commission to Investigate the Possibilities of the the Reindeer and Musk-Ox Industries in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Regions of Canada. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1922.

‘Caribou Numbers Not Declining’ Victoria Colonist, Feb.2, 1929. Cockburn, R. H. ‘Revillon Man’ The Beaver 70 (1) (1990), 12-26.

Harper, Francis, Caribou Eskimos of the Kazan. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1964.

Harper, Francis, Caribou of the Barren Lands. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1955.

Harper, Francis, Mammals of Keewatin. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1956.

Hodgins, Bruce W. and Benedickson, Jamie. The Temagami Experience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

Hoare, W. H. B. Journal of a Barrenlander, 1928-1929. Sheila C. Thompson, ed. Ottawa: 1990.

Hulley, Clarence C. Alaska: 1741-1953. Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1953.

Kelsall, John P. The Migratory Barren-ground Caribou of Canada. Ottawa: Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1968.

Lofthouse, J. ‘A Trip on the Tha-Anne River, Hudson Bay’ Geographical Journal 13 (1899), 274-77.

Mallet, Thierry, ‘Exploring the Kazan’ The Beaver, Outfit 280 (March, 1950), 22-25

Mallet, Thierry, Glimpses of the Barren Lands. New York: Revillon Freres, 1930.

McBride, Bunny, Molly Spotted Elk: A Penobscot in Paris Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Milestone Film and Video. ‘The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indians,’ News Release. 1992.

Northwest Territories. Wildlife Service. Beverly and Kaminuriak Caribou. Monitoring and Land Use Controls. Completion Report No. 1. Yellowknife: 1978.

Payne, Robert, Eyewitness: A Personal Account of a Tumultuous Decade, 1937- 1946. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1972.

Payne, Robert, ‘Foreword’ to Tung, Rosemary Jones, A Portrait of Lost Tibet. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.

Pelly, David F. Thelon: A River Sanctuary Hyde Park: Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association. 1996.

Porsild, A. E. Reindeer Grazing in Northwest Canada. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1929.

Ross, W. Gillies, ‘On the Barrens, 1934’ The Beaver Outfit 299 (Autumn, 1968), 48-53.

Russell, H. John, The Nature of Caribou: Spirit of the North. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1998.

Schemnitz, Sandford D., ed. Wildlife Management Techniques Manual. 4th ed. Rev. Washington, D.C. The Wildlife Society, 1980.

Smith, Donald B. Long Lance: The True Story of an Imposter. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Tung, Rosemary Jones, A Portrait of Lost Tibet. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.

Tyrrell, Joseph B., Report on the Doobant, Kazan and Ferguson Rivers and the Northwest Coast of Hudson Bay. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1897.

Tyrrell, Joseph B., Report on the country between Athabasca Lake and Churchill River. Part D. Annual Report. Vol. 8. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1896.

Tyrrell, J. W. Across the Sub-Arctics of Canada. Toronto: William Briggs, 1897.

Usher, Peter, J. Fur Trade Posts of the Northwest Territories, 1870-1970. Otttawa: Department of Northern Affairs and Northern Development, 1970.

Page revised: 27 May 2011

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