The Journal of Henry Kelsey, 1691-1692: The First White Man to Reach the Saskatchewan River from Hudson Bay, and the First to See the Buffalo and Grizzly Bear of the Canadian Plains--With Notes on Some Other Experiences of the Man
by Charles Napier Bell, LL.D., F.R.G.S., President of the Society
MHS Transactions Series 2, No. 4
My paper for this evening is on the subject of the journey inland from York Factory in 1691-1692 of an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, named Henry Kelsey, who was, without doubt, the first white man to penetrate inland from York Factory on Hudson Bay to the great plains south of the main Saskatchewan River. Until quite recently, all that was known of Kelsey was contained in his journal, with the following communications regarding his being sent inland, passing between the Governor of the Company at York Factory and the London House of the Company, all submitted by the Company to a committee of the British House of Commons in 1749:
The information afforded by this journal, as then printed, was so vague as to the streams, lakes and lands over which he had travelled in his canoe and on foot, with a party of Indians, and the narrative so devoid of names for the general physical features of the country he traversed, that the few- writers who have attempted to follow the course of his wanderings have had to deal more in theories than facts as to the location and areas of the country he explored.
In 1926, it became known that there had been deposited in the Northern Records Office of Ireland, Belfast, a number of papers and journals of Henry Kelsey, this collection having been presented by Major Arthur F. Dobbs, and a copy came into the hands of the Archivist of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg, who printed some short extract therefrom in The Beaver, the official magazine published in Winnipeg by the Company. Shortly after the discovery of this invaluable collection of Kelsey’s papers, I had the privilege of reading all the documents, and taking notes therefrom, which has very greatly assisted me in preparing this paper for your information.
Major Arthur F. Dobbs is a descendant of the Arthur Dobbs who took such a leading part in the agitation against the exclusive privileges of trade granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company by Charter in 1670, and who was a strong and enthusiastic believer in the existence of a north-west passage from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean and China. In connection with his active interest, Dobbs had written a book, “An Account of the Countries Adjoining to Hudson’s Bay,” which was published in 1744. He also organized a company which in 1746 sent out an expedition to the Hudson Bay with two ships, the Dobbs-Galley of 180 tons burden and the California of 140 tons, the vessels being under the command respectively of Captain William Moore and Captain Francis Smith. Henry Ellis accompanied the expedition as agent for the proprietors, and later, in 1749, published a long account of the voyage, the expedition having returned in 1747 after failing to discover the hoped for north-west passage. Henry Ellis was afterwards Governor of Georgia, and for a time Governor of Nova Scotia (1761-1763). Mr. Dobbs was also a witness before the Parliamentary Committee of 1749, but nowhere in his evidence, as recorded, did lie evince any knowledge of Henry Kelsey, or of the collection of the latter’s journals and papers, which has now been presented by his descendant to the Records Office in Belfast. We are so far left to conjecture whether he had possession of the Kelsey papers at that time, or whether they came into his hands at a later date.
The copy of the Kelsey Journal of 1691-1692, as found in this collection, differs from that found in the Parliamentary Committee’s report of 17-19, in that it gives, in cases, fuller details of the incidents of many of the days included in the latter report, but in practically all essentials both editions correspond, with the notable exception, however, that the newly found copy closes with a lengthy description of the customs, habits and superstitions of the Assiniboine and Cree Indians, and which was probably written after he returned to York Factory. Neither, with the 1749 copy, is there given the lengthy preface or introduction in rhyme, in which Kelsey affords definite information not contained in the journal itself, and which preface is one of the most interesting and illuminative features of the whole collection, and will be referred to later on. This rhymed introduction is dated 1693, the year following his return from his expedition.
The British House of Commons Committee of 1749 was appointed “To inquire into the State and Condition of the Countries adjoining to Hudson Bay, and all the Trade carried on there; and to consider how those Countries may be settled and improved, and the Trade and Fisheries there extended and increased; and also to inquire into the Right the Company of Adventurers trading to Hudson’s Bay pretend to have, by Charter, to the Property of Lands, and exclusive Trade into those Countries.” The Committee examined a large number of witnesses, with two exceptions, employees or ex-employees of the Company, who had been in service at their posts on Hudson Bay. Two outstanding exceptions were Arthur Dobbs, who submitted information in the form of a translated narrative he had received from a “French Canadese Indian,” then deceased, named Joseph la France, and who had been maintained at the expense of the Admiralty, which narrative was contained in Dobbs’ book of 1774, and which I will have occasion to refer to.
The other was a man named Joseph Robson, who had been employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1733-1736, and again in 1744-1747, as stonemason or superintendent to work on forts at York and Churchill, and who, in fact, built much of the celebrated Fort Prince of Wales at the latter place, the ruins of which still remain in full view from vessels entering the harbor. Robson’s evidence was full of complaints at the manner in which he claimed to have been treated by the Company, or its officers, during his two terms of service at Hudson Bay. It is to be particularly noted that Robson, in his evidence before the committee, never in any way referred to Henry Kelsey, but three years later he published a book entitled “An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson Bay,” in which he vigorously attacked not only the authenticity of the Kelsey Journal, but the bona fides of the Company’s correspondence presented to the Committee with it. Robson professed to have received by hearsay from the servants in the Bay (at least 43 years after the date of the journey) the following account of Kelsey:
Robson’s bitter antagonism to the Hudson’s Bay Company was so extreme that his statement regarding Kelsey, especially in view of the more complete information now afforded by the Kelsey collection, can be discounted, though most writers on the subject, ever since Robson’s book was published, have viewed the journal submitted in 1749 with pronounced suspicion as to its authenticity.
The next reference to Kelsey, following the publication of Robson’s book, that I have found, is in a work entitled “The Geography of Hudson Bay,” by Captain W. Coats, who made many voyages to the Bay for the Company between the years 1727 and 1751. The manuscript of this book was left by Captain Coats to his sons for publication if they deemed it advisable, but, as a matter of fact, it was not published until 1852, and then by the Hakluyt Society of London, after having been edited by John Barrow, F.R.S., the manuscript at that time being the property of Sir Edward Parry. Captain Coats gives a great deal of information, not only about the geography of Hudson Bay, but of the natural history and natives of the country inland. Describing the tribes inhabiting the country to the westward of hake Winnipeg, he makes the following reference to Kelsey: “Wither Mr. Kelsey was amongst those western Indians (Stone Indians and Crees-Ed.) when he traveled to cultivate the company trade, or the more southerly Indians, I am not well informed! this is certain, that the Poots, Sene Poots and Stone Indians, have frequented York Fort many years. All these tribes and nations are situated on the western sides of those Lakes from latitude 61 degrees to 47 degrees, to westward of the Superior Lakes and the Straights from Lake to Lake, and do generally come down every year, or once in two years, to trade at York Factory.”
This statement of Captain Coats is both interesting and important. He sailed vessels from England and about the Bay during the period covering eleven years before Verendrye reached the prairies, and during the whole of his and his sons’ exploration of what is now Western Canada. I am a very great admirer of, and as a born Canadian proud of, the wonderful record of Verendrye, and of the man himself. He not only first discovered and explored that vast country extending from the Lake of the Woods to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, but also north to the area traversed by Kelsey forty-seven years before and south to the Missouri, and by his sons far beyond the Missouri to the Black Hills, of not to the Rocky Mountains. Kelsey’s discoveries inland from York Factory to the great plains south of the main Saskatchewan in no way detracts from the well merited fame of Verendrve for his discoveries in another and larger sphere of this Western Canada of ours.
So far as my researches have gone, writers on Canadian Northwest History in modern times did not make any particular reference to Kelsey’s journey to the interior until my own statement in a paper read before this Society in 1885, entitled “Some Historical Names and Places of the Canadian Northwest,” Transaction No. 17. My note read:
Twelve years later Dr. Coues, who so splendidly edited the immensely valuable journal of Alexander Henry (the nephew), publication of a part of which was first made by this Historical Society in 1885, referred therein to my statement as above given. Eleven years later, or twenty-three years after my paper was published, Mr. L. J. Burpee of Ottawa issued his book, “The Search for the Western Sea,” and therein incidentally took Dr. Coues severely to task for having quoted my. statement without having gone to the original report, and wrote “If Dr. Coues had gone, direct to the journal in the 1749 report, he would have found that there is not one word to indicate that Kelsey was on Lake Winnipeg in 1692, or any other year, that he ever saw Lake Winnipeg, or even heard of it through the Indians, which he must have done had he been anywhere in the neighborhood.” Mr. Burpee, in some 16 pages, discussed what he termed the Henry Kelsey puzzle, and built up a most ingenious but fantastic theory that the “Deering’s Point” of the Kelsey Journal was situated down the Nelson River at Split Lake, well on the way to the Bay. Kelsey’s statement in the rhymed preface to his journal, part of the Kelsey collection, distinctly states that, according to his best judgment, the “neck of land” he named Deering’s Point was 600 miles southwest of York Factory, which would indicate that, when taken in connection with the journal, Deering’s Point was on the Saskatchewan River, or Cedar Lake, just west of Lake Winnipeg, and amply justifies the carefully studied conclusion that I arrived at in 1885. Mr. Burpee, basing all his faith on the Split Lake Point, finally landed Kelsey about the upper waters of the Churchill River far north of the Saskatchewan, and where, of course, he had to discover for him a prairie 46 miles across, and large bands of buffalo, as well as grizzly bears.
Kelsey, in the rhymed introduction to his journal of 1691-1692 (new collection) has the following:
At the close of the journal itself, Kelsey says:
When Kelsey, after receiving the supplies sent to him by Governor Geyer, York Factory, left Deering’s Point on 15 July 1691, to go into the country of the Assiniboines, he went with Indians in canoes up the Saskatchewan River to a point estimated by him as 43 miles, including one lake, where they portaged from one place to another through the reed grown shallows. At this place he came to a rapid shallow river (evidently the Carrot River, afterwards followed by Hendry in 1754), which he ascended, and on its bank 28 miles up from its mouth the canoes were abandoned, and his land journey began. Within fair limits, the distance from Cedar Lake to the mouth of Carrot River is just about the 43 miles estimated daily by Kelsey. Kelsey’s land journey will be taken up in detail later.
Let us examine Cedar Lake as the site of Deering’s Point and the place of resort for the Indians to build their canoes to descend on the long and arduous voyage over rivers, lakes and many passages, as described by Kelsey, the rivers running strong with falls, 33 portages to be made and 5 lakes to be crossed.
Joseph la France, in his narrative, taken as before mentioned in French, and translated into English by Arthur Dobbs, traces his own route from Lake Superior in an easily identified line. He arrived at Rainy River on 18 April 1740, passed through the Lake of the Woods, down the Winnipeg River, across Lake Winnipeg (noting the existence of the Red River descending from Red Lake), and on to at least as far as Lake Winnipegosis. La France mentioned incidentally that on the west side of Lake Ounipique (Winnipeg) are the Assinibouels of the Meadows (that is, the Prairie), and farther north the Assiniboines of the Woods.At this point it may be mentioned that on the map drawn by Verendrye, and forwarded to France by Gallissoniere, Governor of New France, in 1750, lakes Manitoba and Winnipegosis combined are clearly shown west of Lake Winnipeg, and to the west of the former is written “Assiliboilles (Asciniboines) de canots nom des Cristinaux (Crees) des prairies.” This significant notation, defining that the Indians, called Canoe or Wood Assiniboines, were really similar to if not the Prairie Crees, is important, and helps us to better understand references in Kelsey’s journal, when, for instance, travelling with some Canoe Assini,boines, he states that, after leaving Deering’s Point, he is on the borders of the Stone Indians (Assiniboines) country and later, when in the prairie area, comes to an Assiniboine camp, and proceeds in his endeavor to make a peace between them and the Crees and Home Indians, the latter evidently being that branch of the Ojibways, yet known as Muskagoes, Swampies or Bungees. La France finally arrived at Lake Caribou (Moose Lake) in March 1742, and from there he passed down to Lake Pachegoia (Cedar Lake), where he specially notes the presence of cedar, birch and pine woods, and “which is the lake where all the Indians assemble in the latter end of March in every year to cut the birch trees and make their canoes of the bark, which then begins to run (the sap), in order to pass down the river to York Fort on Nelson River with their furs.” And again, “the river De Vieux Hommes (Saskatchewan) runs from the west for about 200 leagues, and falls into this lake near the place the river Caribou (Moose) enters it. It has a strong current, and is always muddy, but there is no falls upon it.” Having made their canoes at Lake Pachegoia, the Indians and La France set out together with 100 canoes for York Factory. Attention is here drawn to the name Pachegoia, as the lower part of the main Saskatchewan River was called by many of the white men, French and English, who first ascended and dwelt on its banks by variants of that name, such as Poskoyac, Pasquah, Pasquia and Basquea. As Dobbs had this name Pachegoya from La France, a French Canadian half breed, speaking French and Indian only, and translated it by sound into English, the slight difference in the rendering of the word can easily be understood. I possess an original agreement for service to the Northwest Company on the part of one Louis Perigny executed at “L’Opas” on 19 June 1811, the witnesses being D. McTavish, David MacKenzie, John Macdonnell and John McGillivray, all wintering partners of that company.
Verendrye was influenced in his choice of building Fort La Reine (Portage la Prairie, Manitoba), by the fact that it was there where the Indians of that region passed north to Lake Manitoba, and so on down to conduct their trade with the English. This northerly route led up through lakes Manitoba, Winnipegosis, and across Mossy Portage into Cedar Lake, “the place of rendezvous” for the Indians before starting on their canoe voyage to York. One of Verendrye’s sons, about 1742, followed this route and built Fort Bourbon at the `vest side of Cedar Lake, called by the French Bourbon Lake, with the object of intercepting the Indians who heretofore had gone to York, and by giving them the white men’s trading articles on the spot, saved the natives a whole summer’s canoe voyage to Hudson Bay.
Again, Alexander Henry (the nephew), in 1808 wrote that he, at the west side of Cedar Lake, where the old French Fort was situated, secured cedar wood to take with him up the Saskatchewan for the purpose of repairing their canoes in the following spring, as there was none further west. The obtaining of the requisites for building birch bark canoes was a matter of serious concern to the Indians, and the Traders of a later period. I have an original written agreement made between Alexander McKenzie & Co. (the X.Y. Co.) and one Robert Mogie, entered into at “Lake Winipik” on 26 July 1801, for one year, Mogie to act as Enterpreter and Guide for the Red River and its premises and also to “lift bark and wattap.” (Sir) Alexander McKenzie and P. Dease sign for the Company. Strange to say included in the list of goods supplied by the X. Y. Co. to Mogie was a pair of three point Hudson’s Bay Co. blankets. Evidently the Indian trade demanded that particular article. Cocking, on 23 July 1772, en route from York Factory at the Saskatchewan River via Moose Lake, records in his journal, “The Pedlar, Mr. Currie (who intercepted a great part of York Fort trade this year) is one day’s paddling below this river at Cedar Lake.” Cocking’s original journal has upon its margin a note by Andrew Graham, the H. B. Co. officer of York Factory at the time, that this was the reason why Cocking had been sent in to the interior. Currie, (Thomas Curry) one, if not the first, of the first British traders from Montreal to penetrate the Saskatchewan country, followed the example of his predecessors, the French traders, and at this “place of resort” had cut across the regular canoe route taken by the Indians from the interior to York Factory by establishing his trading post at or near old Fort Bourbon at the west side of Cedar Lake. It is a matter of history that Curry in the one season obtained so many fine furs that he never returned from Montreal, but lived there in comfort on the profits of his single year’s venture.
In more modern times, Fleming of the Hind exploring party in 1858 made a track survey of the main Saskatchewan from the Forks to Lake Winnipeg, and especially refers to the groves of cedar about the west end of Cedar Lake, which evidently received its name from that fact. He mentions that cedar is rarely found in Ruperts Land.
There seems to me to be no doubt but that Deering’s Point, which was the “place of resort where the Indians gathered preparatory to descending to York Factory,” was at Cedar Lake. Having at hand an abundance of cedar for the frame work, large sheets of birch for the cover, wattap (the small long roots of the pine or spruce) for sewing the sheets of bark together and binding it to the frame work, and gum obtained from the coniferous trees to pitch the seams to make them water tight, this “place of resort,” Cedar Lake, was indeed a birch bark canoe builder’s paradise.
This “neck of land” clearly was a strip connecting two larger bodies of land as distinguished from a point or promontory. There are two necks of land on this lake, either of which meets the description of Kelsey, when he says “This neck of land I Deering’s Point did call.” The first and most pronounced is the narrow strip of land separating Lake Winnipegosis (Little Winnipeg) and Cedar Lake, and across which, from the earliest known records to the present day, travellers have portaged, and is the well known Mossy Portage, and by this carriage the early French traders, like the Indians from the Swan and Red Deer rivers, made their way into Cedar Lake. Strangely enough, Cocking, in 1772, also uses this peculiar term “neck of land” when he portaged his canoes from the river he had followed from Moose Lake to enter the Saskatchewan River, and records the fact in the following words: “Carried our canoes and goods over a neck of land into Saskatchewan River.” As this neck of land was directly on the route from Moose Lake to Cedar Lake and the Saskatchewan River on the regular Indian canoe route from Hudson Bay, it is almost certain that this was the neck of land named by Kelsey “Deering’s Point.”
The above covers all the information I have been able to find in connection with the probable site of Deering’s Point, and unless the Hudson’s Bay papers in London, now being arranged and indexed, afford additional data, it is probable that the exact location will never be positively determined, but the length of Kelsey’s voyage up the Saskatchewan corresponds closely with the distance from Cedar Lake to the Carrot River, twenty-six miles up which stream he abandoned his canoes to make his land journey into the country of the Assiniboines, his destination, with its buffalo, grizzly bears and abundance of beaver.
It is rather curious that, up to the time that Kelsey made his journey from York Factory to the interior, Lakes Winnipeg and Winnipegosis (the latter including Lake Manitoba, with which it is directly connected) did not appear on the maps of the present Northern Manitoba as connected one with the other, and the waters thereof discharged by a single stream flowing direct to Hudson Bay without any other connection to the east. Nor did the maps show the Hayes River running into the interior and draining Oxford Lake. On an original map in my collection, published by H. Jaillot, Paris, 1695, Port Nelson is shown at the mouth of a well marked and defined river reaching far into the interior south west, and draining two unnamed large lakes, the latter connected by a river, and all fairly if roughly placed, and also showing a river, evidently the Saskatchewan, as entering from the west. To the south west of these lakes, the word Assinipoels is printed in large and distinct letters. Another map by Pierre Mortier, Amsterdam, of about the same date, gives the same details as the Jaillot map, but with the addition of another river, the Hayes, draining a considerable lake, without doubt Oxford Lake. Again, Del’isle, on his map, dated at Paris, 1703, shows Riviere de Bourbon (Nelson River) running from the south west to “Port Bourbon ou Port Nelson” from the Lac des Assinipoels, but the latter connected by a river to the east with Lac des Christinaux. In the area south west of Lac des Assini hoels is marked “Villages des Assinipoels.” Now, as no white man, either English or French, had been into that area of country (certainly west of the Lake of the Woods) before or after Kelsey’s presence up to the date of the issue of these three maps, it is quite possible that the information as to their existence came not from Indian report only, but Kelsey’s accounts, or the stories of other Hudson’s Bay men, who, with Kelsey himself, were taken prisoners at York Factory by the French under d’Iberville in 1694, just two years after Kelsey returned from Inland. d’Iberville would not lose any opportunity to secure and transmit to France any information he could gain as to the country inland from York, from which Indians in whole fleets of canoes brought down valuable furs. Jeremie was with d’Iberville at the capture of York in 1694 (when Kelsey became a prisoner), and as an ensign remained there till 1696, when the fort fell to the English, and as a prisoner he was sent back to France. He returned in 1697 with d’Iberville, and assisted in retaking York, which was retained by the French till 1713. His narrative, which apparently was not published till 1720, gives a vague and very incorrect account of the country inland from York to Lake Winnipegosis, and confusing the Red Deer River with the Saskatchewan. It is rather extraordinary that from the 1703 map of Del’Isle, no new features were added by the map makers of Europe till the time of La Verendrye’s discoveries after 1738.
It is true that De Noyon, the French Canadian trader and explorer, is to be credited with having spent one winter at the Lake of the Woods (1688), and his report to the Governor of New France (apparently not made public till 1716) was that, according to Indian accounts, from the end of this lake there flowed a large river (Winnipeg River) terminating in the sea. It is a question whether De Noyon was not misled by the Indian reports, as were some other French explorers later. The Indians, on being questioned by others, and through a misunderstanding, informed them that the great water (Lake Winnipeg) ebbed and flowed, for it is a fact that, with a strong north wind, the water of the south end of Lake Winnipeg, and the streams there falling into it, will be appreciably raised, indeed as far up the Red River as the town of Selkirk, twenty miles distant, the water has been known to rise seven feet.
Many writers have puzzled over the lake marked “Lac des Christinaux,” shown on many of the early French maps, considering it to be intended for the Lake of the Woods, or Rainy Lake, and I think this uncertainty has arisen from the fact that Del’isle’s map of 1703, and those of later dates, shows Lac des Assenipolis discharging down the Bourbon River, as the French called the Nelson, to Port Nelson, and also as being connected to the east by a river marked with many signs, designating portages, to Lac des Christinaux which, in turn, is connected by a stream with Lake Nipigon. As a matter of fact, there is a water connection for canoes from Nipigon River and Lake to the north and west, with the English River, which drains Lac Seul, lately decided upon by our Government for water storage works to afford a more continuous supply of water to the present immense electric power plants on the Winnipeg River. Following the Treaty of Versailles, it was feared by the Montreal traders, who were pushing their way into the country west of Lake Superior, that when the precise international boundary line between the British and United States territory was determined, Grand Portage, the general meeting place at the west end of Lake Superior, where began the canoe route by which the Canadian traders reached Rainy Lake and on to the Red River country, the Saskatchewan and the Athabasca would, as it actually did, fall south of the boundary, and indeed there seemed to be some doubt even as to how the settlement of the boundary would affect the Kaministiquia route (Fort William) to the interior. Accordingly, the Northwest Company in 1784 sent Edward Umfreville. with eight men, up the Nipigon River to explore. His journal has never been published in full, but I have a copy of the original which is in McGill University, Montreal. Umfreville followed a course north and west of Lake Nipigon, with its many portages, until he struck the regular boat route taken to the Winnipeg River, which he entered at Portage d’Isle. This route, at least north from Nipigon and down to Albany, was well known to the early French traders; indeed, it was somewhere about Nipigon that Verendrye gained information regarding the country west of Lake Superior from the Indian Ochagach. In the map by H. Jaillot (1695) Nipigon Lake is shown with the notation in French “The Post of Sr. Duluth to prevent the Assiniboine and other savages from descending to the Bay of Hudson.”
Owing to the fact that Kelsey started his journey in 1691 from Deering’s Point about Cedar Lake, and does not give any account of his canoe route from York Factory to the Saskatche wan River, except the summary in his rhymed preface, it is impossible to follow in detail his couse up to that place, but, as he was travelling with a party of Indians from the inland reaching to the borders of the country inhabited by the Assiniboines, and these Indians had already been over this long and intricate water route, probably many times before, and were then returning home, they unquestionably followed the traditional and well known line of rivers, lakes and portages to the Saskatchewan River.
It is most informative that we have in the narrative of Joseph la France the statement that it was a customary thing for the inland Indians, from one hundred to two hundred canoes at a time, after gathering at a meeting place, named Lake Pachegoia (Cedar Lake) to descend to York Factory. Then there are also the journals of Anthony Hendry, 1754-1755, and Matthew Cocking, 1772-1773, who were sent inland by the officials at York Factory, and these two employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company were each dispatched on the same specific mission as was intrusted to Kelsey in 1691. That mission was to endeavor to induce the Indians of the different tribes inhabiting what is now Western Canada to bring or send down their furs to York Factory. In each case Hendry and Cocking left York Factory alone with a party of inland Indians, returning home by canoe, and it is inconceivable that these parties followed any route other than the customary one, indeed Cocking met a party of Indians in their canoes en route to York. It is fortunate that Hendry and Cocking kept their journals in much better form than did Kelsey his, for on the whole their directions and distances correspond, and most of the lakes and rivers mentioned by them can be identified along the whole route south west from York Factory to north of Lake Winnipeg, then to Moose Lake and down to the Saskatchewan River just west of the enlargement of that stream called Cedar Lake, and from this point to the present Pas. The course taken by Kelsey, Hendry and Cocking from Cedar Lake to the Pas by the Saskatchewan is quite easy to follow. The Hendry party turned up the Carrot River, called by him Peatago (by the Crees of today (Osska-tass-Ko), a short distance west of the Pas, ascended that stream (which runs from the southwest) fifty-five miles, cached their canoes, and from then on travelled on foot. Most of the old maps show the stream under the name of Root River, and probably it was called so from the wild root (Psoralea esculata), the esquebois or pomme de terre of the French half breeds. This wild vegetable somewhat resembles a small rooted turnip; when skinned it is quite white and edible when cooked. In a hand book issued by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London, 1907, it is stated that this wild vegetable was introduced into France as a proposed substitute for the potato, but the result was not encouraging. When journeying with some half breeds to Fort Edmonton on the north Saskatchewan in 1872, our course from Fort Ellis at the mouth of the Qu’Appelle River north westerly crossed the south branch of the Saskatchewan to Fort Carlton on the north branch, so that I passed through the south western part of the district traversed by both Kelsey and Hendry. The women of our party, each armed with a stick, there dug up large quantities of the root, and stored it for food. Alexander Henry (the nephew), on 19 May 1801, wrote that the Northwest Company’s people at Portage la Prairie were existing on this root, as they were out of other provisions.
The Carrot River takes its rise near the south branch of the Saskatchewan in the neighborhood of Batoche, some hundred and fifty miles distant from its mouth.
Hendry then struck south west through a country of identically the same description as is recorded by Kelsey, but he later turned more to the west and crossed the south branch of the Saskatchewan, and from thence westerly and south-westerly to the Blackfoot country, where he wintered with those Indians, and returned to York Factory in the following summer. Cocking took a somewhat different route from The Pas, ascending the Saskatchewan, according to his own statement, some hundred and fifty miles, and then struck out westerly to the Blackfoot country, where he also wintered, and returned to York the following year.
It is interesting here to note from Hendry’s journal that, in 1755 at the Pasquia, or, as he spells it, Basquea, 64 years after Kelsey was there, he found a French trading post, probably that of La Corne, who himself was absent on a trip to Lake Superior. This was the first occasion on which an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company entering the west from York Factory met face to face the French officers and traders from Montreal, New France. On the other hand, Cocking, eighteen years later (1772) in the same district met the British traders from Montreal, who, after the conquest of Canada, had entered the western country by the old French canoe route from Lake Superior, which also, for the most part, was the route taken in 1870 by the first Red River Expedition under command of Lord Wolseley, of which I was an humble member at the tender age of sixteen.
Let us return to Kelsey’s land journey. He (just as did Anthony Hendry in 1754, or sixty-three years later) reached the Carrot River, which enters the Saskatchewan a couple of miles west of the present Pas, and, ascending that stream for twenty-eight miles, his party “having no sustenance to follow the chase” cached some of their other supplies and abandoned their canoes. Here commenced his journey on foot into “the country of the Assiniboines” his destination. It is interesting to note, for comparison, that Hendry later continued with his canoes some twenty-seven miles farther up the stream, but he writes that, during the last stage of his voyage, the ’water was shoal, and there were nine islands and four falls in the stream, and he gives what is probably another explanation than shortage of food why Kelsey had abandoned his canoes lower down, when he says that, during that day, he passed “several canoes which the natives had left on account of shoal water.” This statement is worthy of note as proving that this stream was a regular Indian route from the Saskatchewan to the Buffalo Plains. Here Hendry states that Indian families were in a starving condition, and “we are in the same condition,” and although next (lay he travelled twenty-six miles “neither bird nor beast to be seen, so that we have nothing to eat”; and, again, on the following day, twenty-four miles with nothing to eat but some berries, but thereafter he secured as many waskasew, that is, red deer, as required.
Now, let us see how Kelsey describes the first sixty miles of country he tramped through. His party, likewise, were practically starving, having to eat only two or three “wood partridges” and one squirrel, and it was not until at a distance of some ninety-one miles travelling from the point where he left his canoe that he reached dry level land out of the heavy going through mossy land and muskegs, when he secured three pigeons and killed a moose and two swans. He notes that the Indians had had “nothing to eat but grass (probably the `wild turnip’) and berries.” It is rather a coincidence that both Kelsey and Hendry were dependent on berries in the same district. From there on during the whole of his journey he enjoyed plenty of food, the many “beasts” he records as killed by the party being red deer (when he killed a moose he named it as such), the country being wooded until, on the 12th August, the ground began “to grow healthy and barren in fields of about half a mile, just as if they had been artificially made, with fine groves of Poplo (Poplar) growing around ym.” Kelsey had here got to the edge of the heavily wooded country extending southward from the main Saskatchewan, and after travelling on following days thirty-four miles farther, he arrived on the 19th August at the more open prairie, for he describes “ye ground being more baren than it used to be, ye Indians having seen great store of Buffilo, but killed none,” and on the next day he writes “to-day we had pitcht to ye outtermost edge of ye woods; this plain affords nothing but short round sticky grass and Buffilo, and a great sort of a bear wch is bigger than any White Bear, and is neither white nor black, but silver haired, like our English rabbit (The Grizzly). Ye Buffilo likewise is not like those to ye Northward, their horns growing like an English ox, but black and short.” So for the first time on record a white man saw the buffalo and grizzly bear on the prairies and plains of what is now the Canadian Northwest. Totalling Kelsey’s estimated distance to the Buffalo Plains, given day by day as he zigzagged down, he had covered three hundred and twenty-seven miles from where he left his canoes-probably a third greater mileage than if he had kept on a straight line.
From 21 to 27 August they were travelling across a bare plain, “barren ground, it being very dry heathy land and no water, but here and there small ponds. This instant ye Indians going ahunting kill’d great store of Buffilo. Now, ye manner of their hunting these beast on ,ye barren ground is when they see a great parcel of them together, they surround them with men wch done they gather themselves into a smaller compass, keeping at some place or another, and so get away from ym.” Kelsey’s Indians apparently did not use the “pound” or enclosure formed by heavy poplar logs into which the buffalo were driven and there slaughtered. I saw such a structure south of the Battle River in Saskatchewan in October 1872, and the quantities of bones left in the neighbourhood was amazing. I saw another buffalo trap in the form of a high steep cut bank over which the buffalo were driven to nile up at the bottom dead and dying. The piles of skulls and bones at the foot of the cut hank must have represented tens of thousands of animals. Evidently horses were not in use by the Assiniboines. Hendry, sixty-three years later, describes the Blackfoot tribes as having many horses, but by inference he found few or none with the Assiniboines or Crees. Verendrye’s land journeys were performed on foot, but he wrote that Indians visited the Mandans from the south who had horses. In this plain Kelsey joined a party of the “Mountain Poets” (Assiniboines), the camp now aggregating eighty tents, and there followed much feasting and idling. A. Henry (the nephew) describes the “Stone or Rocky Assiniboines” as inhabiting the country about Thunder Hill, which is adjacent to the head waters of the Red Deer, Swan and Assiniboine Rivers. So Kelsey met them not far from their home.
Having, as a lad of eighteen years, in 1872, lived for a considerable time far south of the Battle River, the only white person in a great camp of Crees and Assiniboines, with a sprinkling of Blackfoot, with immense numbers of buffalo drifting past, and, to use Kelsey’s own words, “Ye Indians going ahunting killed great store of buffalo,” it requires no great mental effort for me to picture his then surroundings, with :its idling, feasting, dancing, tom-toming and pow-wowing going on day and night. To the initiated Kelseys’ words ring very true.
In his rhymed preface Kelsey says that one of the objects of his expedition was “Through God’s assistance for to understand the natives language,” and I imagine he was now engaged in that pursuit at the camp fires. I know that under similar surroundings in a large Indian camp I endeavoured to secure some knowledge of Cree under the tuition of old Wandering Spirit, who, some fourteen years later, with others, was hung at Battleford for the murder of nine persons, including two priests, at Frog Lake, during the Riel rebellion of 1885.
On 27 August. “To-day we pitcht again and got to ye woods on ye other side ye plain being about 46 miles over.”
On 28 August. “To enable the Indians to hunt buffalo, because there were none of these beasts in ye woods,” on the following day he notes “This day we lay still for ye women to fetch home meat and dress it (probably they dried the meat and made pemmican), our Indians likewise going a beaver hunting, for in these woods there is abundance of small ponds of water, of which there is hardly one escapes without a beaver house or two, our people having kill’d great store to-day.” It is no wonder that Kelsey and the Indians returned the next summer to York with canoes loaded with furs.
30 August. “Now we pitched again, directing our course into the woods, it being of Poplo and Birch and high Champain land with ponds aforesd, our Indians dispersing themselves, some ahunting of beast and some of beavour.”
31 August. “This day ye Indians made a feast, desiring of me to be a post (messenger or ambassador) to desire ym to stay for us, telling me yt my word would be taken before an Indian’s although he went.”
1 September. “Now, being in their enemy’s country, I had eight Indians for my conduct, one of wch could speak both languages for to be my interpreter, so set forward, and having travelled to-day nearer 30 miles in ye evening came to in a small poplo Island wch standeth out from ye main ridge of woods because these Indians are greatly afraid of their enemies.”
As Kelsey’s companions were quite friendly with the Crees and Assiniboines, including the Eagle Creek branch of the latter tribe, the “enemy’s country” he refers to was likely that of the Blackfoot Indians, who inhabited the great plains extending from the Bow and Red Deer rivers of Southern Alberta to the Assiniboine Indians’ country on the east, in the present Saskatoon district. As late as 1827 a band of four hundred Blackfoot, Piegans and Sarcee Indians stole horses, and committed other depredations about Fort Cartlon on the north Saskatchewan above the present Prince Albert. Even in 1872 when I travelled from Fort Garry to Fort Edmonton with a party of French half breeds, we crossed the Saskatchewan at Fort Carlton, and kept on the north side via Fort Pitt to Fort Edmonton, the men, some of whom were freighting goods for the Hudson’s Bay Company, being in fear of being plundered by the Asiniboines and Blackfoot if they took the shorter route on the south side of the river. It has been suggested that the Naywattamy poets mentioned by Kelsey were the Mandans of the Missouris River, but their territory was at least three hundred miles south of the most southerly point reached by Kelsey at the Touchwood Hills, and powerful bands of Asiniboines intervened. Kelsey also went to the north to meet these Indians, and not to the south in which direction the Mandans lived. Cocking, eighty-one years later in this district wrote that his Indians were greatly afraid of the “Snake Indians” with whom they were always at variance. Henry in 1801 met some of the Snakes along the lower Assiniboine River. Dr. Coues considers that they were some branch of the Sioux tribe, but their identity has never been clearly established.
2 September. Kelsey and his party encountered very wet weather, and by reason of the many “beaten paths wch ye Buffilo makes, we lost ye track,” so he sent on two young men to search for the path, and, it being cold, they made a fire, “but a great parcel of Buffillo appearing in sight, we gave ym chase, and in ye evening came up with ym”; that is, the party he was in search of, and who, from the direction taken by Kelsey, were probably Eagle Creek Assiniboines, though possibly Blackfoot.
3-6 September. Kelsey remained with this party - “feasting and appealing to these Indians not to go to war ” for it will not be liked by ye governer, neither would he trade with ym if they did not cease warring, but all my arguments prevailed nothing with ym, for they told me wt signified a peace wth those Indians considering they knew not the use of Cannoes (evidently Plain Indians and likely Blackfoot), and were resolved to go to wars, so I seeing it in vain I held my peace.”
When pleading with the Asiniboines to cease warring on their neighbors Kelsey informed them that if they continued the Governor at York would not supply them with guns and ammunition, which would enable their enemies to destroy them. In his rhymed preface he says of the Assiniboines:
Hendry in 1754 refers to his Indians as killing buffalo with bows and arrows, and that the Blackfoot tribes were armed only with bows and arrows.
As late as 1872 I did not see a single breech loading rifle with the Crees or Assiniboines, the old flint lock muzzle loading gun, supplied by the Hudson’s Bay, being in use, though bows and arrows were to be seen in plenty in their camp. I was repeatedly offered a horse in exchange for my double-barrelled percussion cap shotgun.
7-8 September. They started back through the woods they had traversed before, “this ledge not being above 30 miles through,” but they covered a greater distance as they kept in it to hunt beavers, this plain being “of the same nature” that they had passed before. It is possible that Kelsey on this side journey reached the south end of the Birch Hills.
9 September. Kelsey went to the “Captain of ye Stone Indians tent,” gave him tobacco, and told him to “make a speech to all his country men, and tell ym not to disturbe nor meddle with ye Naywattame poets,” for he was going back to invite and encourage them to a peace, and he received their consent to this course.
10-11 September. Travel, and on the 12th Kelsey had a long talk with the Indians, counselling peace and giving the Captain some presents which pleased the Indians greatly, and they promised to meet him at Deering’s Point the next spring, and go with him to York Factory. Kelsey notes, in conclusion of his journal, that after he had parted with them, some Nayhaythaway (Crees) Indians came up with these natives, and killed two of them. It so frightened them that they would not venture down to York, as they feared that they would not be allowed by the Home Indians (that is, those on the Nelson River) to return to their country again. He states that when he was at Deering’s Point in the next spring “wch is ye place of resortance when they are going down to trade;” he had news of their having had some of their number killed the previous autumn after he had left them, but that they would certainly be down the next year.
Here Kelsey’s journal of his movements ends, but following it is a long description covering many pages of the habits, customs and superstitions of the Assiniboine and Cree Indians, which account is without doubt the first ever recorded of these two tribes then resident in what is now known as the Canadian Northwest. It is most likely that Kelsey did not write this latter section until after his return to York Factory, because his journal or narrative stops so abruptly on 12 September. Writers have expressed their surprise at this abrupt termination. In this connection it has apparently escaped notice that Robson, in the first appendix to his book, expresses his opinion that though Governor Geyer in 1691, when Kelsey was inland, sent him instructions, with goods to give as presents, and paper, pens and ink to make observations, that the latter lasted no longer than 12 September, adding that if Kelsey did continue his journal and observations down to September 1692, the date of his return to York, that the conclusion must be reached that the Company thought proper to suppress them. This conclusion is quite in Robson’s best form of expressed bitter hostility to the Company.
Having shown from Kelsey’s journal the general character of the country he passed through, and the life he led, let us endeavor to more definitely follow his course when plotted on a good map of the Provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Taking the west side of Cedar Lake as his place of departure from Deering’s Point, he paddled his canoe up the Saskatchewan to the Carrot River, and up that stream some twenty-eight miles, making a total distance of seventy-one miles by canoe, and he quite sufficiently describes his water route to identify it. It is significant that at the place where he left the canoes, his party were depending on fish for their living, and that Hendry, sixty-three years later, at the same point was also living on fish and “heartily wished for a change.” He proceeded on foot from the place he laid up his canoe some ninety-one miles through a mossy muskeg country, “heavy mossy going,” he explains, which exactly corresponds with the character of the land there extending south of the North Saskatchewan River. I have had the opportunity of discussing this muskeg area with an engineer who was on the survey which located the line of the Canadian National Railway south of and from Hudson’s Bay Junction to The Pas. As well, I have discussed the characteristics of that part of Saskatchewan with officials of the Dominion Forestry and Indian Departments, and they agree, in substance, with the railroad engineer, that the swampy area traversed and described by Kelsey was as they have found it. The most recent section maps drawn on a large scale, issued by the Dominion Government, are confirmatory also.
Kelsey then entered upon firmer ground, and at once found plenty of large game, his Indians killing moose and as many as five “beasts” (waskasew, i.e., red deer) in one day. David Thompson, the Northwest Company astronomer, wrote fully of the muskeg country just described, and said that where to the south it gave place to dry land, and trees secured a footing, “the moose have taken possession.” Some “stranger” Indians then visited him, and he arranged with them to meet a larger band some forty miles farther on, and, on covering that distance, he joined the larger band, and notes that the party now consists of twenty-six tents. These he names Eagle Creek Indians (evidently miscopied from the original journal as “Eagle brick Indians,” which has no meaning), a band of Assiniboines who inhabited the country between the south branch of the Saskatchewan and the Eagle Hills Creek on the north branch. Henry (the nephew) gives very full ac counts of them. On travelling some thirty-five miles farther, evidently in a southerly or south-westerly direction, he arrived at “Wasskashew Sebe,” the Indian name for the Red Deer River, which takes its rise in Nut Lake, flows north and then east for a long distance, receiving many small tributaries, and through its enlargement, Red Deer Lake, into Lake Winnipegosis. Attention may here be called to the numerous wasskashew deer killed from day to day by Anthony Hendry in 1754 at about the same distance south-west of the Saskatchewan River as Kelsey found them in large numbers. Kelsey reached the Red Deer River at a point about south south-west from The Pas, and describes the stream as about one hundred yards wide and shoal, and thus adds:
The copyist of the original journal left the above blank, but I am informed from another source that the word begins as “Mith,” and the following letters have Pot so far been deciphered. Now, the Cree word for red is Miscou or Mithcou, and as such is shown on early maps. The word red is given as Mescoth by Sir Alex. MacKenze, Mik--usiw (and blood as Mikkow) by Pere Lacombe, Mequow by Harmon, and Mithcou as taken down by myself from the Crees in 1872. Nearly every Indian word is spelled differently in the vocabularies recorded by the old traders depending as to its rendering apparently on the nationality of the compiler, whether he was French, Scotch or English.
As a fact, the Red Deer River takes its rise in Nut Lake, into which from the south a lengthy small stream enters. It would seem that Kelsey was given an Indian story concerning our own Red River, for the head waters of the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle Rivers (called Upper Red River by the first Traders from Montreal) are situated close to the ultimate source of the Red Deer River, and that “the water wch runneth down this River is of a Blood Red Colour” was their way of describing the Miscou (or Mithcou) Sepe, which has been called both Bloody River and Red River.
It is to be borne in mind that when Kelsey entered the above in his journal he was living with the Thunder Hill Assiniboines from the head waters of the Assiniboine River, called by the French “River of the Assiniboines,” and that other bands of that tribe had their habitat on the Qu’Appelle and down the Assiniboine to the Red River. In the natural order of things, and in accordance with established Indian custom Kelsey’s hosts would talk of the territory covered by the different bands of their own tribe. A band of Assiniboines from Ft a la Reine, accompanied Verendrye to the Mandans in 1738. In 1752 de St. Pier)-- had trouble with them at Fort la Reine (Portage la Priarie), and they burnt his fort that summer during his absence.
He then by his own statement travelled along the Red Deer River south south-west at least thirty-five miles, finding “beasts” in abundance. He notes that the ground here grows “heathy and barren (treeless), in fields about half a mile over, just as if they had been artificially made, with fine groves of poplo round ym.” A really excellent description of the true prairie thereabouts, and as differing from the “Muscuty” plains, the Cree word for widely extended treeless buffalo country. Hind, in his exploration of the country from Fort A. La. Corne on the Main Saskatchewan to Fort Ellis on the Assiniboine, at the mouth of the Qu’Appelle River, found that the “limit of the so-called woody country is about seventy miles from the north branch of the Saskatchewan,” and before his arrival at the great salt plain west and north of the Touchwood Hills, he crossed three belts of woods, these consisting of small groves of poplar, and these belts of woods became broader in the north-easterly direction until they merged into the wooded country between the Birch Hills and the Saskatchewan. Evidently the landscape stimulated his imagination, as did this same wooded district arrest the attention of Kelsey, for Hind, using in part almost identical wording, says: “There are many delightful spots in the belts; the herbage is green as a well shaven lawn, the clumps of aspen (poplar) are neatly rounded, as if by art, and where little lakes alive with wild fowl abound, the scenery is very charming, and appears to be artificial, the result of taste and skill, rather than the natural features of a wild country.” My own journal, kept fifty-six years ago when I adventured into the Saskatchewan country, contains similar entries of my admiration of this district, which I crossed four times in two years.
On 6 August Kelsey records that in several places along the Red Deer River, he saw “slate mines,” evidently an outcropping of the cretaceous shales noted by Hind as showing in that region. This curious but definite statement is another identification of the area traversed by Kelsey. Governor Geyer at York had given him particular instructions to search diligently for mines and minerals, hence, no doubt, this entry in his journal.
Kelsey does not make direct reference to farther following up the Red Deer River, but in any case he continued on for some sixty-five miles in this open prairie section, and then records that the ground became more barren, that he had arrived at the outermost edge of the woods, where short round sticky grass (still known as buffalo grass) grew, and he first saw the buffalo, which he particularly describes and compares with the musk oxen, which he had seen two or three years previously in the barren grounds over two hundred miles north of the Churchill River, and some distance back from the shore of Hudson’s Bay. There can be no doubt whatever but that Kelsey, on 20 August 1691, was the first white man to see the bison in what is now the Canadian West. He also likely for the first time in history places on record a description of the grizzly bear of Northwest Canada. He now dwells in detail on his traverse of an open plain, which he estimated at forty-six miles wide, and describes as extending east and west through a great part of the country. In this plain he Joined a considerable camp of Mountain Poets (Asiniboines) inhabiting the Thunder Hill district adjacent, so that the whole party numbered eighty tents. They killed “great store of Buffalo,” and he describes at length the manner in which the Indians killed a large number by surrounding a band and slaughtering them. Having crossed this plain, which is evidently the one situated north-west of the Touchwood Hills, and called by the half breeds with whom I crossed it the Great Salt Plains, they pitched again into woods of poplar and birch, the ground being high champlain land, with many ponds, where the Indians killed a great many beaver, a very accurate description of the Touchwood Hills, from the top of one of which Hind counted forty-seven lakes and ponds. Kelsey remarks that scarcely one of the small lakes and ponds that here abound was without at least one or two beaver houses. It is fortunate for the identification of this part of the land journey that he specifically names the Red Deer River, and describes the direction of his line of travel as south south-west, because this is the only natural feature actually named by him and the second direction of his course that is recorded in the whole journal from beginning to end. While Kelsey does not mention the name of Quill Lake to the south of where he then was or the fact that from somewhere inland the Indians took down to York Factory large quantities of goose quills as an article of trade (for the making of quill pens), Captain Coates, in his “Geography of Hudson’s Bay,” does comment on the trade; so, too, Hind refers to the Indians securing large quantities of quills at the Quill Lake for trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and that the lakes received their name on that account. The distances given by Kelsey, when mapped through northern Saskatchewan, and the character of the different sections of the country he traversed to this, the southern end of his exploration, seem to make it clear that the route I have above described was approximately that taken by him. From the woods he reached after crossing the great plain he turned northward, and journeyed about fifty-five miles to visit a band of Indians, to whom he talked peace, and gave to the Chief of another band one of his guns and some of the clothing and other presents, which had been sent to him to Deering’s Point by Governor Geyer of York Factory for that purpose. He evidently returned by the same general route to rejoin his own party of Indians, and at this juncture his journal closes, and nothing in the way of recorded data has yet come to light, which would explain where or how he spent the autumn and following winter, but it is certain from his own statement that he was at Deering’s Point the following spring, and accompanied a large party of Indians, with their furs, to York Factory, his arrival there being recorded by Governor George Geyer, as follows:
I consider I have shown that the Deering’s Point of Kelsey was on or in the neighborhood of Cedar Lake, that he ascended the Saskatchewan to the Carrot River at a point on which he abandoned his canoes and proceeded on foot, taking three days under starving conditions to pass through the muskeg country, extending for many miles south of the Saskatchewan River, then entered upon the first firm land, with its wild pigeons and moose, and farther south a more open prairie country which afforded an abundance of red deer, where he met Eagle Creek Assiniboines, and proceeding on reached the Red Deer River, with its “slate mines,” and, ascending that stream south south-west farther on came to the edge of the timber country, where before him stretched the Great Salt Plain, forty-six miles wide, extending east and west, and on which he met more of the Assiniboine Indians (these from the adjacent Thunder Hill district) he had journeyed so far to treat with, for he was indeed in “the country of the Assiniboines.” That plain, abounded with buffalo, and, crossing it, he again entered a wooded area and high champlain land, replete with ponds and lakes all inhabited by beaver, which was evidently the Touchwood Hills country.
It may be concluded that Kelsey’s route stands revealed, and that what has been termed the “Kelsey Mystery” is solved, for no area in Northwest Canada that I know of presents in regular succession the natural features and the Indian bands as above described, and which exactly fit into Kelsey’s account as written day by day.
This is the conclusion of my paper on Kelsey’s journey to the Interior, but I would like to mention one or two of the more important documents in the newly found collection, in order that you may have some general idea of their value, and to show that there exists a rich field for students of Canadian History in the remaining documents comprised in the collection, which I am informed is in course of preparation for publication in full by the Archives Department at Ottawa, and the preface to which has been prepared by our first Vice-President, Prof. Chester Martin.
Other Papers of the Kelsey Collection
Kelseys’ Journal of his travels in the interior 1690-1692 is but one of the interesting narratives or journals included in the collection. He arrived in Hudson’s Bay in 1683 or 1684. In 1689 he made an exploratory trip of some two hundred miles north of the Churchill River. In 1694 he was taken prisoner by the French under d’Iberville; his description of the taking of York Factory is given at the close of a very interesting daily journal from 13 August to 4 October of that year. In 1696 he was at the retaking of York by the English, and gives a full journal from 18 September of that year to 3 September of the following year, when d’Iberville again captured York Factory. From 1698 to 1722 he was engaged in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, principally in the southern districts of James Bay or at Churchill, though at intervals he went home to England. The latest date given in his papers is 1722.
I cannot refrain from giving a resume of his “Journal of voyage and journey undertaken by Henry Kelsey to discover and endeavour to bring to a commerce ye northern Indians inhabiting to the northward of Churchill River and also ye Doyside Nation. June ye 17th, 1689.”
This journal reveals that Kelsey not only was the first white man to reach the prairie country between the main Saskatchewan River and the Touchwood Hills, but as well, two years previous to that expedition, he explored the country north of Churchill River along the west coast of Hudson Bay for a distance of over two hundred miles, and this was eighty-four years before Samuel Hearne made his well-known journey to the Copper Mine River.
Kelsey, with one Indian boy, departed from Churchill River, where apparently there then was no fort, in a shallop named the “Hopewell,” commanded by Captain James Young. Some pages are missing between 17 and 16 June, but during these days he was on the ship and had made about 60 miles distance. As they were having trouble with ice, and received the captain’s consent, he with the Indian boy was set on shore, and after hiding (caching) some articles he could not carry, started north, and until 12 July travelled a distance, computed from day to day, of two hundred and thirteen miles north of the Churchill River. He described the country travelled through as being part ponds and hills, there being no woods in sight, not even enough wood to make a smoke to protect him from the “abundance of muskaters.” Farther on the land was all hills and more barren than before, the hills being of stones, with a coating of moss over them. He had. no “shelter but ye Heavens for a Cannope.” Then followed days of fog, his companion being under great fear, “not suffering me to speak aloud in pretense ye Eskemoes would hear us.” On 7 July he reached a river at a point three miles up from the sea, and crossed it the day following. On the 9th they found some level land, and spying two buffalo (musk oxen) killed one of them. It would seem that Kelsey was the first white man to see, kill and describe a musk ox, and this thirty-two years before the published account of the animal by Jeremie. He fully described all their characteristics, and especially the form of their horns. which “joyn together on their forehead, and so come down ye side of their head, and turned up till ye tips be even with ye buts.” This was the first animal they had killed since leaving Churchill. On the two succeeding days his companion gave him a lot of trouble, refusing to go any farther, telling Kelsey he was a fool, and that he would not go farther for “I was not sensable of ye dangers we had to go through,” so Kelsey, having journeyed by his daily estimate some two hundred and thirteen miles, was compelled to turn back and return to Churchill River, pursuing a somewhat different course. He notes that on 17 July “To-day at noon we came to for to kill deermy partner killed five and I four.” Evidently the deer were the barren ground caribou, which inhabit that region. It was not until 28 July that he again reached the Churchill River, was taken on board the ship, and ultimately arrived back at York Factory.
Captain James Knight
The Kelsey papers, as well as the general records available of the activity of the Hudson’s Bay Company, centering at York Factory, frequently refer to the doings of Captain James Knight, one time governor of that fort, and under whom Kelsey served as Deputy Governor about 1714-1719, who finally, in 1719, sailed with two ships on a voyage of discovery to the northern part of Hudson Bay, and was wrecked on Marble Island, where the remains of the ships and the ill fated crew, who finally starved to death, were found by whalers some forty years later.
A curious coincidence has come under my notice regarding the whereabouts of this Captain James Knight in 1692, the year that Kelsey returned from his inland travels. Some forty-five years ago I found as an appendix in the book by Ross Cox “Travels on the Columbia River,” published in 1831, the following:
For many years after I had seen this statement in Ross Cox, I inquired of all the Hudson’s Bay officers I came into contact with who had been in the Company’s service in James Bay, whether they had seen or heard of this inscribed post, but could not gain any information regarding it. About the year 1910, I was in the office in Winnipeg of Mr. C.C. Chipman, then Chief Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and my attention was drawn to a glass case standing about four feet high and a foot or more square, which contained a log of very much weathered wood. On asking Mr. Chipman what this was, he remarked that he especially wanted me to examine it, and see if I could make anything of it, as he had found it in the offices of the Hudson’s Bay Company in London, and brought it out to Winnipeg. At one close glance I recognized that this was the identical sign made by Captain James Knight, and referred to by Ross Cox. The lettering had evidently been seared with a hot iron, as the incisions bore the appearance of carbonization, but were as plainly to be read as when they were originally made. I regret that, on Mr. Chipman’s retirement from the service of the Company in 1911, and his removal to England, where he afterwards died, he took back this “sign board of the north” with him, and its whereabouts is not now known, and, further, most unfortunately the negative of a photograph I had taken of the inscription was accidentally broken, and no photograph can now be located.
I was recently written by Mr. Sale, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Co., that the Company has now under consideration the publication of a series of important old journals Rcpt by its officers in days Of long ago Such publication will be a great boon to historians, who will secure information that they have long looked forward to obtaining.
Some at least of the journals of Capt. Knight, kept while he was governor at York Factory, just prior to his disastrous and fatal voyage of 1719, are in existence. Under date of 21 July 1716, he recorded having sent Henry Kelsey, his deputy, up the Nelson River in search of game and fish and that Kelsey on his return reported that he had ascended that stream about fifty miles and found it bold and deep and without any falls.
A most important entry in Knight’s journal, dated 7 May 1716, gives an account of an exploration which apparently has never been described or even known of until recently. Knight wrote in 1715 that he had sent Wm. Stewart from York Factory home with the Northern Indians and had received word from him dated 16 October, when Stewart was about one hundred miles from the Churchill River, that “I do not think I shall see you any more,” however he did manage to return to York on 7 May 1716. Knight’s entry of the fact reads as follows:
Wm. Stewart (like Kelsey with the Assiniboines in 1691-1692) travelled and lived as the sole white man with a party of “Northern Indians” who by all known accounts then lived, as described later by Samuel Hearne, in an area “bounded by Churchill River on the South, the Athapuscow Indians’ country on the West, the Dog-ribbed and Copper Indians country on the North, and by Hudson Bay on the East. In later days, and today, these Indians are generally grouped as Chippewayans. And so Stewart’s exploration antedated that of Hearne by nearly half a century. It rather upsets the data we have hitherto accepted as to the first appearance of white men in the interior west of Hudson Bay. With the information of Kelsey’s journal of his exploration of 213 miles into the barren grounds along the sea shore north of Churchill in the year 1689 and this adventure of Wm. Stewart to a distance of 1,000 miles (or even half that distance) to the interior northwest of York Factory, certainly a new mine of knowledge has been uncovered and awaits exploitation by students of Canadian history.
One of these journals to be published is that of Chief Trader Samuel Black, who in 1824 made the first exploration of the Finlay Branch of the Peace River to its source in Lake Thutade and north from there to the headwaters of the Liard River It happens that I have had for many years the original of one section of this journal, written by Black from day to day amidst severe weather conditions, travelling under great hardships and at times nearly starving. The first white man to follow Black over the lower part of his route was Mr. F. C. Swannell, DLS of Victoria, British Columbia, who ascended the Finlay to near its source in 1914 and the account he has given me reveals the great difficulties encountered by Black. The complete report made by Black from his original daily journal is in the possession of the Hudson’s Bay Company in London.
The whole story of the white man’s penetration into the fastnesses of that vast part of Canada extending from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Coast and up to the Arctic Ocean has not yet been told.
Henry Kelsey, His Book Being Ye Gift of James Hubbard in the Year of Our Lord 1693.
Appendix 2: Some Details of Kelsey’s Service in the Employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company
“Memorndum of my abode in hudsons bay from 1683 to 17°3. In ’83 I went out in ye ship Lucy Jno outlaw commandr. In ’88 after 3 indians being employ for great reward to carry letters from hays river to new severn theyreturned without performing ye business altho paid then I was sent with an indian boy and in a month returned with answers.
“In ’89 (’apt. James Young put me and ye same indian boy ashore to ye northward of Churchill river in order to bring to a commerce ye northern indians hut we saw none although we travelled above 200 miles in search of ym and when we came back to Churchill ye house was burnt yt was building for ye trade.
“In ’90 ye compy employed 2 frenchmen viz Gooseberry and Grammail, ye former at 80 annm ye latter at 10 to go amongst ye natives to draw y m to a trade hill they did not go 3011 miles from ye factory upon well I was sent away wt ye stone indians in whose country I remained 2 years enduring much hardship and did increase ye trade considerably as may be perceived by their ;acct books and I returned in ’92.
“In ’93 I came to England.
“In ’94 1 went again and was taken by ye french and brought home.
“In ’96 was at ye retaking of ye fort again.
“In ’97 was taken again when ye Hampshire was lost.
“In ’98 went for Albany fort with Capt. James Knight
“In 1701 I was ordained master of ye knight frigtt and chief at ye Westmain formerly ye master of a vessel had 40£ annm and ye trader 40 do all wch I dscharged for 50£ p annm.
“In 1703 I return’d for Engd.
“In 1706 I went out mate of ye perry frigte Jos davis Comdr in orders upon my arrival to be chief trader at albany fort or Elsewhere however I was kept out of my imploy a year by Govr Beal who ye folling summer sent me in ye knight frigte to ye Etmain to gather ye trade wch I did.
“In 1708 I receiv’d Capt ffullartun ye commission to be deputy under him and lie sent me Chief to ye Etamin ye same fall and when we returned ye next spring found by he they had been assaulted by ye french.
“In 1711 Capt Jno fullartun gave me a commssion bearing date ye 31st July. . . .
“In 1713 I came to England
“In 1714 I went out in ye union Capt. B. Harle Commr with your commission to be deputy 4 years under Captain James Knight with ye benefit of a servt.
“1719 June 22nd Ow trade w 0w over I sailed with ye prosprs for Churchill arriv’d ye 30th ye 2nd July I sailed with in company Jn Handcock master ye 5th traderd with Eskimos.
“1719 August ye 24th ye Hudson’s bay friggte was lost where I had a narrow escape for my life and if I had not staid till ye 2nd of Sept to get ye cargo on shore their would have been little of it sav’d but as I did little of it was lost wch was hard upon me having all ye ships company and passengers had before to maintain
“1720 July ye 2nd Mr. Handcock sail’d with ye success Am Churchill and their to shift into ye Prosps and to proceed on discovery to ye Noward.
Sept ye 25th ye Prosps return ed from Churchill bran 10 gall.
“1721 July ye 26 I sailed in ye Prosps with ye Success in compy James Wapper mastr for Churchill ye 30th lost ye Success. July ye 8th took on board to show me copper ye 21st saw Eskemoes ye 23rd saw more. Augst ye- saw ,pre ye 9th I bore away because ye winds did not augur my intentions of going farther to ye Norward to look for ye place where ye Albany sloop was lost we seeing things belonging to those vessels ye 16th I gott to Churchill where we lay wind bound till ye 28th and I had promised Mr. Staunton I would come back and winter in order to look for ye Coppr to keep ye Northern Indians till I returned to give ym orders....
“In August ye 7th mary arriv’d and run around on the cross bar sand and Capt maclish came ashore ye 16th ye Hannah and whalebone came in here from Churchill.”
Page revised: 30 August 2015