THE TWO AMERICAS

Although the lands bought of the Indians were far from being all occupied, the English colonists continued to push their way inland, at the risk of encounters with the legitimate owners of the soil.

In the north the Hudson's Bay Company, holding a monopoly of the fur trade, were always on the look-out for new hunting-grounds, for those originally explored were soon exhausted. Their trappers made their way far into the western wilds, and gained valuable information from the Indians whom they pressed into their service, and taught to get drunk. By this means the existence of a river flowing northwards, past some copper-mines, from which some natives brought fine specimens to Fort Prince of Wales, was ascertained. The company at once, i.e. in 1769, decided to send out an expedition, to the command of which they appointed Samuel Hearn.

For a journey to the Arctic regions, where provisions are difficult to obtain, and the cold is intense, a few well-seasoned men are required, who can endure the fatigue of an arduous march over snow, and bear up against hunger. Hearn took with him only two whites, and a few Indians on whom he could depend.

In spite of the great skill of the guides, who knew the country, and were familiar with the habits of the game it contained, provisions soon failed. Two hundred miles from Fort Prince of Wales the Indians abandoned Hearn and his two companions, who were obliged to retrace their steps.

The chief of the expedition, however, was a rough sailor, accustomed to privations, so he was not discouraged. If he had failed the first time, that was no reason why a second attempt should not succeed.

In March, 1770, Hearn started again to try and cross the unknown districts. This time he was alone with five Indians, for he had noticed that the inability of the whites to endure fatigue excited the contempt of the natives. He had penetrated 500 miles when the severity of the weather compelled him to wait for a less severe temperature. He had had a terrible experience. At one time to have, indeed, more game than can be eaten; but more often to have no food whatever, and be compelled for a week at a time to gnaw old leather, pick bones which had been thrown aside, or to seek, often in vain, for a few berries on the trees; and lastly, to endure fearful cold—such is the life of an explorer in these Arctic regions.

Hearn started once more in April, wandered about the woods until August, and had arranged to spend the winter with an Indian tribe which had received him well, when an accident which deprived him of his quadrant compelled him to continue his journey.

Privations, miseries, and disappointments, had not quenched the ardour of Hearn's indomitable spirit. He started again on the 7th December, and penetrating westwards below the 60th parallel N. lat. he came to a river. Here he built a canoe, and went in it down the stream, which flowed into an innumerable series of large and small lakes. Finally, on the 13th July, 1771, he reached the Coppermine River. The Indians with him now declared that they had been for some weeks in the country of the Esquimaux, and that they meant to massacre all they should meet of that hated race.

An encounter very soon took place.

"Coming," says Hearn, "upon a party of Esquimaux asleep in their tents, the Indians fell upon them suddenly, and I was compelled to witness the massacre of the poor creatures."

Of twenty individuals, not one escaped the sanguinary rage of the Indians; and they put to death with indescribable tortures an old woman who had in the first instance eluded them.

"After this horrible carnage," says Hearn, "we sat down on the grass, and made a good dinner off fresh salmon."

Here the river widened considerably. Had Hearn arrived at its mouth? The water was still quite sweet. There were, however, signs of a tide on the shores, and a number of seals were disporting themselves in the water. A quantity of whale blubber was found in the tents of the Esquimaux. Everything in fact combined to prove that the sea was near. Hearn seized his telescope, and saw stretching before him a huge sheet of water, dotted with islands. There was no longer any doubt; it was the sea!

On the 30th June Hearn got back to the English posts, after an absence of no less than a year and five months.

The company recognized the immense service just rendered by Hearn, by appointing him Governor of Fort Prince of Wales. During his expedition to Hudson's Bay, La Perouse visited this post, and there found the journal of Samuel Hearn's expedition. The French navigator returned it, on condition that he would publish it. We do not know why its appearance in accordance with the promise given by the English traveller to the French sailor was delayed until 1795.

Not until the close of the eighteenth century did the immense chain of lakes, rivers, and portages become known, which, emanating from Lake Superior, receive all the waters flowing from the Rocky Mountains, and divert them to the Arctic Ocean. It was to the brothers Frobisher, fur traders, and to a Mr. Pond, who reached Athabasca, that their discovery is partially due.

Thanks to their efforts, travelling in these parts became less difficult. One explorer succeeded another, posts were established, and the country was opened to all comers. Soon after a rumour was spread of the discovery of a large river flowing in a north-westerly direction.