Journey In Search Of The Red Indians In Newfoundland By W. E. Cormack


By W. E. Cormack

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By W. E. Cormack

Read before the Boeothick Institution at St John's, Newfoundland

Pursuant to special summons, a meeting of this Institution was held at St John's on the 12th day of January 1828; the Honourable A.W. Desbarres, Vice-Patron, in the chair. The Honourable Chairman stated, that the primary motive which led to the formation of the Institution, was the desire of opening a communication with, and promoting the civilization of, the Red Indians of Newfoundland; and of procuring, if possible, an authentic history of that unhappy race of people, in order that their language, customs and pursuits, might be contrasted with those of other tribes of Indians and nations; - that, in following up the chief object of the institution, it was anticipated that much information would be obtained respecting the natural productions of the island; the interior of which is less known than any other of the British possessions abroad. Their excellent President, keeping all these objects in view, had permitted nothing worthy of research to escape his scrutiny, and consequently a very wide field of information was now introduced to their notice, all apparently highly interesting and useful to society, if properly cultivated. He was aware of their very natural anxiety to hear from the president an outline of his recent expedition, and he would occupy their attention farther, only by observing, that the purposes of the present meeting would be best accomplished by taking into consideration the different subjects recommended to them in the president's report, and passing such resolutions as might be considered necessary to govern the future proceedings of the Institution.

The President, W.E. Cormack, Esq. then laid the following Statement before the meeting.

Having so recently returned, I will now only lay before you a brief outline of my expedition in search of the Boeothicks or Red Indians, confining my remarks exclusively to its primary object. A detailed report of the journey will be prepared, and submitted to the Institution, whenever I shall have leisure to arrange the other interesting materials which have been collected.

My party consisted of three Indians, whom I procured from among the other different tribes, viz. an intelligent and able man of the Abenakie tribe, from Canada; an elderly Mountaineer from Labrador; and an adventurous young Micmack, a native of this island, together with myself. It was difficult to obtain men fit for the purpose, and the trouble attending on this prevented my entering on the expedition a month earlier in the season. It was my intention to have commenced our search at White Bay, which is nearer the northern extremity of the island than where we did, and to have travelled southward; but the weather not permitting to carry my party thither by water, after several days delay, I unwillingly changed my line of route.

On the 31st of October 1828 [Sic: 30th of October 1827] last, we entered the country at the mouth of the River Exploits, on the north side, at what is called the Northern Arm. We took a north-westerly direction to lead us to Hall's Bay, which place we reached through an almost uninterrupted forest, over a hilly country, in eight days. This tract comprehends the country interior from New Bay, Badger Bay, Seal Bay, &c.; these being minor bays, included in Green or Notre Dame Bay, at the north-east part of the island, and well known to have been always heretofore the summer residence of the Red Indians.

On the fourth day after our departure, at the east end of Badger Bay-Great Lake, at a portage known by the name of the Indian Path, we found traces made by the Red Indians, evidently in the spring or summer of the preceding year. Their party had had two canoes; and here was a canoe-rest, on which the daubs of red-ochre, and the roots of trees used to fasten or tie it together appeared fresh. A canoe-rest is simply a few beams, supported horizontally, about five feet from the ground, by perpendicular posts. A party with two canoes, when descending from the interior to the sea-coast, through such a part of the country as this, where there are troublesome portages, leave one canoe resting, bottom up, on this kind of frame, to protect it from injury by the weather, until their return. Among other things which lay strewed about here, were a spear-shaft, eight feet in length, recently made and ochred; parts of old canoes, fragments of their skin-dresses, &c. For some distance around, the trunks of many of the birch, and of that species of spruce pine called here the Var (Pinus balsamifera), had been rinded; these people using the inner part of the bark of that kind of tree for food. Some of the cuts in the trees with the axe were evidently made the preceding year. Besides these, we were elated by other encouraging signs. The traces left by the Red Indians are so peculiar, that we were confident those we saw here were made by them.

This spot has been a favourite place of settlement with these people. It is situated at the commencement of a portage, which forms a communication by a path between the sea-coast at Badger Bay, about eight miles to the north-east, and a chain of lakes extending westerly and southerly from hence, and discharging themselves by a rivulet into the River Exploits, about thirty miles from its mouth. A path also leads from this place to the lakes, near New Bay, to the eastward. Here are the remains of one of their villages, where the vestiges of eight or ten winter mamateeks or wigwams, each intended to contain from six to eighteen or twenty people, are distinctly seen close together. Besides these, there are the remains of a number of summer wigwams. Every winter wigwam has close by it a small square-mouthed or oblong pit, dug into the earth, about four feet deep, to preserve their stores, &c. in.

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