James Anderson in Lake Pelly

birchbark canoe

Image of a birchbark canoe on a Canadian River, from Glenbow Archive, image na-843-14, used with their permission

James Anderson and James Green Stewart have now reached and passed through Hawk Rapid, on the Great Fish River. Back did not name this rapid-filled chasm Hawk Rapids, but the name is perfectly applied by James Anderson, who may have also seen the hawks circling. James Anderson and James Green Stewart’s voyage down the Great Fish, or Back River, continues as they approach and pass McKinley’s River, which closely followed Hawk Rapid. In 1834, George Back described the Great Fish River:

Still widening, the river rolled on without obstruction, being here large enough to remind me of the McKenzie. Heavy and long borders of of thick ice, with a great deal of snow, were on the sides of the sloping banks, full ten feet above the present level. As we advance still most provokingly to the eastward, a large river, nearly as broad as that which we were descending, came through a low country to the right, and after many windings effect a junction round a little sandy bluff. It was named after Rear-Admiral McKinley, who has uniformly evinced a great interest in the recent voyages of discovery. 

As you can see by Back’s comment, the Great Fish River is taking a long jog to the eastward, instead of heading steadily north to the Arctic Ocean. Coming downriver with Back’s Narrative as his guide, Anderson knew the river jogged east, and was not so annoyed as Back was. Here is what Anderson wrote of his party’s journey along this east-flowing section of the Great Fish River: “Just before reaching McKinley’s River we saw fresh Esquimaux caches of deer along the water’s edge and crows [ravens] were seen. Shortly after their tents were seen. 6 men, one of them blind, came down, but they attempting nothing hostile. From the signs they made they came down McKinley’s River and most probably belong to the Chesterfield Inlet tribe. Their boots were made of deerskins and Musk ox soles, and their canoes of deer parchment, paddles of spruce, spear-heads of iron; one of their women had bracelets of round common beads and the oldest man brought down some wolf and white fox skins to trade, which we could not take at present.”

William Barr, who edited the book: Searching for Franklin: the Land Arctic Searching Expedition: James Anderson’s and James Stewart’s Expedition via the Back River, 1855 [London: the Hakluyt Society, 1999] tells us that these Inuit men were likely Uvaliarlit, or possibly Hanningayarmiut men, both of which groups were inland subgroups of the Netsingmiut Inuit; now called the Netsilik, who live on the Arctic Ocean west of Hudson Bay — primarily in Kugaaruk Gjoa Haven, Nunavit, and to a lesser extent, in Taloyoak. George Back also saw these men, and described them in his Narrative:

The men were of average stature, will knit, and athletic. They were not tattooed, neither did their vanity incommode them with the lip and nose ornaments of those farther west; but had they been disciples of the ancient fathers, who considered “the practice of shaving as a lie against our own faces,” they could not have nurtured a more luxuriant growth of beard, or cultivated more flowing mustaches.

So the men were heavily bearded. James Anderson’s journal continued, with his meeting with these men and, apparently, women: “I gave them all presents of files, knives, needles, etc., and the women a mirror, a small scissors, gartering and needles. After leaving them we came on two other lodges and three men came to visit us, and further on 2 more, which we did not visit as it was blowing too fresh. The men were short and stout, the women not bad looking with clean faces, tattooed, the same as the female in Capt. Back’s book.”

But it seems that only the women are tattooed. This is how Captain Back described the women’s facial tattoos in his Narrative: “The women were much tattooed about the face and the middle and fourth fingers.” He described one woman in particular: 

She had six tattooed lines drawn obliquely from the nostrils across each cheek; eighteen from her mouth across her chin and the lower part of the face; then small ones, branching like a larch tree from the corner of each eye; and eight from the forehead to the centre of the nose between the eye brows.

James Anderson’s journal continues: “I regretted much not having the interpreter with us, so as to learn the route they take from Chesterfield Inlet (assuming that they come from there). Two of Dr. Rae’s men with me (these were Thomas Mustegan & Murdock McLellan) understand and speak a few words. Shortly after leaving the 2nd Esquimaux lodges a gale came on, which shortly after increased to a storm which nearly swamped us: this was accompanied by showers of hail and clouds of sand, which nearly blinded us. At last I gave up the contest and encamped near Bullen’s River at 6 pm. It was piercingly cold — capots, cloaks and blankets in general demand. Both yesterday and today we were much incommoded by sand banks (Battures).”

Back’s men also experienced the sand bars in this river:

The following morning, instead of gaining to the westward, which various gleams of open water in that direction had again led us to hope, the river turned short round to the eastward, but after three or four miles, again resumed its old course. Sand-banks and islands were constantly met with: and from  our ignorance of the channels between them, we were repeatedly aground. In those cases, the people had to wade until the boat again floated freely, with the chance of being thrown into the same situation ten minutes afterwards. Since the junction of Baillie’s River, the stream had sensibly widened; and had it not been for the strong current, might have been taken for a lake. 

James Anderson’s journal continues: “The Esquimaux also made us lose some time; they had evidently not heard of [Sir John] Franklin’s party, as we made them understand that white men who had come in ships had died from starvation at the mouth of the river. About 50 or 60 deer were seen today, but neither musk oxen nor geese; at the Esquimaux encampments many deer were lying at the water’s edge till they get high enough for their taste — they were all does. Several fawns were lying close to the encampments apparently unalarmed. Several deer were also seen.”

On Saturday James Anderson and his party were detained by wind and rain. On Sunday, “the gale of yesterday abated a little this morning, but the weather was still miserable when we left our encampment at 2 1/2 am. When we reached Pelly’s Lake we hoisted sail and carried it most of the day.” George Back described Pelly’s Lake in his Narrative:

In my desire to gain some further knowledge of the course, I ascended a distant hill, from the summit of which, with the help of my glass, I could discern several extensive sheets of water in almost opposite bearings, one of them being due south, but owing to the intervention of rocks and uneven ground for about two miles in the line of my view, it was impossible to determine whether they were separate or formed one continuous water. The doubt, however, was cleared up at an early hour on the succeeding morning (July 19th), for the current, to which we yielded ourselves, in a short time lost itself in a large lake full of deep bays; one, indeed with a clear and uninterrupted horizon, but glimmering with firm ice.

George Back named this Lake Pelly, for one of the Governors of the HBC in London. Pelly was a difficult lake to find a path through. This is how Back traversed it:

As for the men, the majority inclined to a tale told them by an Indian, whom I had not seen — that before arriving at the sea, they would find an immense lake, with such deep bays that no Indian had ever been round them; these he said, lay to the eastward, but they must be careful to keep on its western side, and by so doing would arrive at a steep and heavy fall between high rocks; this the boat would not be able to pass, from thence they might easily walk to the “bad water;” near which, he assured them, they would also certainly find the Esquimaux…

The strong current from the rapid gave us some expectation that the tediousness and uncertainty of winding and groping our way in the lake was at an end, but to our chagrin and annoyance, we soon again found ourselves ina wide indefinable space, studded with islands of sand-hills, with, occasionally, a clear horizon towards the S and NW. The difficulty of finding the river increased as we advanced amidst this labyrinth, between the opening of which distant land could sometimes be faintly discovered. The unwelcome glare of ice was also seen. From time to time we found a current; still we were baffled and had often to turn on our track only perhaps to make another deviation. At length we observed a number of grayling playing in a narrow, and rising at the flies which fell accidentally into the water, and aware that these fish usually frequent the outlets and channels of connecting water, we profited by the hint, and so far had reason to be satisfied with our judgement. But towards evening our hopes were again blighted by the startling sight of extensive and unbroken fields of ice, stretching to the extremest point of vision. Seeing, therefore, no chance of of further progress at present, I encamped on a spot which, judging from the circles of stones found regularly placed, had doubtless at some time been used by the Esquimaux for the same purpose. 

Clearly, James Anderson followed Back’s instructions to the letter, and easily found his way through the lake: in fact he hardly even mentioned Lake Pelly. His journal begins with a Note on the opposite page: “Entered narrows,” and continues: “Encamped at the second Narrow strait half in Lake Garry (Back’s encampment of 20th) at 9 pm. Saw two lodges of Esquimaux at the Rapids between Lakes Pelly and Garry, but the inhabitants ran away on perceiving us; they evidently have intercourse with the Churchill Esquimaux as there was 2 tin kettles in their lodges, as well as our dags [knives]. I left a few articles in each tent and left. A number of young fawns were running about the lodges — I suppose that their dams have been killed. Two bags of pemmican were cached at our encampment of last night. Very few deer seen; 30 geese were killed.”

So there is a set of rapids between Lakes Pelly and Garry, that George Back’s men have not yet reached. But in 1855, James Anderson and his men did not have the difficulties travelling from Pelly Lake to Lake Garry that Back endured in 1834. When Back made that short journey from lake to lake, it seemed that there still remained a thick layer of ice on both the lakes and the river between. “There was not a place that could with any certainly be fixed on as affording a passage,” Back said. The ice was two feet thick, green, and compact, he reported, and he sent two experienced men ahead to find a path. They returned, unsuccessful. So Back and his men crept slowly forward, sometimes squeezing their way through narrow passages in the ice, and sometimes using an axe to make a road. They at last portaged over the last bit of ice and carried their boat across and loaded it, and “at length (at 9 pm) reached the open water with a strong current.” At the end of this day long struggle, they found themselves in another large lake that was likely to be as difficult to navigate. as Pelly Lake had been Back wrote in his Narrative:

 We therefore landed and made a second portage across the rocks, which brought us to a sheet of water terminating in a rapid; and this, though seldom a pleasing object to those who have to go down it, was now joyfully hailed by us as the end of a lake which had occasioned us so much trouble and delay. In summer, however, or more properly speaking, in autumn, this lake must be a splendid sheet of water; wherefore, regarding it apart from the vexations which it had caused me, I bestowed upon it the name of Lake Garry, after Nicholas Garry, Esq. of the Hudson’s Bay Company, to whose disinterested zeal in the cause of polar discovery, and undeviating kindness to all connected with it, such honourable testimony has been born by Sir Edward Parry and Sir John Franklin that to dwell on them here is superfluous.

And so both these parties of men are now in Lake Garry, having passed through Lake Pelly and leaving little description of the rapids and falls between the two lakes.  When the next post in this series is published, it will appear here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/james-anderson-11/

To return to the beginning of this series, go here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/james-andersons-journey/

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved.