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Mattawa Moose Hunting with Artist Frederic Remington


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Frederic Remington:  Painter, Sculptor, Illustrator Enjoy this story of a Mattawa hunting trip, “Antoine’s Moose-Yard,” written by Julian Ralph and first published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine’s October 1890 issue. Harper’s is a journal of culture, the arts, literature and politics which began in 1850 and is the second oldest continuously-published monthly magazine in the United States (the oldest being Scientific American.) This article is transcribed from the original, and the scans are of sketches done by famous American sculptor, painter and illustrator Frederic Remington (1861-1909) who organized the hunt, which took place in December 1889. We have chosen to keep the spelling, punctuation and paragraphs in their original 117-year-old format. The article is an interesting read from a social history perspective, describing in great detail the dietary customs, clothing and hunting customs of the times, as well as providing scarce source material regarding the interactions between the Native American population and tourists.

Author Julian Ralph, as Sketched by His Friend, Frederic Remington

Here’s a humorous Remington sketch of his friend, author Julian Ralph (1853-1903), who was a journalist for both Harper’s magazine and the (New York) Sun newspaper. While relaxing one evening over cigars and wine at the Players Club in Manhattan, Remington suggested to Ralph that they take a trip “to hunt the festive moose,” as he later described the adventure in a letter, as a means of relaxing and “getting away from it all.”

Players Club, Gramercy Park, New York City

The Hunt is On

It was the night of a great dinner at the club. Whenever the door of the banqueting hall was opened, a burst of laughter or of applause disturbed the quiet talk of a few men who had gathered in the reading-room — men of the sort that extract the best enjoyment from a club by escaping its functions, or attending them only to draw to one side its choicest spirits for never-to-be-forgotten talks before an open fire, and over wine and cigars used sparingly.

“I’m tired,” an artist was saying — “so tired that I have a horror of my studio. My wife understands my condition, and bids me go away and rest.”

“That is astonishing,” said I; “for, as a rule, neither women nor men can comprehend the fatigue that seizes an artist or writer. At most of our homes there comes to be a reluctant recognition of the fact that we say we are tired, and that we persist in the assumption by knocking off work. But human fatigue is measured by the mile of walking, or the cords of firewood that have been cut, and the world will always hold that if we have not hewn wood or tramped all day, it is absurd for us to talk of feeling tired. We cannot alter this; we are too few.”

“Yes,” said another of the little party. “The world shares the feeling of the Irishman who saw a very large, stout man at work at reporting in a court-room. ‘Faith!’ said he, ‘will ye look at the size of that man — to be airning his living wid a little pincil?’ The world would acknowledge our right to feel tired if we used crow-bars to write or draw with; but pencils? pshaw! a hundred weigh less than a pound.”

“Well,” said I, “all the same, I am so tired that my head feels like cork; so tired that for two days I have not been able to summon an idea or turn a sentence neatly. I have been sitting at my desk writing wretched stuff and tearing it up, or staring blankly out of the window.”

“Glorious!” said the artist, startling us all with his vehemence and inapt exclamation. “Why, it is providential that I came here to-night. If that’s the way you feel, we are a pair, and you will go with me and rest. Do you hunt? Are you fond of it?”

“I know all about it,” said I, “but I have not definitely determined whether I am fond of it or not. I have been hunting only once. It was years ago, when I was a mere boy. I went after deer with a poet, an editor, and a railroad conductor. We journeyed to a lovely valley in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and put ourselves in the hands of a man seven feet high, who had a flintlock musket a foot taller than himself, and a wife who gave us saleratus bread and a bowl of pork fat for supper and breakfast. We were not there at dinner. The man stationed us a mile apart on what he said were the paths, or ‘runways,’ the deer would take. Then he went to stir the game up with his dogs. There he left us from sunrise till supper, or would have left us had we not with great difficulty found one another, and enjoyed the exquisite woodland quiet and light and shade together, mainly flat on our backs, with the white sails of the sky floating in an azure sea above the reaching fingers of the tree-tops. The editor marred the occasion with an unworthy suspicion that our hunter was at the village tavern picturing to his cronies what simple donkeys we were, standing a mile apart in the forsaken woods. But the poet said something so pregnant with philosophy that it always comes back to me with the mention of hunting. ‘Where is your gun?’ he was asked, when we came upon him, and no weapon in sight. ‘Oh, my gun?’ he repeated. ‘I don’t know. Somewhere in among those trees. I covered it with leaves so as not to see it. After this, if I go hunting again, I shall not take a gun. It is very cold and heavy, and more or less dangerous in the bargain. You never use it, you know. I go hunting every few years, but I never yet have had to fire my gun, and I begin to see that it is only brought along in deference to a tradition descending from an era when men got something more than fresh air and scenery on a hunting trip.’ ”

The others laughed at my story, but the artist regarded me with an expression of pity. He is a famous hunter — a genuine, devoted hunter — and one might almost as safely speak a light word of his relations as of his favorite mode of recreation.

“Fresh air!” said he; “scenery! Humph! Your poet would not know which end of a gun to aim with. I see that you know nothing at all about hunting, but I will pay you the highest compliment of saying that I can make a hunter of you. I have always insisted heretofore that a hunter must begin in boyhood; but never mind, I’ll make a hunter of you at thirty-six. We will start to - morrow morning for Montreal, and in twenty-four hours you shall be in the greatest sporting region in America, incomparably the greatest hunting district. It is great because Americans do not know of it, and because it has all of British America to keep it supplied with game. Think of it! In twenty - four hours we shall be tracking moose near Hudson Bay, for Hudson Bay is not much farther from New York than Chicago — another fact that few persons are aware of.”

Members of a New York Gentleman's Club, Preparing for the Hunt Environment is a positive force. We could feel that we were disturbing what the artist would call “the local tone,” by rushing through the city’s streets next morning with our guns slung upon our backs. It was just at the hour when the factory hands and the shop-girls were out in force, and the juxtaposition of those elements of society with two portly men bearing guns created a positive sensation. In the cars the artist held forth upon the terrors of the life upon which I was about to venture. He left upon my mind a blurred impression of sleeping out-of-doors, like human cocoons, done up in blankets, while the savage mercury lurked in unknown depths below the zero mark. He said the camp fire would have to be fed every two hours of each night, and he added, without contradiction from me, that he supposed he would have to perform this duty as he was accustomed to it. Lest his forecast should raise my anticipation of pleasure extravagantly, he added that those hunters were fortunate who had fires to feed; for his part he had once walked around a tree stump a whole night to keep from freezing. He supposed that we would perform our main journeying on snow-shoes, but how we should enjoy that he could not say, as his knowledge of snow-shoeing was limited.

At this point the inevitable offspring of fate, who is always at a traveller’s elbow with a fund of alarming information, cleared his throat as he sat opposite us, and inquired whether he had overheard that we did not know much about snow-shoes. An interesting fact concerning them, he said, was that they seemed easy to walk with at first, but if the learner fell down with them on, it usually needed a considerable portion of a tribe of Indians to put him back on his feet. Beginners only fell down, however, in attempting to cross a log or stump, but the forest where we were going was literally floored with such obstructions. The first day’s effort to navigate with snow-shoes, he remarked, is usually accompanied by a terrible malady called mal de raquette, in which the cords of one’s legs become knotted in great and excruciatingly painful bunches. The cure for this is to “walk it off the next day, when the agony is yet more intense than at first.” As the stranger had reached his destination, he had little more than time to remark that the moose is an exceedingly vicious animal, invariably attacking all hunters who fail to kill him with the first shot. As the stranger stepped upon the car platform he let fall a simple but touching eulogy upon a dear friend who had recently lost his life by being literally cut in two, lengthwise, by a moose that struck him on the chest with its rigidly stiffened forelegs. The artist protested that the stranger was a sensationalist, unsupported by either the camp-fire gossip or the literature of hunters. Yet one man that night found his slumber tangled with what the garrulous alarmist had been saying.

In Montreal one may buy clothing not to be had in the United States: woollens thick as boards, hosiery that wards off the cold as armor resists missiles, gloves as heavy as shoes, yet soft as kid, fur caps and coats at prices and in a variety that interest poor and rich alike, blanket suits that are more picturesque than any other masculine garment worn north of the city of Mexico, tuques, and moccasins, and, indeed, so many sorts of clothing we Yankees know very little of (though many of us need them) that at a glance we say the Montrealers are foreigners. Montreal is the gayest city on this continent, and I have often thought that the clothing there is largely responsible for that condition.

A New-Yorker disembarking in Montreal in midwinter finds the place inhospitably cold, and wonders how, as well as why, any one lives there. I well remember standing years ago beside a toboggan slide, with my teeth chattering and my very marrow slowly congealing, when my attention was called to the fact that a dozen ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed, laughing girls were grouped in snow that reached their knees. I asked a Canadian lady how that could be possible, and she answered with a list of the principal garments those girls were wearing. They had two pairs of stockings under their shoes, and a pair of stockings over their shoes, with moccasins over them. They had so many woollen skirts that an American girl would not believe me if I gave the number. They wore heavy dresses and buckskin jackets, and blankets suits over all this. They had mittens over their gloves, and fur caps over their knitted hoods. It no longer seemed wonderful that they should not heed the cold; indeed it occurred to me that their bravery amid the terrors of tobogganing was no bravery at all, since a girl buried deep in the heart of such a mass of woollens could scarcely expect damage if she fell from a steeple. When next I appeared out-of-doors I too was swathed in flannel, like a jewel in a box of plush, and from that time out Montreal seemed, what it really is, the merriest of American capitals. And there I had come again, and was filling my trunk with this wonderful armor of civilization, while the artist sought advice as to which point to enter the wildnerness in order to secure the biggest game most quickly.

Mr. W. C. Van Horne (1843-1915), the President of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, proved a friend in need. He dictated a few telegrams that agitated the people of a vast section of country between Ottawa and the great lakes. And in the afternoon the answers came flying back. These were from various points where Hudson Bay posts are situated. At one or two the Indian trappers and hunters were all away on their winter expeditions; from another a famous white hunter had just departed with a party of gentlemen. At Mattawa, in Ontario, moose were close at hand and plentiful, and two skilled Indian hunters were just in from a trapping expedition; but the post factor, Mr. Rankin, was sick in bed, and the Indians were on a spree. To Mattawa we decided to go. It is a twelve-hour journey from New York to Montreal, and an eleven-hour journey from Montreal to the heart of this hunters’ paradise; so that, had we known at just which point to enter the forest, we could have taken the trail in twenty-four hours from the metropolis, as the artist had predicted.

The Hotel, Last Sign of Civilization

Marquess of Waterford, John Henry de la Poer Beresford Our first taste of the frontier, at Peter O’Farrall’s Ottawa Hotel, in Mattawa, was delicious in the extreme. O’Farrall used to be game-keeper for the Marquis of Waterford [John Henry de la Poer Beresford, Marquess of Waterford, KP, PC, also known as Lord Waterford] and thus got “a taste of the quality” that prompted him to assume the position he has chosen as the most lordly hotel-keeper in Canada. [Note: Compare and contrast this image with that of the slightly later Ottawa House on the Mattawa page. It’s suspected that the log complex seen above was torn down shortly after Remington’s 1889 visit. Note also that O’Farrall’s name is spelled O’Farrell on the Mattawa page. We believe the O’Farrell spelling to be the correct one.] We do not know what sort of men own our great New York and Chicago and San Francisco hotels, but certainly they cannot lead more leisurely, complacent lives than Mr. O’Farrall. He has a bar-tender to look after the male visitors and the bar, and a matronly relative to see to the women and the kitchen, so that the landlord arises when he likes to enjoy each succeeding day of ease and prosperity. He has been known to exert himself, as when he chased a man who spoke slightingly of his liquor. And he was momentarily ruffled at the trying conduct of the artist on this hunting trip. The artist could not find his overcoat, and had the temerity to refer the matter to Mr. O’Farrall.

“Sir,” said the artist, “what do you suppose has become of my overcoat? I cannot find it anywhere.”

“I don’t know anything about your botheration overcoat,” said Mr. O’Farrall. “Sure, I’ve throuble enough kaping thrack of me own.”

The reader may be sure that O’Farrall’s was rightly recommended to us, and that it is a well-managed and popular place, with good beds and excellent fare, and with no extra charge for the delightful addition of the host himself, who is very tall and dignified and humorous, and who is the oddest and yet most picturesque-looking public character in the Dominion. Such an oddity is certain to attract queer characters to his side, and Mr. O’Farrall is no exception to the rule. One of the waiter-girls in the dining-room was found never by any chance to know anything that she was asked about. For instance, she had never heard of Mr. Rankin, the chief man of the place. To every question she made answer, “Sure, there does be a great dale goin’ on here and I know nothin’ of it.” Of her the artist ventured the theory that “she could not know everything on a waiter-girl’s salary.” John, the bar-tender, was a delightful study. No matter what a visitor laid down in the smoking-room, John picked it up and carried it behind the bar. Every one was continually losing something and searching for it, always to observe that John was able to produce it with a smile and the wise remark that he had taken the lost article and put it away “for fear some one would pick it up.” Finally, there was Mr. O’Farrall’s dog. A ragged, time-worn, petulant terrier, no bigger than a pint - pot. Mr. O’Farrall nevertheless called him “Fairy,” and said he kept him “to protect the village children against wild bears.”


I shall never be able to think of Mattawa as it is — a plain little lumbering town on the Ottawa River, with the wreck and ruin of once grand scenery hemming it in on all sides, in the form of ragged mountains literally ravaged by fire and the axe. Hints of it come back to me in dismembered bits that prove it to have been interesting: vignettes of little schoolboys in blanket suits and moccasins, of great spirited horses forever racing ahead of fur-laden sleighs, and of troops of olive-skinned French-Canadian girls, bundled up from their feet to those mischievous features which shot roguish glances at the artist — the biggest man, the people said, who had ever been seen in Mattawa. But the place will ever yield back to my mind the impression I got of the wonderful preparations that were made for our adventure — preparations that seemed to busy or to interest nearly every one in the village. Our Indians had come in from the Indian village three miles away, and had said they had had enough drink. Mr. John DeSousa, accountant at the post, took charge of them and of us, and the work of loading a great portage sleigh went on apace. The men of sporting tastes came out and lounged in front of the post, and gave helpful advice; the Indians and clerks went to and from the sleigh laden with bags of necessaries, the harness-maker made for us belts such as the lumbermen use to preclude the possibility of incurable strains in the rough life in the wilderness. The help at O’Farrall’s assisted in repacking what we needed, so that our trunks and town clothing could be stored. Mr. De Sousa sent messengers hither and thither for essentials not in stock at the post. Some women, even, were set at work to make “neaps” for us, a neap being a sort of slipper or unlaced shoe made of heavy blanketing and worn outside one’s stockings, to give added warmth to the feet.

“You see, this is no casual rabbit hunt,” said the artist. The remark will live in Mattawa for many a year.

Give Me a Light, Frederic Remington Sketch The Hudson Bay Company’s posts differ. [Note: See images of local Hudson’s Bay Company outposts on the Mattawa and Bear Island pages.] In the wilderness they are forts surrounded by stockades, but within the boundaries of civilization they are stores. That at old Fort Garry, now called Winnipeg, is a splendid emporium, rather more like the establishment of Whiteley, “the universal provider” of London, than anything in the United States. That at Mattawa is like a village store in the United States, except that the top story is laden with guns, traps, snow-shoes, and the skins of wild beasts; while an outbuilding in the rear is the repository of scores of birch-bark canoes — the carriages of British America. Mr. Rankin, the factor there, lay in a bed of suffering and could not see us. Yet it seemed difficult to believe that we could be made the recipients of greater or more kindly attentions than were lavished upon us by his accountant, Mr. De Sousa. He ordered our tobacco ground for us ready for our pipes; selected the finest from among those extraordinary blankets that have been made exclusively for this company for hundreds of years; picked out the largest snow-shoes in his stock; bade us lay aside the gloves we had brought, and take mittens such as he produced, and for which we thanked him in our hearts many times afterward; planned our outfit of food with the wisdom of an old campaigner; bethought himself to send for baker’s bread; ordered high legs sewed on our moccasins — in a word, he made it possible for us to say afterward that absolutely nothing had been overlooked or slighted in fitting out our expedition.

William Notman, Canadian Photographer

[Note: This sketch is also interesting from the standpoint that it bears the notation “after photograph by Notman.” This establishes an acquaintanceship, or perhaps a working relationship, with William Notman (1826-1891), one of Canada’s most famous photographers. A self-portrait by Notman is seen to the right. Learn more about Notman at the McCord Museum, which has an impressive interactive Notman database.]

As I sat in the sleigh, tucked in under heavy skins and leaning at royal ease against other furs that covered a bale of hay, it seemed to me that I had become part of one of such pictures as we all have seen, portraying historic expeditions in Russia or Siberia. We carried fifteen hundred pounds of traps and provisions for stabling, and food for men and beasts. We were five in all — two hunters, two Indians, and a teamster. We set out with the two huge mettlesome horses ahead, the driver on a high seat formed of a second bale of hay, ourselves lolling back under our furs, and the two Indians striding along over the resonant cold snow behind us. It was beginning to be evident that a great deal of effort and machinery was needed to “make a hunter” of a city man, and that it was going to be done thoroughly — two thoughts of a highly flattering nature.

We were now clad for arctic weather, and perhaps nothing except a mummy was ever “so dressed up” as we were. We each wore two pairs of the heaviest woollen stockings I ever saw, and over them ribbed bicycle stockings that came to our knees. Over these in turn were our “neaps,” and then our moccasins, laced tightly around our ankles. We had on two suits of flannels of extra thickness, flannel shirts, reefing jackets, and “capeaux,” as they call their long hooded blanket coats, longer than snow-shoe coats. On our heads we had knitted tuques, and on our hands mittens and gloves. We were bound for Antoine’s moose-yard, near Crooked Lake.


Alexandre Antoine, Indian Hunting Guide, Frederic Remington Sketch The explanation of the term “moose-yard” made moose-hunting appear a simple operation (once we were started), for a moose yard is the feeding-ground of a herd of moose, and our head Indian, Alexandre Antoine, knew where there was one. Each herd or family of these great wild cattle has two such feeding grounds, and they are said to go alternately from one to the other, never herding in one place two years in succession. In this region of Canada they weigh betweeen 600 and 1200 pounds, and the reader will help his comprehension of those figures by recalling the fact that a 1200-pound horse is a very large one. Whether they desert a yard for twelve months because of the damage they do it in feeding upon the branches and foliage of soft-wood trees and shrubs, or whether it is instinctive caution that directs their movements, no one can more than conjecture.

Their yards are always where soft wood is plentiful and water is near, and during a winter they will feed over a region from half a mile to a mile square. The prospect of going directly to the fixed home of a herd of moose almost robbed the trip of that speculative element that gives the greatest zest to hunting. But we knew not what the future held for us. Not even the artist, with all his experience, conjectured what was in store for us. And what was to come began coming almost immediately.

The journey began upon a good highway, over which we slid along as comfortably as any ladies in their carriages, and with the sleigh-bells flinging their cheery music out over a desolate valley, with a leaden river at the bottom, and with small mountains rolling all about. The timber was cut off them, except here and there a few red or white pines that reared their green, brush-like tops against the general blanket of snow. The dull sky hung sullenly above, and now and then a raven flew by, croaking hoarse disapproval of our intrusion. To warn us of what we were to expect, Antoine had made a shy Indian joke, one of the few I ever heard. “In small little while,” said he, “we come to all sorts of a road. Me call it that ’cause you get every sort riding, then you sure be suited.”

Portage Sleigh on Lumber Road, Frederic Remington Sketch At five miles out we came to this remarkable highway. It can no more be adequately described here than could the experiences of a man who goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The reader must try to imagine the most primitive sort of a highway conceivable; one that has been made by merely felling trees through a forest in a path wide enough for a team and wagon. All the tree stumps were left in their places, and every here and there were rocks; some no larger than a bale of cotton, and some as small as a bushel basket. To add to the other alluring qualities of the road, there were tree trunks now and then directly across it, and, as a farther inducement to traffic, the highway was frequently interrupted by “pitch holes.” Some of these would be called pitch holes anywhere. They were at points where a rill crossed the road, or the road crossed the corner of a marsh. But there were other pitch holes that any intelligent New Yorker would call ravines or gullies. These were at points where one hill ran down to the water-level and another immediately rose precipitately, there being a watercourse between the two. In all such places there was deep black mud and broken ice. However, these were mere features of the character of this road — a character too profound for me to hope to portray it. When the road was not inclined either straight down or straight up, it coursed along the slanting side of a steep hill, so that a vehicle could keep to it only by falling against the forest at the under side and carroming along from tree to tree.

Such was the road. The manner of travelling it was quite as astounding. For nothing short of what Alphonse, the teamster, did would I destroy a man’s character, but Alphonse was the next thing to an idiot. He made that dreadful journey at a gallop! The first time he upset the sleigh and threw me with one leg thigh-deep between a stone and a tree trunk, besides sending the artist flying over my head like a shot from a sling, he reseated himself and remarked: “That makes tree time I upset in dat place. Hi, there! Get up!” It never occurred to him to stop because a giant tree had fallen across the trail. “Look out! Hold tight!” he would call out, and then he would take the obstruction at a jump. The horses were mammoth beasts, in the best fettle, and the sleigh was of the solidest, strongest pattern. There were places where even Alphonse was anxious to drive with caution. Such were the ravines and unbridged waterways. But one of the horses had cut himself badly in such a place a year before, and both now made it a rule to take all such places flying. Fancy the result! The leap in air, and then the crash of the sled as it landed, the snap of the harness chains, the snorts of the winded beasts, the yells of the driver, the anxiety and nervousness of the passengers!

At one point we had an exciting adventure of a far different sort. There was a moderately good stretch of road ahead, and we invited the Indians to jump in and ride awhile. We noticed that they took occasional draughts from a bottle. They finished a full pint, and presently Alexandre produced another and larger vial. Every one knows what a drunken Indian is, and so did we. We ordered the sleigh stopped and all hands out for “a talk.” Firmly, but with both power and reason on our side, we demanded a promise that not another drink should be taken, or that the horses be turned toward Mattawa at once. The promise was freely given.

“But what is that stuff? Let me see it,” one of the hunters asked.

“It is de ’igh wine,” said Alexandre.

“High wine? Alcohol?” exclaimed the hunter, and, impulse being quicker than reason sometimes, flung the bottle high in air into the bush. It was an injudicious action, but both of us at once prepared to defend and re-enforce it, of course. As it happened, the Indians saw that no unkindness or unfairness was intended, and neither sulked nor made trouble afterward.


We were now deep in the bush. Occasionally we passed “a brulé,” or tract denuded of trees, and littered with trunks and tops of trunks rejected by the lumbermen. But every mile took us nearer to the undisturbed primeval forest, where the trees shoot up forty feet before the branches begin. There were no houses, teams, or men. In a week in the bush we saw no other sign of civilization than what we brought or made. All around us rose the motionless regiments of the forest, with the snow beneath them, and their branches and twigs printing lacework on the sky. The signs of game were numerous, and varied to an extent that I never heard of before. There were few spaces of the length of twenty-five feet in which the track of some wild beast or bird did not cross the road. The Indians read this writing in the snow, so that the forest was to them as a book would be to us. “What is that?” “And that?” I kept inquiring. The answers told more eloquently than any man can describe it the story of the abundance of game in that easily accessible wilderness. “Dat red deer,” Antoine replied. “Him fox.” “Dat bear track; dat squirrel; dat rabbit.” “Dat moose track; pass las’ week.” “Dat pa’tridge; dat wolf.” Or perhaps it was the trail of a marten, or a beaver, or a weasel, or a fisher, mink, lynx, or otter that he pointed out, for all these “signs” were there, and nearly all were repeated again and again. Of the birds that are plentiful there the principal kinds are partridge, woodcock, crane, geese, duck, gull, loon, and owl.

Pierre Ignace, An Indian Sketched by Frederic Remington When the sun set we prepared to camp, selecting a spot near a tiny rill. The horses were tethered to a tree, with their harness still on, and blankets thrown over them. We cleared a little space by the road-side, using our snow-shoes for shovels. The Indians, with their axes, turned up the moss and leaves, and levelled the small shoots and brushwood. Then one went off to cut balsam boughs for bedding, while the other set up two crotched sticks, with a pole upon them resting in the crotches, and throwing the canvas of an “A” tent over the frame, he looped the bottom of the tent to small pegs, and banked snow lightly all around it. The little aromatic branches of balsam were laid evenly upon the ground, a fur robe was thrown upon the leaves, our enormous blankets were spread half open side by side, and two coats were rolled up and thrown down for pillows. Pierre [Ignace], the second Indian, made tiny slivers of some soft wood, and tried to start a fire. He failed. Then Alexandre Antoine brought two handfuls of bark, and lighting a small piece with a match, proceeded to build a fire in the most painstaking manner, and with an ingenuity that was most interesting. First he made a fire that could have been started in a teacup. Then he built above and around it a skeleton tent of bits of soft wood, six to nine inches in length. This gave him a fire of the dimensions of a high hat. Next, he threw down two great bits of timber, one on either side of the fire, and a still larger back-log, and upon these he heaped split soft wood. While this was being done, Pierre assailed one great tree after another, and brought them crashing down with noises that startled the forest quiet. Alphonse had opened the provision bags, and presently two tin pails filled with water swung from saplings over the fire, and a pan of fat salt pork was frizzling upon the blazing wood. The darkness grew dead black, and the dancing flames peopled the near forest with dodging shadows. Almost in the time it has taken me to write it, we were squatting on our heels around the fire, each with a massive cutting of bread, a slice of fried pork in a tin plate, and half a pint of tea, precisely as hot as molten lead, in a tin cup. Supper was a necessity, not a luxury, and was hurried out of the way accordingly. Then the men built their camp beside ours in front of the fire, and followed that by felling three or more monarchs of the bush. Nothing surprised me so much as the amount of wood consumed in those open-air fires. In five days at our permanent camp we made a great hole in the forest.”

But that first night in the open air, abed with nature, with British America for a bedroom! Only I can tell of it, for the others slept. The stillness was intense. There was no wind, and not an animal or bird uttered a cry. The logs cracked and sputtered and popped, the horses shook their chains, the men all snored — white and red alike. The horses pounded the hollow earth; the logs broke and fell upon the cinders; one of the men talked in his sleep. But over and through it all, the stillness grew. Then the fire sank low, the cold became intense, the light was lost, and the darkness swallowed everything. Some one got up awkwardly, with muttering, and flung wood upon the red ashes, and presently all that had passed was re-experienced.


The ride next day was more exciting than the first stage. It was like the journey of a gun-carriage across country in a hot retreat. The sled was actually upset only once, but to prevent that happening fifty times the Indians kept springing at the uppermost side of the flying vehicle, and hanging to the side poles to pull the toppling construction down upon both runners. Often we were advised to leap out for safety’s sake; at other times we wished we had leaped out. For seven hours we were flung about like cotton spools that are being polished in a revolving cylinder. And yet we were obliged to run long distances after the hurtling sleigh — long enough to tire us. The artist, who had spent years in rude scenes among rough men, said nothing at the time. What was the use? But afterward, in New York, he remarked that this was the roughest travelling he had ever experienced.

The signs of game increased. Deer and bear and wolf and fox and moose were evidently numerous around us. Once we stopped, and the Indians became excited. What they had taken for old moose tracks were the week-old foot prints of a man. It seems strange, but they felt obliged to know what a man had gone into the bush for a week ago. They followed the signs, and came back smiling. He had gone in to cut hemlock boughs; we would find traces of a camp near by. We did. In a country where men are so few, they busy themselves about one another. Four or five days later, while we were hunting, these Indians came to the road and stopped suddenly, as horses do when lassoed. With a glance they read that two teams had passed during the night, going toward our camp. When we returned to camp the teams had been there, and our teamster had talked with the drivers. Therefore that load was lifted from the minds of our Indians. But their knowledge of the bush was marvellous. One point in the woods was precisely like another to us, yet the Indians would leap off the sleigh now and then and dive into the forest, to return with a trap hidden there months before, or to find a great iron kettle.

“Do you never get lost?” I asked Alexandre.

“Me get los’? No, no get los’.”

“But how do you find your way?”

“Me fin’ way easy. Me know way me come, or me follow my tracks, or me know by de sun. If no sun, me look at trees. Trees grow more branches on side toward sun, and got rough bark on north side. At night me know by see de stars.”

Alexandre Antoine's Log Cabin, Exterior We camped in a log hut Alexandre had built for a hunting camp. It was very picturesque and substantial, built of huge logs, and caulked with moss. It had a great earthen bank in the middle for a fireplace, with an equally large opening in the roof, boarded several feet high at the sides to form a chimney. At one corner of the fire bank was an ingenious crane, capable of being raised and lowered, and projecting from a pivoted post, so that the long arm could be swung over or away from the fire. At one end of the single apartment were two roomy bunks built against the wall. With extraordinary skill and quickness the Indians whittled a spade out of a board, performing the task with an axe, an implement they can use as white men use a penknife, an implement they value more highly than a gun. They made a broom of balsam bough, and dug and swept the dirt off the floor and walls, speedily making the cabin neat and clean. Two new bunks were put up for us, and bedded with balsam boughs and skins. Shelves were already up, and spread with pails and bottles, tin cups and plates, knives and forks, canned goods, etc. On them and on the floor were our stores.

We had a week’s outfit, and we needed it, because for five days we could not hunt on account of the crust on the snow, which made such a noise when a human foot broke through it that we could not have approached any wild animal within half a mile. On the third day it rained, but without melting the crust. On the fourth day it snowed furiously, burying the crust under two inches of snow. On the fifth day we got our moose.

Alexandre Antoine's Log Cabin, Interior

In the mean time the log cabin was our home. Alexandre and Pierre cut down trees every day for the fire, and Pierre disappeared for hours every now and then to look after traps set for otter, beaver and marten. Alphonse attended his horses and served as cook. He could produce hotter tea than any other man in the world. I took mine for a walk in the arctic cold three times a day, the artist learned to pour his from one cup to another with amazing dexterity, and the Indians (who drank a quart each of green tea at each meal because it was stronger than our black tea) lifted their pans and threw the liquid fire down throats that had been inured to high wines. Whenever the fire was low, the cold was intense. Whenever it was heaped with logs, all the heat flew directly through the roof, and spiral blasts of cold air were sucked through every crack between logs in the cabin walls. Whenever the door opened, the cabin filled with smoke. Smoke clung to all we ate or wore. At night the fire kept burning out, and we arose with chattering teeth to build it anew. The Indians were then to be seen with their blankets pushed down to their knees, asleep in their shirts and trousers. At meal-times we had bacon or pork, speckled or lake trout, bread and butter, stewed tomatoes, and tea. There were two stools for the five men, but they only complicated the discomfort of those who got them; for it was found that if we put our tin plates on our knees, they fell off; if we held them in one hand, we could not cut the pork and hold the bread with the other hand; while if we put the plates on the floor beside the tea, we could not reach them. In a month we might have solved the problem. Life in that log shanty was precisely the life of the early settlers of this country. It was bound to produce great characters or early death. There could be no middle course with such an existence.


Partridge fed in the brush impudently before us. Rabbits bobbed about in the clearing before the door. Squirrels sat upon the logs near by and gormandized and chattered. Great saucy birds, like mouse-colored robins, and called mid-birds, stole our provender if we left it out-of-doors half an hour, and one day we saw a red deer jump in the bush a hundred yards away. Yet we got no game, because we knew there was a mooose-yard within two miles on one side and within three miles on the other, and we dared not shoot our rifles lest we frighten the moose. Moose was all we were after. There was a lake near by, and the trout in those lakes up there attain remarkable size and numbers. We heard of 35-pound speckled trout, of lake trout twice as large, and of enormous muskallonge. The most reliable persons told of lakes farther in the wilderness where the trout are thick as salmon in the British Columbia streams, so thick as to seem to fill the water. We were near a lake that was supposed to have been fished out by lumbermen a year before, yet it was no sport at all to fish there. With a short stick and two yards of line and a bass hook baited with pork, we brought up four-pound and five-pound beauties faster than we wanted them for food. Truly we were in a splendid hunting country, like the Adirondacks eighty years ago, but thousands of times as extensive.

Finally we started for moose. Our Indians asked if they might take their guns. We gave the permission. Alexandre, a thin wiry man of forty years, carried an old Henry rifle in a woollen case open at one end like a stocking. He wore a short blanket coat and tuque, and trousers tied tight below the knee, and let into his moccasin-tops. He and his brother François [Antoine] are famous Hudson Bay Company trappers, and are two-thirds Algonquin and one-third French. He has a typical swarthy angular Indian face and a French mustache and goatee. Naturally, if not by rank, a leader among his men, his manner is commanding and his appearance grave. He talks bad French fluently, and makes wretched headway in English. Pierre is a short, thickset, walnut-stained man of thirty-five, almost pure Indian, and almost a perfect specimen of physical development. He seldom spoke while on this trip, but he impressed us with his strength, endurance, quickness, and knowledge of woodcraft. Poor fellow! he had only a shotgun, which he loaded with buckshot. It had no case, and both men carried their pieces grasped by the barrels and shouldered, with the butts behind them.

On the Moose Trail

We set out in Indian-file, plunging at once into the bush. Never was forest scenery more exquisitely beautiful than on that morning as the day broke, for we breakfasted at four o’clock, and started immediately afterward. Everywhere the view was fairy-like. There was not snow enough for snow-shoeing. But the fresh fall of snow was immaculately white and flecked the scene apparently from earth to sky, for there was not a branch or twig or limb or spray of evergreen, or wart or fungous growth upon any tree, that did not bear its separate burden of snow. It was a bridal dress, not a winding sheet, that Dame Nature was trying on that morning. And in the bright fresh green of the firs and pines we saw her complexion peeping out above her spotless gown, as one sees the rosy cheeks or black eyes of a girl wrapped in ermine.

Indians Trackin Moose, Frederic Remington Mile after mile we walked, up mountain and down dale, slapped in the faces by twigs, knocking snow down the backs of our necks, slipping knee-deep in bog mud, tumbling over loose stones, climbing across interlaced logs, dropping to the height of one thigh between tree trunks, sliding, falling, tight-rope walking on branches over thin ice, but forever following the cat-like tread of Alexandre, with his seven-league stride and long-winded persistence. Suddenly we came to a queer sort of clearing dotted with protuberances like the bubbles on molasses beginning to boil. It was a beaver meadow. The bumps in the snow covered stumps of trees the beavers had gnawed down. The Indians were looking at some trough-like tracks in the snow, like the trail of a tired man who had dragged his heels. “Moose; going this way,” said Alexandre; and we turned and walked in the tracks. Across the meadow and across a lake and up another mountain they led us. Then we came upon fresher prints. At each new track the Indians stooped, and making a scoop of one hand, brushed the new-fallen snow lightly out of the indentations. Thus they read the time at which the print was made. “Las’ week,” “Day ’fore yesterday,” they whispered. Presently they bent over again, the light snow flew, and one whispered, “This morning.”

Stealthily Alexandre swept ahead; very carefully we followed. We dared not break a twig, or speak, or slip, or stumble. As it was, the breaking of the crust was still far too audible. We followed a little stream, and approached a thick growth of tamarack. We had no means of knowing that a herd of moose was lying in that thicket, resting after feeding. We knew it afterward. Alexandre motioned to us to get our guns ready. We each threw a cartridge from the cylinder into the barrel, making a “click, click” that was abominably loud. Alexandre forged ahead. In five minutes we heard him call aloud: “Moose gone. We los’ him.” We hastened to his side. He pointed at some tracks in which the prints were closer together than any we had seen.

“See! he trot,” Alexandre explained.

In another five minutes we had all but completed a circle, and were on the other side of the tamarack thicket. And there were the prints of the bodies of the great beasts. We could see even the imprint of the hair of their coats. All around were broken twigs and balsam needles. The moose had left the branches ragged, and on every hand the young bark was chewed or rubbed raw. Loading our rifles had lost us a herd of moose.

Moose Bull Fight, Frederic Remington

Back once again at the beaver dam, Alexandre and Pierre studied the moose-tramped snow and talked earnestly. They agreed that a desperate battle had been fought there between two bull moose a week before, aand that those bulls were not in the “yard” where we had blundered. They examined the tracks over an acre or more, and then strode off at an obtuse angle from our former trail. Pierre, apparently not quite satisfied, kept dropping behind or disappearing in the bush at one side of us. So magnificent was his skill at his work that I missed him at times, and at other times found him putting his feet down where mine were lifted up without ever hearing a sound of his step or of his contact with the undergrowth. Alexandre presently motioned us with a warning gesture. He slowed his pace to short steps, with long pauses between. He saw everything that moved, heard every sound; only a deer could throw more and keener faculties into play than this born hunter. He heard a twig snap. We heard nothing. Pierre was away on a side search. Alexandre motioned us to be ready. We crept close together, and I scarcely breathed. We moved cautiously, a step at a time, like chessmen. It was impossible to get an unobstructed view a hundred feet ahead, so thick was the soft-wood growth. It seemed out of the question to try to shoot that distance. We were descending a hill-side into marshy ground. We crossed a corner of a grove of young alders, and saw before us a gentle slope thickly grown with evergreen — tamarack, the artist called it. Suddenly Alexandre bent forward and raised his gun. Two steps forward gave us his view. Five moose were fifty yards away, alarmed and ready to run. A big bull in the front of the group had already thrown back his antlers. By impulse rather than through reason I took aim at a second bull. He was half a height lower down the slope, and to be seen through a web of thin foliage. Alexandre and the artist fired as with a single pull at one trigger. The foremost bull staggered and fell forward, as if his knees had been broken. He was hit twice — in the heart and in the neck. The second bull and two cows and a calf plunged into the bush and disappeared. Pierre found that bull a mile away, shot through the lungs.

In Sight of the Game, Now Shoot

It had taken us a week to kill our moose in a country where they were common game. That was “hunter’s luck” with a vengeance. But at another season such a delay could scarcely occur. The time to visit that district is in the autumn, before snow falls. Then in a week one ought to be able to bag a moose, and move into the region, farther west and north of the great lakes, where caribou are plenty.


After the Hunt

Alexandre Antoine's Log Cabin, Exterior The head of a moose shot that day now hangs at the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, NY, over an entryway between galleries. The hunt took place near Crooked Lake, off Highway 533 in Antoine Township, about 25 miles northwest of Mattawa. Moose hunting still occurs there every year. If you look at the exterior view of Antoine’s cabin in the sketch above in the text of the story, you’ll see a figure standing in the doorway. It was fleshed out later in this 1890 painting as Remington’s self portrait. The artist has painted himself wearing a capeaux and a tuque, which were standard attire at the time for Canadian winters. The Antoine’s Cabin painting is also unusual in that it’s a dramatic departure from the Western Americana paintings and statues for which Remington is so famous.


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