On ascending the river next day

THE canoes arrived on the following morning ere our breakfast was
dispatched, and having stowed into them our fishing-gear and the
requisites for a simple meal, we were about embarking when Don, who was
directed to sit on the bottom of one, between the two Indian boys,
entered a violent protest, and seating himself on a log instead,
announced he should either not go at all, or should be allowed to pole
and have sole charge of one end of the canoe. This proposition astounded
all who could understand, and would have astounded the others still more
if they had understood it; but ere we had recovered our breath Don
commenced explaining his views:

“For many years I have heard of voyaging in a canoe; have thought it the
chief pleasure of the wilderness, and have been anxious not only to
learn how, but to do it. Of course, you will hardly expect me to know
how to manage so frail a boat without practice, and yet if I never
practise, how am I to learn? It is self-evident I must commence some
time. If you admit that, and you can scarcely dispute it, what better
time could I have than the present? You propose to take the bow of the
other canoe, and although you are probably not as expert as the savages,
you did not acquire such skill as you possess intuitively, but by
experience. You will probably suggest that I may upset; if so, the
consequences fall only on myself. You have put no stores in this canoe,
and the ducking will be mine. Let one of the Indians stay behind, for I
have counted upon this as my greatest pleasure.”

“But, Don,” I reasoned mildly, somewhat appalled at the prospective
consequences, “you will smash the canoe.”

“Oh, no; you did not do so when you commenced; and if I do, it is not
worth over fifteen dollars, and I can pay for it. We have stores enough,
and I can make up the difference to you.”

“But you will never succeed—-”

“Pooh, pooh! You succeeded, why not I? I do not ask you to give up the
pleasure which I see plainly you are bent upon, but we can leave one of
the Indians here; I will go with the other, and you with Frank. That
will make the load lighter, besides.”

“Has _monsieur_ ever poled a canoe?” asked Frank, wonderingly.

“No; but I must commence. Of course, I will have difficulty at first,
but it will come; do not trouble yourself about me.”

“The work of poling against a strong current is tremendous, and the
river being low, the rapids are unusually heavy. You will be entirely
exhausted ere you have gone half-way.”

“Do not worry yourself about my sufferings; although your argument is
evidently defective, as low water cannot be stronger than high, if I
fail to keep up with you I can lag behind or come home.”

“Really, you do not know what you are undertaking; but I will tell you
what you can do. Go with the two Indians, see how they manage in the
first rapid, and then take the place of one and try it.”

To this, after much protest and complaint, Frank and I persuaded him to
agree; more, however, as a personal favor to ourselves than on any other
ground, and his grumblings of dissatisfaction were loudly audible till
we had passed the first rapid; Don neither offered to pole nor grumble

The water was very strong, collected in large pools, and then rushing
with tremendous force down a confined channel, or else pouring in long
exhausting stretches of foaming current over pebbly shallows and amid
protruding boulders. At one spot Frank and myself were fifteen minutes,
just able to hold our own and not advancing a foot, with the imminent
risk of upsetting at any instant; and when I was out of the canoe
fishing, he was utterly unable, to the intense delight of the Indians,
to stem the rapids at all.

The canoes were small, and the canoe-men had to occupy a most
uncomfortable position: kneeling and sitting on their heels, not being
able to stand erect as I had often done in larger boats, so that Frank
complained of cramp in his legs for days afterwards. Short setting poles
were used, and our utmost strength had to be exerted where the current
was strong. Of course, the Indians were entirely at home at the work,
and although straining their best, enjoyed our deficiencies and shouted
over our mishaps; whenever we either caught a trout or came near
upsetting our canoe, whenever we had any good luck or any bad luck, and
often when we had neither, they roared with laughter. Not appearing to
give the fate of their canoe, which was in our hands, a thought, they
were intensely amused whenever we brushed against a rock or careened her
till the water flowed in. Instead of the proverbial taciturn grimness of
the conventional Indian, they were hilarious and loquacious, although
their language was a sealed book to us. They were on the best footing,
and held animated conversations with our guides, were continually amused
at their own witticisms, and when on our return, while descending an
unusually dangerous rapid, Frank, distrustful of my judgment, insisted
upon taking entire charge of the canoe, and as a natural consequence
came very near upsetting and throwing us into the boiling waters, to the
peril of our lives and destruction of the boat, they could hardly
contain themselves, but made merry over it the entire way home.

The Agawa winds among high, bleak, and sterile hills, is rapid and
filled with pools, but has none of those tumbling cascades which give
life to the water and wear out deep, dark holes where trout love to
congregate in warm weather. The current, stained with the dead leaves
and decaying vegetation of the ponds and marshes, where it has its
source, is amber-colored, and lends its hue to the pebbly bottom over
which it flows. It evidently, throughout its great extent, furnishes
admirable spawning-grounds for the fastidious trout, and in cool weather
is filled with them in vast numbers. But when a warm season has heated
the water, and a drouth has diminished the current, the fish, finding
the element unsuited to their comfort or even existence, are compelled
to seek the cool, shady caverns of the lake shore.

The river, when we visited it, was in this condition, and there were
none but small, dark-colored fish, which, although excellent in the
frying-pan, after the excessive exertion of surmounting the rapids had
given us an appetite, furnished but tame sport on the line.

Our dinner was pleasant, our trip exciting, the scenery wild, the river
interesting, the savages amusing, and ourselves agreeably entertained;
but we returned early, possessed of a wretched show of game. We had
taken two dozen fish, but none of them were large.

On issuing from the secluded channel of the river, we realized, to our
surprise, that a heavy gale was blowing from the south-east. We had not
felt the wind till we approached the open water, and emerged from among
the hills and trees, but soon found the waves rolling in upon the
sand-beach in a way to remind one of the surf on “Old Long Island’s
sea-girt shore.”

The waves appeared to drive the trout in from the lake, and towards
evening the river near its mouth was alive with them, breaking in every
direction; yet, strange to say, although we cast our flies frequently
directly over them, and kept on fishing till it was night, not a trout
did we take. In all our experience such a thing had never happened, and
where they were so numerous, a dozen often being visible at the same
instant, so voracious and unaccustomed to the presence of man, it was
extraordinary. Fish will frequently, although breaking freely, refuse
the fly, but generally a few will be misled, and occasionally one will
be caught; but here in the Agawa, a hundred miles from civilization, we
saw ten thousand trout in the space of five hundred yards, and after
expending skill and patience, failed to take a single one.

No explanation of this phenomenon presented itself; there was nothing in
the air, water, or time of day to explain it, and although it was
followed during the night by a great change of temperature, there would
appear to be no connection between the two events. The fish seemed to be
playing rather than feeding like salmon running in from the sea; and,
anticipating cooler weather, may have been preparing to ascend the
river. And it is proper to mention here that two gentlemen, who fished
the river a few weeks afterwards, had remarkably fine sport.

Fishing having proved itself vanity and flies a misconception, we
returned to the tent and superintended the payment of the guides, by
impressing upon Frank the necessity of giving them sufficient. One
received his in a greasy, dirty hat that he had worn for several
seasons, and which could hardly have improved the flavor; and the other,
not having so expensive a luxury as a hat, wrapped his in a neck-cloth
that had been in use day and night for years, and had never been washed.
Frank gave them each, in addition, a little butter on a biscuit, and
they hurried away, delighted with their treasures.

The Indian children had brought a number of agates that they had
collected from time to time, and Don selected the best, which were,
however, inferior specimens, and paid for them also by barter. Of
course, our little friend Wajack had her store to exhibit, and received
a favorable consideration from Don, who endeavored to make her
understand a few English words, which were such exquisite baby-talk as
to be nearly incomprehensible to the rest of us. He found in the long
run that he succeeded better by holding up the proposed payment and
pointing to the agate, as none of the savages presumed to ask for more
than we offered.

The following morning the trout again declined positively to recognize
our allurements, and the wind being fair, we concluded to commence our
homeward voyage. We were sorry to part with our amusing Indian friends,
notwithstanding an occasional pang of fear for our numerous articles
that lay scattered about, and which it is only justice to say were
entirely untouched; but as we could make nothing of the fishing, had
become possessed of the best agates, and had explored the river
thoroughly, we proceeded to reëmbark.

The wind was, for the first time, in every way favorable; but ere we had
reached _Point aux Mines_ it had become so violent that Frank, alarmed
at the increasing _roulan_, began to talk of his wife and eight
children, and how sorry they would be if he were drowned; and when the
wind further increased, and Frank began to talk of his nine children, we
concluded it was time to stop and put into a port of distress. In truth,
those open, heavily laden boats are not the safest of vessels in a
seaway, and yawing about as they do before every wave, have to be
watched carefully lest they broach to and fill.

Charley enjoyed Frank’s terror, and would have kept on as a matter of
pride till his employers were satisfied; but Frank, with streaming hair,
staring eyes, and blanched countenance, was a picture of distress, and
if we had not given permission, would have taken it to run behind the
first friendly point.

This proved to be _Point aux Mines_, where in former days a copper mine
had been located, and the shafts and buildings, dilapidated it is true,
and fast crumbling to pieces, remained to mark the traces of man’s
enterprise. The point had been purchased by a company from the Crown;
but as the latter failed to pay the Indians, who were the rightful
owners, they, with the assistance of many of the Canadians, among whom
was our friend Charley, made a night-attack upon the post, and, by a
complete surprise, captured it without loss or bloodshed. The
speculation never having been profitable, the company was only too glad
to be captured; and having obtained an extravagant indemnity from the
home government, never resumed possession of the works.

The buildings were windowless and tenantless, and served as shelter for
voyaging parties of Indians; the underground passages were falling in,
the machinery was going to ruin, the platforms were rotting, and the
gardens had grown up with long, rank grass.

We explored the shafts, collected some specimens of the ore, and
returned to the boat in time to find the wind greatly abated, and
embarking, soon arrived at the Point of Mamainse. Having fished for a
short time from a rock named after one of our best New York fishermen,
Stevens’s Rock, we continued our voyage, and reached the former
camping-ground on the Batchawaung before dark.

The weather had changed. The rain was falling in that dull, penetrating
drizzle that is so depressing to one’s spirits, and the cold air made
our wet clothes and damp bed far from comfortable. Camping in a rain,
building a smoky fire from damp logs, and making a bed of wet boughs, in
spite of the protection of water-proof blankets, is unpleasant, although
it rarely produces sickness. Don bore the discomfort with a patient
composure that was an eminent example to our city exquisites, and never
uttered a complaint; on the slightest provocation he would probably have
proved, conclusively, that moisture was man’s natural condition, and
infinitely preferable to sunshine and dry clothes.

On ascending the river next day, as Don and myself were walking along
the bank we observed a rustling in the grass, and pausing, roused a
flock of partridges. I shot one as they rose, and beholding them, to my
great satisfaction, alight on the neighboring trees, proceeded to poach,
thinking only of the pot, and shot from the trees and on the ground, in
utter disregard of all sportsmanlike rules, the entire covey. They
consisted of but a single brood, and the young were not more than
three-quarters grown; but the anticipation of their juicy tenderness on
the gridiron overpowered any qualmish sentimentality, and right glad
were we to collect the ten plump, tender little fellows into a bloody

The trout had moved from their, former locality, but were plentiful as
ever, enabling us to satisfy our desires and return early to camp, with
one fish of four pounds and several of three. During the day there was a
sudden change of temperature, preceded by a furious attack from the
brulots upon our unhappy persons. Apparently anticipating the advent of
cold weather and partial lethargy, they satiated their appetites with
our blood, in spite of ointments and veils.

During our absence a party of fishermen had arrived from the Sault, and
finding our camp, located themselves a few hundred yards below us. As
we descended the river next morning, we stopped to exchange salutations
and inform them of the condition of the fishing. Being ourselves
abundantly satisfied with killing trout, we proposed making a short
visit to the romantic Harmony before returning to the Sault, and left
the strangers in the sole possession of the Batchawaung.

We found the Harmony lower and warmer than we had left it, almost
deserted by trout, but otherwise as beautiful and picturesque as ever.
We lingered round the falls, and listened to the noisy cascade, drank
from the ice-cold spring, shot a few ducks on the lower stretch of
water, killed a dozen fine trout at the upper _shute_, and indulged in
the luxury of laziness.

Don had been heretofore as active as any member of the party, often up
the first and to bed the last; frequently rousing the guides from their
slumbers by a loon-like call, repeated until they appeared; but on our
first morning at the Harmony he positively refused to get up, and to my
persistent entreaties, replied in a despondent voice:

“It is no use; you give me no rest, keep me up every night till eleven,
work me to death all day, and let the flies and mosquitoes annoy me
without cessation. I will stand it no longer, and intend to sleep as
late as I please.”

“But, Don, breakfast is ready, and you will lose it.”

“Then I shall have a second breakfast. You feed me on pork, and trout,
and ducks, till I am tired of them, and get no nourishment from the
endless repetition.”

“I have made a beautiful omelet this morning, and it will be ruined.”

“Then make me another–we have plenty of eggs–or I will make it for

“But you will miss the morning’s fishing.”

“I do not care. I have caught trout enough to last my lifetime, and I
will have a little rest.”

With that he turned over, incontinently went to sleep, and no efforts on
our parts, nor shouts from the guides, who with delight imitated the cry
with which he had been accustomed to wake them, could rouse him till
eleven o’clock. Apparently much refreshed, he eat a light lunch
preparatory to a more substantial dinner, the hour for which had almost
arrived. Getting up at eleven o’clock in the woods is equivalent to
sleeping till four in the afternoon in the city.

Somewhat moved by his complaints, and having plenty of leisure-time, I
devoted myself to providing for dinner the best our larder afforded:
soup made from preserved vegetables furnishing the first course; trout,
larded and fried, the second; broiled duck, garnished with thin pieces
of pork, the third; and such entremets as boiled rice, chow-chow, and
the like, closing with a dessert of that remarkable and ill-named
preparation called corn-starch, one of the most valuable discoveries for
the city-bred explorer of the woods.

Corn-starch is a remarkable edible, supplying the greatest variety
possible, never seeming to result in the same production, and furnishing
a subject of untiring wonder as to what form it will take next. On some
days it would be beautiful, transparent, bluish jelly, then it would be
a solid, opaque white, and again a dusky brown semi-liquid substance;
frequently it resembled pap, and now and then would be full of doughy
lumps, as though endeavoring to effect an experimental pot-pie;
sometimes it tasted of liquorice, at others it seemed flavored with
molasses; but generally it had not the slightest particle of taste. I
never could calculate on a result; if I tried to obtain jelly, I made
pap; if pap was my purpose, pot-pie would be the product.

Don eat it daily in a state of bewilderment bordering on idiocy,
inquiring regularly after the first taste: “What have we here, now?” But
once, when brown instead of white sugar was used, and effectually
obliterated all other flavor, he made what young ladies call a face. The
inventor of corn-starch must be a wonderful man, but it is to be desired
that he would reduce his bantling to a little better state of
subjection, and put on his labels directions more applicable to the
woods, where milk and moulds and flavoring extracts are not to be had,
and ice-creams are a reminiscence of the past.

Monotony is the drawback to life in the woods, and corn-starch is doubly
welcome on that account. It is nutritious, being composed of the
essential portions of the grain, is compact, and easily protected from
wet; it furnishes an astonishing variety of desserts where any dessert
is a luxury, and it is an admirable addition to one’s stores, though I
wish it had a little more taste.

The dinner, including the corn-starch dessert, was a success, and
revived Don’s spirits, so that he was up betimes thereafter during our
stay at the Harmony.

With reluctance we bade farewell to the pretty stream, whose soothing
murmurs, grateful shade, and wild scenery invited us to remain; and our
eyes lingered on the hills from which it springs, as we slowly passed
out of Batchawaung Bay on the route to Gros Cap and the Sault. But,
aware that our limited time was almost expired, we pushed on our
homeward way, stopping to dine at the camp-ground near its mouth. Here
we found, amid the débris of ancient wigwams, the bleached skulls of
numerous beavers, and were surprised at the peculiar formation of their
long, mordant teeth. We had frequently noticed logs of considerable
diameter that had been cut through by these powerful natural saws, and
that bore the long furrows that they made; but were astonished to find,
in extracting these teeth from the skull, that they constituted nearly a
semicircle. Worn as they would be by severe and continued use, nature
had made this provision to supply the rapid waste, and the portion of
the ivory concealed in the skull was fully two inches long. Don
collected several, and finding a peculiarly large specimen, muttered,
on withdrawing the teeth, that it must be the remnants of

“Ahmeek, the king of beavers.”

Before reaching Gros Cap we struck and lost, by the fouling of our
trolling lines, which were both out together, a very large lake trout.
This fish, in spite of his size, gave so little play that we were
scarcely aware that we had hooked him, and were astonished when we saw
his immense proportions as he came near the boat. We scarcely considered
his loss a disappointment.

We spent two days at Gros Cap, having fine sport and killing some large
fish. Don broke his tackle several times, and the lively,
bright-colored, vigorous trout, luxuriating in their appropriate
element, the cold spring water of the lake, gave us excellent play.
Wandering from rock to rock, and casting out into the limitless lake,
every rise was sudden and unexpected, every step changed the distance of
our cast and the character of the fishing-ground.

The submerged rocks were visible through the limpid water, and from
beside them or from their deep, dark fissures a trout might rise with a
furious, impetuous plunge at any moment. The fish were numerous,
breaking in the placid evenings in myriads, and the sport was
entrancing. During the warm mid-days, when the sun was too brilliant or
the lake too calm for fishing, we would wander about the island, hunting
specimens, inspecting natural peculiarities, and chasing the _ephemeræ_
that had supplied the place of the brown _phryganidæ_.

There was a surprising similarity of color in all the natural flies of
that region; they were mostly of modified shades of brownish yellow or
gray. The yellowish variety had two long whisks, one inch and
three-quarters long, banded with gray, eyes round, white, and
protuberant, with a black speck, and eight sections to the body. They
were quite active and numerous, while other varieties resembled them in
general appearance and characteristics.

The rocks were seamed with veins of copper, the oxide of which had
discolored the adjoining stone, and occasionally we could obtain pretty
and apparently rich specimens. Unfortunately, neither Don nor myself,
though well enough read in the classics and other equally useful
sciences, had ever studied mineralogy, and were as good judges of
minerals as a savage would be of a watch. Our ignorant conclusions,
however, were that if the north shore of Lake Superior were properly
explored, under Yankee supervision, mines might be discovered equalling
those of the south coast. With this sage conclusion we were forced to be

Charley had a passion for prospecting; was ready at a moment’s notice to
dig out with the axe any strange-looking deposit, fully convinced that
some day he should make his fortune, if he only could learn to
distinguish the valuable from the worthless.

At last a strong westerly wind came out, and a heavy fog settled down
upon us, wrapping the hills in its graceful shroud, hanging pendant from
the distant rocks and trees, shutting out the lake from view, covering
the bushes with glittering gems, and wetting our thin clothes
uncomfortably. As there was too much sea running to fish, we wrapped
ourselves up in the water-proofs, and embarking the remnants of our
property, set sail for the Sault.

This was to be our last day on the lake, our last day in the open woods,
the last time we were to stand face to face with nature’s solitude–and
our spirits felt depressed at the prospect. No more sleeping beneath the
cool canvas, no more looking out upon the limitless Big-Sea-Water, no
more peering up into the silent night, and no more of those thronging
thoughts and grateful inspirations that feed the soul in the wilderness.
The freedom from rules and restraint was to be laid aside, the easy
dress must be replaced by the methodical cut, the manners and acts must
be shaped to those of others, and we were to conduct ourselves
henceforward according to the received and established pattern. We were
approaching civilization, where stiff and stately houses were to limit
our views, and man’s works shut out those of God.

The wind soon hauled ahead, and driving back the fog, let down a flood
of sunlight on the sparkling water; but the current being quite strong
in our favor as we approached the outlet, we made good headway, passing
in our course a yacht crowded with sportsmen, and under full sail going
wing and wing for the Neepigon, encountering other sailing vessels, and
meeting with occasional evidences of man’s presence.

At six o’clock that evening we shot the rapids, and discharging our load
at the wharf, ensconced ourselves once more beneath the hospitable roof
of the Chippewa House. Three glorious weeks had come and gone since we
were last there–three weeks of unalloyed happiness, three weeks of
invigorating life and exercise, worth all the medicines in the
world–three weeks of intelligent and sensible enjoyment. In that time
impressions had been made and lessons had been learned never to be
forgotten; health had been acquired that would last for years, joy
tasted that would leave its flavor during life. And now farewell to the
staunch old barge; farewell to our canvas home, to the merry camp-fire,
to the woodsman’s life; farewell to the deep forests, the sombre pines,
the waving elms, to the dancing streams, and the open water; farewell to
our faithful guides; farewell to the graceful trout, the elegant
namægoose, the fierce black bass; a long farewell to Gitche-Gume,
Big-Sea-Water, the greatest of the great lakes of our great country!