Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lost love at Portage La Loche 1862

Lac La Loche forest scene 2011

The country wife is abandoned.

"On July 29th. a Chipewyan woman ran into my tent crying. I learned through an interpreter that this young girl, still pagan, was married to a Cree man, also pagan. He had repudiated her and leaving right away for Lac La Biche. She came to ask me to intervene on her behalf with her mother-in-law and husband so that they would treat her more kindly.
I went to their lodge. Neither one nor the other would listen. The young woman, they said, was sour tempered and easily angered and didn't love her husband. In short they didn't want her. I insisted. The old Cree woman, with her nose up, jealous and hostile told me without even looking at me "Never again will she step foot in my tent."

That same day the old woman and her son left Portage La Loche by a road on the left bank and across the woods.They had horses with them with which they had arrived at the Portage to earn some money by transporting baggage for the Hudson's Bay Company.
These Cree  are French Metis. They are called freemen. They build themselves small houses, plant gardens, feed themselves by hunting and fishing, and earn their living trading furs and renting their horses at the Portage.
The Chipewyan woman placed her child astride her shoulders took her green blanket and disappeared into the forest after her husband.
As for us, the rain had kept us at the Portage for several days but that day the clouds parted and we also left. We had waited twelve days. Twelve days that to us seemed like an eternity. Our brigade, commanded by the guide Joseph Bouvier, numbered five York boats. I did not see the estranged couple until the portage "La Bonne" where they arrived before us.
Thanks to their horses the Cree were able to earn some money on each of the five portages on the Clearwater River.
That night, the old lady took her canoe and with her two grown daughters went down the swift moving river which in this area flowed 12 to 15 miles an hour.
Her son prepared to follow in his own canoe when the young Dene woman jumped out of the long grass and fell grasping the young man around the knees sobbing.
I was present and moved to tears at this disturbing spectacle. One could not help but be touched by so much love and perseverance. But the young Cree was not moved. For a single moment the man seemed to soften then pushed his wife softly either out of pity or because we were watching. She held onto his belt and refused to let go. A crowd gathered. The Cree man was in a hurry. He did not want to explain the situation to the onlookers.
Then started a terrible fight.
He threw her violently to the ground, kicked her in the stomach, on the chest, on the face; and since she would still not let go he hit her on the head with his rifle and left her barely conscious.
I ran there right away and with the aid of an interpreter I reasoned with this "sauvage". He answered a single word in Chipewyan "It's difficult".
I retreated and advised the young woman to leave him and return to her parents at Portage La Loche.
But she had no parents she said. She was an orphan. I finally understood.
Seeing that I could not move the heart of her husband this poor Dene girl thought to use another way to get her husband back to her. She threw into his arms her little three year old boy "Here, she said, since you don't want me any more it is only fair that you raise your son. You are just as able as I am to feed him."
Then she ran into the forest. The young man put the boy astride his shoulders and ran angrily after her.
They didn't appear again that evening and I didn't see the end of this tragic story until the next morning at the portage "de la Cascade". I found the young Cree man as cold and impassive as before. His son was playing with a captured squirrel. I looked around for the young woman without at first noticing her. Finally I saw her crouched in the grasses by the river, silently crying, gazing lovingly at her son.
We know the love mothers have for their children. The trick she had employed had not worked. It was evident. It just made her even more miserable. Deprived of a husband she adored she had now lost her only son. This last throw of the dice was her downfall. The little boy no longer fussed for his mother. The squirrel his dad had given him took up all of his attention.
Finally the young Cree man left this portage for the last time not to return to the land of the Chipewyan for at least a year or perhaps never. He would go back up the Athabasca and return to Lac La Biche.
He took his son by the arm like one who picks up a cat and let him down gently in his canoe alongside two dogs whose paws were tied. Then he took his oar put one leg in the canoe and pushed off with his other leg. Sitting down cross legged he was off without throwing a look at the woman who had recently slept by his side.
She didn't complain this time, not even a deep breath. She seemed stricken, bewildered, like someone without hope. Suddenly she got up picked up a small cooking pot, a blanket, everything she owned, screamed so loudly my ears were ringing for a long time after and ran into the wood." (page 281-285)
....."En route pour la mer Glaciale" by Emile Petitot (translated by rd laloche)
                               more about country wives

                                                                                                        ....from The History of La Loche

A portion of Sir John Franklin's 1819-20 map 
Methye Lake is Lac La Loche with the Portage to the Clearwater River at the north end.