WANT OF HOME-PASTURAGE IN CANADA. -- DANGER OF BEING LOST IN THE WOODS. -- PLAIN DIRECTIONS TO THE TRAVELLER IN THE BUSH. -- STORY OF A SETTLER FROM EMILY. -- AN OLD WOMAN'S RAMBLE IN THE WOODS. -- ADVENTURE OF A TRAPPER. -- FORTUNATE MEETING WITH HIS PARTNER.
ONE of the greatest inconveniences belonging to a new settlement, for the first four or five years, is the want of pasturage for your working cattle and cows. Consequently, the farmer has to depend entirely on the Bush for their support, for at least seven months out of the twelve. The inconvenience does not arise from any want of food; for the woods, beaver meadows, and the margins of lakes and streams yield an abundance, and the cattle, towards the fall of the year, are sure to grow fat. But it is the trouble of seeking for your cattle.
Sometimes, indeed, in the midst of your greatest hurry, your oxen are nowhere to be found. I have myself often spent two or three days in succession, searching the woods in vain; and it not unfrequently happens that, while looking for the strayed beasts, you lose yourself in the woods.
As we generally carry a gun with us in these excursions, we often fall in with deer or partridges, which makes the way not only seem less fatiguing, but even pleasant, unless during the season of musquitoes and black flies, when rambling through the Bush is no pleasure to any one.
New-comers are very apt to lose themselves at first, until they get acquainted with the creeks and ridges; and even then, on a dark day or during a snow-storm, they are very likely to go astray. If you have no compass with you, and the sun is obscured, the best way of extricating yourself is, to observe the moss on the trees, which--not every one knows--grows more luxuriantly and in greater quantities on the north side of the tree. It is of little use to look at any tree separately: this will perhaps only mislead you; but if you observe the general aspect of the woods around, the indications may be of great service to you. Towards the north, the trunks of the trees will appear light and cheerful, while the south side will look dark and spotted. This plan, however, will only answer amongst hard woods.* [* Deciduous trees are called hard-wood.] The ridges mostly run north-east and south-west, and the swamps parallel with them. Then, again, in pine woods the general inclination of the timber is from the north-west. All these indications have been successfully followed, and should be borne in mind.
People who lose themselves in the Bush seldom persevere long enough in any one direction. They fancy they are going wrong, and keep changing their course; till probably, after four or five hours' walking, they find themselves near the spot from whence they started. This has occurred to me more than once, and I shall relate a melancholy incident which happened only a few years ago, and which proves what I have just stated.
The person to whom I allude, resided in the township of Emily, and had been all the summer working at his trade in the village of Bowmanville, to earn money sufficient to pay for his land, which he had succeeded by the fall in doing. As the cold weather had set in, he determined to return home, and chop all the winter on his farm. He knew that by crossing the township of Darlington and Manvers in an oblique direction, twenty-five or six miles in length, he could reach his own house in half the time, the distance by the road being more than double that by which he proposed to travel. He therefore determined to try the short way, although he was well aware that the last eight or ten miles of his road was through the Bush, with not even a blazed line to guide him. He was, however, young and active, and moreover considered himself a good backwoodsman. He started one fine frosty morning early in December, expecting he should be able to reach his own house sometime before sundown.
For the first ten or twelve miles he got on pretty well, as he had a sleigh-track to follow, and as long as the sun shone out he made a good course. Unfortunately for him, a snow-storm came on and obscured his only guide. He, however, struggled on manfully through cedar-swamps and over ridges, with the snow half-way up to his knees, till the approach of darkness compelled him to look out for some place to shelter him from the storm, where he might best pass the weary hours of the coming night.
He selected a dry spot beneath some spreading cedars, and busied himself as long as daylight lasted in collecting as much fire-wood as would last till the morning. He then gathered a quantity of hemlock-brush for his bed, and by breaking off some large limbs from the surrounding evergreens, succeeded at last in forming a temporary shelter. For a long time he despaired of getting a fire, till he at length found some dry cedar-bark, which he finally succeeded in igniting with a piece of punk,* which every backwoodsman carries with him for that purpose. Though the poor fellow had only taken with him provisions for a day's journey, he made a hearty supper, merely reserving a portion for his breakfast, not suspecting that he should fail in reaching his destination. He fully expected he should see the sun in the morning, which would enable him to correct this course; for he knew that he was in the township of Manvers, and not more than seven or eight miles from his own home.
[* A substance obtained from the sugar-maple, similar to German tinder.]
Wearied with his day's journey, he slept the greater part of the night, although awakened occasionally by the cold. At such times he would heap fresh fuel on the fire, and again compose himself to sleep.
To his infinite joy the morning beamed brightly--the sun shone out. With a light heart and renewed confidence he again shaped his course eastward, following the direction in which his house lay; and there is no doubt, had the day remained clear, he would in a few hours have extricated himself from the dilemma into which he had fallen. His disappointment was great when he again beheld the sky overcast, and the snow falling thickly around him. He pushed on, however, bravely, till at length a thick cedar-swamp lay before him. For some time he travelled along its edge, in the hope of finding a narrow spot to cross, but in this he was disappointed, so he determined to attempt the passage. He fully believed, once on the other side, he should know the face of the country, from his having so often hunted game, or searched for his cattle in that direction.
For fully an hour he pressed on through a complete thicket of cedar; but it was all random work, for the evergreens were so loaded with snow, that it was quite impossible to go one hundred yards in a straight course. At last he saw the tops of hard-wood trees before him, which again revived his sinking spirits, for he thought he had crossed the swamp. Alas, poor fellow! he was mistaken. He had come out on the very side by which he had entered it, but of this he was not aware at the time. He, however, wondered that he did not recognize any part of the ground he was travelling over.
At length, to his great joy, he came upon the fresh track of a man, which he had no doubt belonged to some person, who was then out from the settlement, still hunting;* for he knew that Manvers was the most celebrated township for deer in the Newcastle District. As he observed that the footprints were going in a contrary direction to what he was, this circumstance gave him increased confidence. Two or three times, however, he thought some of the small swamps and ridges looked vastly like what he had traversed in the early part of the day. At last, about an hour before dark, he saw a thin wreath of blue smoke in a thicket before him. Judge of his disappointment and dismay, when, on his nearer approach, he found he had actually followed his own track, which had brought him back to the spot where he had passed the night. To describe his feelings on this occasion would be difficult and painful. He thought of his wife and his young children, who were hourly expecting his return, and who had, no doubt, prepared some little treat to welcome the wanderer home. [* Canadian term for deer-stalking.]
Bitter were his reflections during the waking hours of that long night! Hungry, tired, and unrefreshed, the morning's light saw him struggling through the snow, but whither he knew not; for though it had ceased snowing, the sky was still overcast, and continued so till the middle of the afternoon, when the wind suddenly veered round to the north-west, attended with intense cold. He now renewed every effort; for once or twice he thought he heard the sounds of civilized life--the distant supper-horn or cattle-bell--but the fierce howling of the wind, which blew half a gale, rendered his hearing indistinct.
As long as daylight lasted he dragged on his wearied limbs, till utter exhaustion and coming darkness rendered his further progress impossible. To add to his misfortune, on attempting to kindle a fire, he found that his punk was damp, from the snow having come in contact with it when pressing his way through the swamp. He now gave himself up for lost, for the night was extremely cold, and he had neither fire to warm him, nor roof to shelter his head. To sleep thus he knew was certain death. He therefore paced up and down as long as he was able to stand, but his boots were frozen stiff, and his feet numb with the cold. After great difficulty he managed to pull off his boots, and having wrapped up his feet in his woollen cap, he lay down on the path he bad beaten in the snow, for he could no longer resist the inclination to sleep.
While in the act of lying down, he distinctly heard a cock crow at no great distance. By a great effort he roused himself, and called as loudly as he was able. Once he thought he heard an answer to his cry--again the horn seemed to ring in his ears,--and then all was blank.
At daylight he was found by some of his own neighbours; one of whom was up early in the morning feeding his oxen, preparatory to a journey to the front, when he heard the shouts, which sounded to him like those of some person in distress. He immediately blew his dinner horn, that the sound might guide the lost person, and having collected three or four of his neighbours, they started into the woods in the direction from whence the shouts of the lost man had proceeded. Half a mile from the clearing, they came across his track, which they only followed for a few yards, when to their surprise they found their poor neighbour, whom at first they concluded to be dead. It was some time indeed before they could wake him, so overpowered was he with fatigue and the death-like sleep he had fallen into.
His friends lost no time in carrying him home; but unfortunately they placed him near a large fire, instead of rubbing his hands and feet with snow. The too sudden reaction of the blood caused him the most excruciating agony, for both his hands and feet were badly frozen. At length Dr. Hutchinson* was sent for from Peterborough, who found mortification had commenced, and that there was no chance of the poor fellow's recovery which proved too true, for he expired the next day, a week from the morning he was found.
[* Dr. Hutchinson, is a medical practitioner of great note, and one of the first settlers and oldest magistrates in that section of the country. I had the particulars of this story from him; though, as it was some years ago, I may have made some mistake as to the exact locality.]
He, however, died in the arms of his afflicted wife, and was surrounded by his family, a privilege purchased at the expense of severe pain, but still one to the husband and father--even though he had been snatched from his pangless death-sleep to possess it, poor fellow!
The mischances consequent upon being lost in the woods, which were so frequent in the early settlement of Western Canada, are of rare occurrence now. Since, roads have been cut, and the clearings have brought the Bush-settlers nearer together. In my young time I have often searched for missing persons, and indeed have sometimes been lost myself.
I remember, the first summer I passed in Canada, making one of a party, who were for eight days looking for an old woman nearly eighty years of age, and her little grandson, who were lost in the Bush.
The old lady was going by a foot-path across a piece of woodland between her son-in-law's house and a neighbour's, which, by-the-by, were almost within sight of each other. The little boy, it seems, ran a short distance off the path to gather some wild-flowers, and was followed by his grandmother, who, either from her defectiveness of sight, or, more probably, from having crossed without perceiving it, was, unable to regain the track. Her friends finding that she did not return, went over to their neighbour's house to see if she was there; but they only learned that neither she nor her grandson had found their way thither. Search was instantly made till night came on, but without success.
The next day, all their friends and neighbours turned out, myself among the number, to search for the unfortunate woman and the boy. We concluded, from her advanced age and the tender years of the child, that they could not be very far off; consequently we confined our search for several days within a radius of two or three miles.
On the fifth day, tracks were discovered near the edge of a small creek, which from being the prints of a small and large foot, left no doubt as to whom they belonged. Strange as it may appear, this was the only sure indication of the lost ones that we had yet seen. No further trail was seen till the evening of the seventh day, when fresh signs were found. Our party therefore determined to camp out all night, and follow these new indications early in the morning, which object they succeeded in effecting. The lost ones were then found, and both were discovered alive.
The old woman had suffered the most; but the two had sustained themselves by eating roots and beech-mast: the little boy was quite frightened when he saw the men coming, and hid himself; such were the consequences of solitude and privation on his mind.
The place where they were found was in the township of Beach, at least fourteen miles due east from the place where they were lost; and it is more than probable, in their wanderings, that they had more than doubled that distance--a most extraordinary circumstance, when the ages of the parties are considered.
About three years since, two young men, with whom I was well acquainted, went back into the uninhabited township of Methuen, to trap for fur, and hunt deer. They set a line of marten-traps,* extending upwards of three miles. One or other of them used to go every alternate morning, to examine these traps--to re-set any that were sprung; and bring back to their camp any furry animal that might chance to be captured.
[* The method pursued by the trappers and Indians is to blaze a line through the bush for several miles. Along this line is set, at intervals of one or two hundred yards, a kind of trap, called a dead fall, which is constructed thus:--Two rows of short sticks are driven into the ground about one foot apart, open only at one end, the top being covered with brush-wood at the entrance. A piece of wood two or three feet long is bedded into the ground, or snow, as the case may be. The falling pole is supported immediately over this by three pieces of stick notched together in the form of a figure of four. The centre-piece is made long and sharp at the point, to which the bait is attached, and projects well into the miniature house. The marten or fisher, allured by the bait, reaches in to snatch it, which springs the trap, and causes the pole to fall across the neck of the animal, which is instantly killed by the blow.]
One morning, the less-experienced trapper of the two, this being his first season, went along the line to look at the traps, as usual. He had his gun with him, but only two or three charges of powder. After proceeding to the extreme end of the line, he thought he would go on and look for some partridges, which he heard "drumming"* some little distance a-head.
[* This sound is made by the Canadian partridge (a species of the grouse) during its season of courtship. The cock-bird perches himself on the top of a large hollow log, or fallen tree, and with his wings produces a vibratory sound, like the distant roll of a drum, which, in still weather, can easily be heard at the distance of a mile in the woods.]
In the pursuit of his game, he was induced to go further than he had at first intended. He never doubted that he should easily find his way back to the line. In this, however, he was woefully deceived, for the day was cloudy, and the face of the country was very rough. It formed, indeed, a part of the great granite range, which is said to cross the St. Lawrence, at the Lake of the Thousand Islands, traversing the rear of the Midland District and the counties of Hastings and Peterborough, through the unsurveyed lands north of Lake Simcoe, to the shores of Lake Huron. This granite formation is supposed to have an average breadth of ten or twelve miles, being intersected with small lakes, deep ravines and precipitous rocks. The woods of this region being composed principally of pine, hemlock, and cedar, are of a peculiarly gloomy character. In such a difficult country as this, it was no wonder that our inexperienced trapper went astray.
After an hour's fruitless search for the line, he came to the conclusion that he was lost, and that his only chance was to fire off his gun, in the hope that his companion would hear and return it. As no answering sound greeted his ear, he durst not fire his only remaining charge of powder, for it was all he had to defend himself from wolves, or to obtain some animal or bird whereupon to sustain his life.
For four days and three nights did this poor fellow wander through these rugged wilds. On the afternoon of the fourth day he came upon a ridge of land, which appeared better timbered and more open; so he determined to follow this route, expecting it might lead him to the lakeshore, where his camp was situated.
He had not walked a hundred yards in this new direction, when to his surprise he saw quite a fresh blaze on a tree, and within a fear yards of the spot on which he stood, a newly constructed marten-trap. Words cannot express the joy he felt at this discovery; it was his own line he had so fortunately come upon. Had he only gone the smallest distance to his left, he would have missed it altogether; but he came, providentially, upon the very spot where he had set his last trap, and within a few feet of the place he had left four days before.
On his way to the camp, a sudden fear came over him! Had his companion left it, supposing him to be irrecoverably lost? If so, what was to become of him on the north shore of Stony Lake, without a canoe to cross over to the settlement, food, or ammunition to procure any for his support. His fears were, however, groundless, as the report of a gun, and soon after the appearance of his companion convinced him; but the danger had been great; for, from the statement of his fellow-trapper, he found that the latter was then on his way to the end of the line, hoping that he might see or hear something of him before he broke up their camp, which he intended to have done in the morning, if he had not unexpectedly fallen in with his friend. Thus had Providence again interposed in his behalf, and a few days of rest restored him to his wonted health, spirits, and activity.
Last revised 2005-03-04