MY MARRIAGE. -- I BECOME A SETTLER ON MY OWN ACCOUNT. -- I PURCHASE LAND IN OTONABEE. -- RETURN TO DARLINGTON. -- MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT DRIVING A SPAN. -- ACTIVE MEASURES TO REMEDY A DISASTER. -- PATIENCE OF MY FATHER-IN-LAW. -- MY FIRST BEAR-HUNT. -- BEAVER-MEADOWS. -- CANADIAN THUNDERSTORMS. -- FRIGHT OF A SETTLER'S FAMILY.
I MUST now say something of myself. During my domestication under my friend's roof, I became attached to one of his daughters. The affection was mutual; and our happiness was completed by the approbation of our friends. We were married; and it seemed that there was a goodly prospect of many years of wedded happiness before us.
But it was necessary that I, who was now a husband, and might become a father, should become a settler on my own account, and look about for lands of my own. I examined, therefore, several locations in the neighbourhood; but one objection or another presented itself, and I declined fixing my settlement at Darlington. Ultimately, I bought two hundred acres of land in the township of Otonabee, within a mile of the newly laid out town of Peterborough. It was arranged that I should stop at Darlington, and assist my father-in-law, until it was time to commence operations in the spring. This arrangement proved very beneficial to me, as I was able to learn many useful things, and make myself acquainted with the manners and customs of the people with whom I was going to live.
We kept two pair of horses and a yoke of oxen to work the farm. One pair of our horses were French Canadian. Generally speaking, they are rough-looking beasts, with shaggy manes and tails, but strong, active, and stout for their size, which, however, is much less than that of the Upper Canadian horse. I have seen, nevertheless, some very handsome carriage-horses of this breed. Of late years, both the Upper and Lower Canadian breed of horses have been much improved by the importation of stallions.
The working oxen of this country are very docile and easily managed. They are extremely useful in the new settlement; indeed, I do not know what could be done without them. It is next to an impossibility to plough among the green stumps and roots with horses the plough being continually checked by roots and stones therefore, till these obstacles are removed, which cannot be effectually done for seven or eight years, oxen are indispensably necessary, particularly for logging up new fallows. Yet notwithstanding their usefulness, I do not know a worse treated set of animals than Canadian oxen. Their weight, when fat, varies from seven to eight hundred weight. A yoke and bows, made of birch or soft maple, is the only harness needed; and, in my opinion, for double draught, better, and certainly less troublesome than the collar and traces used in England.
The ox-yoke is made of a piece of wood, four feet in length, and nine inches deep in the centre, to which a staple is fitted, and from which an iron ring depends, about a foot from the middle of the yoke each way, which is hollowed out, so as to fit on the top of the oxen's necks. A hole is bored, two inches in diameter, on each side of the hollow, through which the bow is passed, and fastened on the upper side of the yoke by a wooden pin. The bow is bent in the shape of a horse-shoe, the upper, or narrow ends being passed through the yoke. If the yoke and bows are properly made and fit the cattle, there is no fear of galling the beast. The bows are made of hickory, white or rock elm, in this way. Cut a piece of elm, five feet and a half long, large enough to split into quarters, each of which will dress to two inches in diameter; put them in a steam-box for an hour at least; take them out hot, and bend on a mould made on purpose; tie the two bent-up ends together until dry. Every settler should know how to do these things, and to make his own axe-handles, and many other articles which are constantly required in the bush.
My first attempt at driving oxen was accompanied by an unfortunate accident, which gave me some trouble and mortification. My father-in-law had lent a neighbour a plough, of which we were much in want. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to try my hand with the oxen, to fetch it home. Now, it happened the cattle were young, and not very well broken, so that I found some difficulty in yoking and attaching them to the cart. However, I succeeded at last, and drove up to the door of Mr. Stephens' house in great style. I found the family just going to dinner, which they courteously invited me to partake with them. I accepted their hospitality, and left the oxen standing before the door.
I discussed my neighbour's good cheer with an excellent appetite, and was in the very act of pledging mine host, when I heard the cattle start off. We left the table with precipitation, but-were, alas! too late to stop the refractory oxen, which galloping down a steep hill, on the summit of which the house was built, stumbled in their descent, and fell to the bottom, where we found them struggling, apparently, in the agonies of death. We cut the bows from their necks as soon as possible, but not in time to save the life of poor Spot, the near ox, who was quite dead; and it was for some minutes doubtful if Dandy the off "critter," as the Yankees would style him would survive his companion. I killed the dead one over again to make its flesh fit for consumption, and bled the other, which happily saved its life. But, notwithstanding my careful endeavour to make the best of a foolish matter, I felt myself in an awkward predicament. To my worthy father-in-law the loss of an animal worth thirty dollars was, at that time, particularly inconvenient; but his moral justice was high and his temper mild; so he listened meekly to my account of the misfortune, quietly remarking, that it could not be helped, and that no blame attached to me. It is in these worrying affairs of every-day life that we discern the real beauty of the Christian character. My mother-in-law behaved as well, on this trying occasion, as any lady could do who found her larder suddenly stocked with a quantity of lean tough beef a prospect, indeed, by no means cheering to any member of the household.
On my return home from my first essay in ox-driving, or rather ox-killing, I found Dennis, our Irish servant, waiting for me with the greatest impatience.
"Och, sir," he exclaimed; "if you had but been with me you might have shot a bear. I was out in the bush searching for the cows, and just as I was crossing the Big creek, near the beaver meadow, I heard a noise from a thicket of cedar bushes close by me, and thinking it might be one of the lost cows I ran forward to see, when to my astonishment and dismay I came suddenly upon a large bear."
"Well," said I, "what did you do?"
"Faith, then, sir, to tell you the truth, I did not do much only took to my heels, and ran home as fast as I could to tell you; as I thought yer honour might perhaps get a shot at the baste, and, troth! he warn't in the laste bit of a hurry to get out my way, sure."
"Well, Dennis, only show me the brute, and it shall be a hard case if I do not make the addition of fat bear to eat with the lean beef, with which I have already stocked the larder."
I loaded my gun with ball, and in company with Dennis and his father started for the place where Master Bruin had been seen. I took Neptune with me a remarkably fine Irish greyhound one of the most powerfully built dogs of that breed I had ever seen, and well he proved his strength and courage this day, as you shall hear.
After proceeding nearly two miles in an easterly direction close to the edge of the beaver meadow,* Neptune suddenly raised his head and looked round. In the next instant he was dashing along in full chase of Mr. Bruin, who was making the best of his way up a hill on the opposite side of the meadow.
[* These meadows are to be found within two or three miles of each other on almost every creek or small stream in Canada West. Those industrious animals, the beavers, build their dams across the creeks in a very ingenious manner, with clay and brush-wood. It is very astonishing what ingenuity they display, and what sagacity, almost amounting to reason, they show in the choice of situation for the erection of these dams. It has been asserted that some years ago, when the French were masters of the country, the Indians cut away the dams, and killed all the beavers they could possibly find, as they did not wish the reservoirs where the beavers bred to fall into the hands of their white brethren. The size of these meadows varies from two or three acres to two or three hundred, and in some few cases is much larger.]
We joined in the chase with the greatest alacrity, but not in time to witness the first set-to between these savage opponents; for while we were gaining the brow of the hill a desperate fight was going on only a few yards from us. Neptune sometimes having the best of it sometimes Bruin. I found it quite impossible to fire for fear of killing the dog. We then tried to pull him off so as to enable me to shoot the bear. This we found equally difficult, the dog had such fast hold of his throat. He was, indeed, perfectly furious.
Dennis, by my direction, cut a strong pole twelve or fourteen feet long, which we laid across the brute's back, and pressed him down as tightly as we could, which, with the able assistance of Nep. kept my gentleman tolerably quiet till the old man cut and twisted a couple of withes, which he passed under the bear, near the hind and forelegs, and secured him firmly to the pole, which my companions lifted on their shoulders, from which the beast now hung suspended, and commenced our march homewards.
I had great difficulty in keeping the dog off. He would rush in, every minute, in spite of all I could do, and seize poor Bruin by the side and shake him most unmercifully. I had enough to do with the help of a stout stick to keep him and the bear in order. The latter was equally violent striking with his fore-paws at the men who were luckily for them just out of his reach, and particularly so for Dennis, who marched in front, whose unmentionables not being in the best possible repair, appeared to excite Master Bruin's particular attention.
I very much wished to preserve this creature alive, that I might try and tame him. In this, however, I was destined to be disappointed; for what with the beating I was obliged to give him to keep him quiet, and the savage attack of the dog, he died just as we came within sight of the clearing. When we skinned him, we found his side much lacerated where the dog had bitten him. From the exaggerated description Dennis had given me of his size, I fully expected to find him as big as a bullock. He, however, only weighed a hundred and fifty-seven pounds, which, for a bear of two years old, which appeared to be his age, is, I believe, the average weight.
The summer of 1825 was warm, even for Canada, where this season is always hot. The thermometer often ranged above 90 degrees in the shade. Such weather would be quite unbearable, were it not for a fine breeze which almost invariably springs up from the westward between ten and eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and continues till sunset.
The nights are cooler in proportion to the heat of the day, than in England.
This climate is subject to violent thunder-storms, accompanied by vivid forked lightning and heavy rain, which greatly tend to cool the air and make the country more healthy. Fatal accidents, however, sometimes occur, and houses and barns are burnt down by the electric fluid, and I have no doubt that, were it not for the proximity of the woods, a great deal more damage would be done.
The lofty trees serve as conductors, particularly the pine and hemlock, the former, from its great height above all the other trees of the forest, being much more likely to be struck by the lightning than any other. It is a curious fact that the electric fluid invariably follows the grain the wood. I have often noticed in pines which had been struck, that the fluid had followed the grain in a spiral form, encircling the tree three or four times in its descent to the earth. I have myself witnessed some extraordinary effects produced by lightning. I remember that, not more than two years since, I had occasion to go out into the township of Douro to attend the sitting of the Council of which I was then a member, and I had, on my way, to pass through a small clearing occupied by an Irish settler, one James Lynch.
This man, to save trouble, had left several large hemlock trees near his house. These trees had been dead for some years, consequently the wood was tolerably dry.* The day before, there had been a terrific thunder-storm which struck the largest, which was fully four feet in diameter, shivering it from top to bottom, and throwing the pieces around for upwards of sixty yards in every direction. If a barrel of gunpowder had been placed under the tree, greater devastation could not have been made. Lynch told me that the storm had been very severe in that neighbourhood.
[* It is well knows that dry timber offers a greater resistance to the electric fluid than the green.]
"We were at dinner," he said, "when the dreadful flash came which shattered that tree. We were all knocked down by the shock, and narrowly escaped being killed, not only by the lightning, but by the pieces of timber which were, as you may observe, scattered in all directions."
After a thunder-storm, attended by heavy rain, a substance very much resembling sulphur is left floating on all the pools, which many people believe to be sulphur. This, however, is quite a mistake, for it is, in reality, nothing more than the farina from the cone of the pine trees. I have observed this substance equally abundant on the Huron tract, many miles from any pine grove. It must, therefore, from its lightness, have been carried up into the air, from whence it has been beaten down by the rain.
Last revised 2005-03-04