Stories with Jacob Bear (1838-1925) from Isaac Cowie’s The Company of Adventurers

In the middle of June my laptop crashed and all of my genealogical research was trapped on my drive for several stressful weeks. It was a scary reminder to back up my research! Thankfully, I was able to send my drive to a local business that was able to rescue my files. Phew.

Now that I have them back, I’ll be working to upload more material to my blog such as the following stories I transcribed from Isaac’s Cowie’s book The Company of Adventurers.

These stories are related to Jacob Bear who worked at Fort Qu’Appelle at the same time as Cowie. In my research around his time with the Hudson Bay Company I had located a document which listed that Jacob had been referenced in the book. To my delight when I pulled the book to review I found a number of stories that mention Jacob which were not listed. I’ve highlighted the first mention of his name in orange in each story to make it easier to find him in the text.

My favourite story is about how Jacob saved the lives of both Isaac and a young boy who had been traveling with them when they got caught up in a terrible blizzard. Without Jacob’s level-headed thinking they would have never made it to camp.

The Rest of the Garrison.

Next in the roll of the fort comes William Kennedy, apprentice interpreter, a boy of about twelve years old at the time, now an elderly settler of many years and good standing, near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He also came of good old Hudson’s Bay officers’ stock, his grandfathers being Chief Factors Alexander Kennedy and Roderick McKenzie, and his name father and uncle, Captain William Kennedy, the well-known Arctic explorer.

Space cannot be given to all I would like to say about other friends and comrades at Fort Qu’Appelle, and as their names will come up in course of the narrative I shall only mention them briefly here. The three Sandisons and Thorne were English halfbreeds and so were their wives, and Mrs. McKay; Flemmand and Robillard and their wives were French halfbreeds, although the latter looked a very fair Frenchman and the former a pure Indian. Of the Europeans, besides Mr. McDonald and myself, Gowdie Harper was the only one permanently attached to the fort, the others being only send there to pass the winter where provisions were plentiful, and to be drilled to their duty by Mr. McDonald (who had a reputation for breaking in green hands as well as bronchos) preparatory to being sent elsewhere—Dyer to Lake Manitoba and the other two to Athabasca, next summer. Of the two Americans, Jordan, who remained in the country, will be mentioned again, and Davis returned to the States after a year or so. Nepapeness was a all, splendid-looking fellow. Neither he nor his wife was a Christian. On the other hand, Jacob Bear and his wife were well instructed Christians from St. Peter’s, both speaking, reading and writing English, also syllabic.

Cowie, 1913, p. 221-222.

Lynx and Whitefish.

On Monday Mr. McDonald ordered ponies to be brought round and we set out to visit the fishery up the lake. Of course several of the train dogs followed up, and among them his steering dog, “Beaver,” who, running ahead of us, started a lynx from his lair along the trail. We at once dashed after him, but after taking first one long leap, next a shorter, and then one quite short, as is the nature of the beast, the lynx took refuge from the dogs in pursuit by scrambling up a tree, from which Mr. McDonald brought him down dead with a shot from his double barrel. Now at last, I thought, I had reached the happy hunting grounds of my dreams, for he treated the matter as one quite common in a sally from the post.

We found Jacob Bear with a big stage laden with whitefish, hung, in tens by the tail, to freeze for winter’s use, and although of the fine warm weather still continuing during the day, that would only make them more palatable than quite fresh fish as an article of frequent diet. Jacob had also split, slightly salted and smoked some of the finest of his catch, like finnan haddies, for the mess. He gave us a few ducks, caught while diving in the net, to take back with the smoked fish and the lynx, to the fort, all being good to eat; for roast lynx was thought to be a great delicacy.

Cowie, 1913, p. 224-225.

My Friend Flemmand.

I spent a few pleasant days under Jerry’s hospitable roof, and with Jordan’s aid we had several sing-songs, Jerry’s contribution being, “The North Counteree” and mine “The Jolly Dogs,” which latter charmed the ear or fancy of Olivier Flemmand, who was a jolly dog himself. The chorus was “Slap, bang, here we are again,” in which Flemmand turned the “slap” into “frappe” in his rendering. Flemmand was a tall, lithe, active fellow, who justly prided himself on his prowess as a runner, for on one occasion he had run the distance of one hundred and thirty-five miles from Fort Qu’Appelle to Fort Ellice within twenty-four hours in the heat of summer, carrying an urgent letter. He was polite, good-natured, full of fun, and talkative. He was a good-looking fellow, although as dark skinned as most Indians, but inside he seemed to be all French with one exception, for he was an arrant coward. This he sought to conceal by brag and bluster, and bullying young fellows under him with most savage threats. He talked French, Saulteau and Cree, and spoke English amusingly.

Flemmand wanted to get a trip in the to fort to see his family, so Mr. McKay sent him with me, via Old Wives’ Creek, where Jacob Bear was wintering in the lodge of Ookemah, the recognized chief of the Qu’Appelle Saulteaux. The American, Charles David, and William Sandison, with a train of dogs each, came with us on the homeward journey.

Old Wives’ Creek.

On the 27th of January I note that Jacob Bear had on hand ninety buffalo ropes, seventy buffalo tongues, five badgers, five red foxes, twenty kitt foxes, one lynx and twenty wolves as the result of his trade to that time. My visit afforded old Ookemah the unusual opportunity of putting his grievances in writing. The old fellow was in a sulky mood probably arising from disturbance of his liver from overeating, for he was living on the fat of the land, and he was far too fat himself anyhow to be healthy. Obesity is not common among male Indians, but it is, I think, more frequently found among the Saulteaux than the other tribes. He and his son, White Bear, appeared to be conjoint chiefs in some way, which Flemmand failed to make me understand. Neither could I understand and get any comprehensible explanation of the chief’s bitter complaint that he had not been paid in full for the “present” to the Company with which he had celebrated, according the the custom, his arrival in state at the fort in the fall. The alleged present consisted of two horses and some furs and provisions, and all those who contributed towards it had been paid in full but he himself, said he. He also grumbled that his gratuities as a chief had been forced upon him against his will, and for these he might be called upon to pay when he was unable. Bewildered between what he regarded as my childish questions for an explanation, and the inadequacy of Flemmand’s interpretation in such a case of delicate diplomacy, I finally simply wrote down what Flemmand said the chief had said, Mr. McDonald to solve the problem himself.

Start for the Fort.

We passed a day with Jacob, and on the 30th of January, 1868, set out for the fort, the trail to which, after reaching the Hotel Denomie, at the River the Turns, would be that followed on the outward voyage. Although Jacob had plenty of carts to carry in to the fort all he was likely to trade by spring, we loaded up our sleds with robes, or rather Jacob and Flemmand loaded mine, saying that my dogs were strong and well able to draw forty large prime robes. While the stuff I had taken to Wood Mountain on my sled probably weighed as much, yet in bulk it was not half as high as the load of loose, unpacked robes they piled on it. Flemmand, having no dog-train to drive, set off ahead, on an old trail hard enough to hold up a man without snowshoes. He seemed to be in a heart hurry and kept us busy attempting to keep up with him. But the roadway was over rolling ground and sided slopes where my sled was continually swinging off the narrow track and upsetting in the soft, deep snow alongside. The ground seemed to be honeycombed with badger holes, and nearly every time I got off the track to right my sled down one of my legs would go full length in one of the holes. Sandison and Davis, having lighter and well-snugged loads, did not have so much difficulty and were more experienced in the work; but they, too, had had enough of Flemmand’s furious rush at the start and were glad when he halted at my signal. I came up to him hot in body and in temper, for I suspected he had done as he did “to play over a greenhand.” I said:

“We will stop and make tea, and then you and I, Flemmand, will go back to Jacob’s while the others go on. We will catch them up in the morning.”

“What for, m’sieu, you want to go back?” asked Flemmand, with feigned surprise.

“Because I did not come out here to do the work of a cart-horse, with a sled that you have loaded as high as a haystack,” I answered, hotly. “We will make a cariole at Jacob’s and you will drive me in, in style, to the fort.”

Cowie, 1913, p. 260-263.

Caught in a Prairie Blizzard.

That winter I made two other trips with dogs. One was out to Old Wives’ Lake with Jacob Bear and a lad named Unide Gardupuis, on which we had the unpleasant experience of being caught by a blizzard on the bare prairie. Scraping the snow away down to the grass with our snowshoes, we laid down with robes and blankets under and over us, and let the snowdrift cover us up. After spending forty-eight hours huddled together for warmth in this decidedly uncomfortable “camp,” nibbling a morsel of pemmican and trying to thaw snow for drinking in the covered copper teakettle we put to warm in our bosoms, Jacob thrust his head up, and, seeing it was clear, said we must get up and run for the nearest woods.

Though clear, the north-west wind was strong and piercingly cold. The dogs were all covered up under the snow around us. Feeling for them with our feet, and pulling them out of their comparatively warm lairs, we, with great difficulty and distress, with hands and fingers already benumbed in lashing the bedding on the sleds, hitched them in and set off. Jacob ran ahead of his train to give a lead, for there was no trail and the wind was blowing hard slantingly ahead and across our course over the Couteau. The two trains of dogs, Jacob’s and my own, which I was driving after him, constantly edged away from the slanting head wind, and I had all I could do to keep them on the course. We had eaten little and drunk less while under the snow, and it was forenoon with no chance of reaching the woods on Old Wives’ Creek till sundown.

Suddenly Jacob began running harder than ever, and then stopped and began scooping a hole in the snow. When we came nearer he shouted, “We’ll boil the kettle here,” for he had found sticking out of a badger hole the larger half of a broken pine tent pole, than which nothing could be better to kindle a smudgy fire on buffalo dung. We willingly “rooted” with our feet for the precious buffalo chips, and had a pile high as a haycock by the time Jacob had knifed enough shavings to kindle it. The storm being violent, we covered Jacob with a robe while he struck a light with flint and steel. The fuel soon smouldered into red, and the kettle was boiled for a long longed-for drink of tea, after we had first slaked our thirst by melting snow in the frying-pan. But although it boiled the kettle, that smouldering fire gave out no warmth to us around it. Poor young Unide, thinly-clad in cotton shirt and white cloth capote, with his blanket over all for a shawl, had to keep on the run round and round about the fire, nibbling at a lump of frozen pemmican as he went, and stopping for a moment occasionally to take a drink of tea. Jacob and I were able to keep from freezing, being better clad, and sat down with our robes over our backs and heads on the weather side of the fire, more to protect it from being blown away than for any warmth we could possibly derive from it.

As soon as we got the fire going the dogs were given a little pemmican, enough to keep up their strength without impeding their travelling till night. So the whole party started with renewed strength and spirit to battle with that biting breeze till we should find rest and safety in the bush on the borders of the Old Wives’ Creek. Every few minutes as we ran we had to thaw the frostbites on our noses and faces.

The sun had gone down when we gained the desire haven just in time for Jacob to see well enough to chop the big lot of firewood for the blazing bonfire he intended to enjoy in the comfort of a camp in the shelter of the woods, in contrast with the sufferings we had endured on the wind-swept prairie and under the snow.

Had Unide and I been alone we would never have reached that camp; and it had taxed even the hardiness of Jacob to do so. As soon as he had finished cutting all the firewood he wanted, and came to stand by the fire, he discovered that his right ear, on the windward side, had been solidly frozen, and by its commencing to thaw it gave him intense pain, from which he suffered many a day. He bravely bore it and laughingly said, “You will be able to put down my name on the list with marks like a horse with a crop ear, and call me Jacob “Court Oreille.”*

The only other trip I made that winter of any consequence was one to Fort Pelly, where, apart from giving my hospitable welcome as a newcomer to Swan River district, I was wanted to extract a troublesome tooth for Chief Factor Campbell’s lady.

* A few days ago I had the great pleasure of hearing that my good-natured and capable travelling companion is alive and in the enjoyment of fairly good health near Whitewood, Saskatchewan.

Cowie, 1913, p. 353-355.

Brown Bess Bellows.

Only a few impotent malcontents remained about the lakes, and his mission destroyed their last hopes of sharing in any pillage others might provide. These now began to fear reprisals for the insulting abuse they had taken every safe occasion to give vent to against the Company’s people and the even more hated men from Ontario. So, to encourage them, and at the same time to experiment with an old army Brown Bess as a scatter gun when loaded half up with powder and trading bullets, I had one mounted on a pair of cart wheels, and choosing a clam day began practicing with it as a field-piece, taking the precaution to use a long line attached to the trigger to set it off. As a target, and to observe the spread of the bullets, we used the side of the ice-house. Jacob Bear, who had taken great delight in operating it while we were firing this dreadfully overcharged gun for nothing but the noise, when it had been filled to the muzzle with probably a bursting charge, took shelter to one side of the line of fire round a corner of the stockades. Simultaneously with the roar of the gun there came a yell of alarm from Jacob: “It shoots round the corner,” yelled, for he declared that bullets had whizzed past him in his retreat. It certainly was a scatter-gun, and seemed to be absolutely proof against bursting.

The echoes of the loud bellowings of this good old Brown Bess, careering down the valley for miles, aroused alarm along the shores of the lakes. “The soldiers have come to the fort,” was the cry. Next day one of the most malignant came up cautiously to find out who had come and brought the big cannon. He saw neither newcomers nor cannon, but we all looked quite consequential. So he went back mystified, to be again alarmed by the rousing echoes next calm day. We had some fun out of it, and we had found that the old blunderbuss might be a very effective weapon at close range to guard our gates.

Cowie, 1913, p. 412-413.

We Hold the Fort.

As Mr. McDonald was leaving I asked him for instructions as to what was to be done in case of attack. He replied, “Act according to circumstances on your own judgment after consulting Jerry.” A fully half of the business of that post was in summer provision trade and the principal requirements for it were arms and ammunition, our store contained a large supply of these essentials, and I determined to blow the place up sooner than that they should fall into the hands of any attacking force. Jerry was of the same mind, and in his constant palavers with the Indians urged upon them the necessity of protecting themselves against famine and other foes by protecting the fort, of which the garrison left by Mr. McDonald consisted of himself, young Kennedy, Jacob Bear, George Sandison, George Thorne, with Henry Jordan as my cook, and myself. All the families, except that of Mr. McDonald, remained in the fort.

The Crees, under Loud Voice, in lodges placed a long intervals, camped in a circle round the fort, ever on the watch, and ably aided by the dogs belonging to them and to us. It was against surprise we had to guard, till the Indians could enter and take position behind the pickets.

Nearly the whole month of June did the Metis belonging to the lakes, and others, principally malcontents from the border, linger round the lakes. They outnumbered us and our allies, but not sufficiently so to encourage them to make an attack, if so minded, for which we were prepared. We all anxiously awaited news from Red River, which might possibly come by a party sent out to augment the malcontents at Qu’Appelle and lead them in an attack on the fort. Rumours to that effect freely circulated, announcing the virtuous indignation of the Provisional Government at the slur cast upon them by the Swan River furs having been sent direct across the plains to evade capture by them. But whatever the alleged arrangement might have been, it was not recognized by Chief Factor Campbell nor his gallant friend, Chief Factor Stewart, who was making aggressive preparations to recapture Fort Garry, as a brigade after brigade from the interior arrived at Norway House. I know not whether or not the determination of these two Highland officers to resist any aggression on their districts and redeem the credit of the Company from the reproach of having permitted Fort Garry to fall into the hands of the malcontents without resistance, had anything to do with their being both “permitted to retire” when the “reorganization” of the Company’s arrangement with the fur-trade officers was carried out through the diplomatic medium of Mr. Donald A. Smith; but that seemingly was their reward for valour.

Cowie, 1913, p. 409-410.

Starvation on the Plains.

When Jerry and Jacob and the men who had wintered with them at Eagle Quills arrived that spring they brought harrowing tales of starvation, instead of the usual supply of provisions. Some of them had gone without food for three days at a stretch; they had eaten the buffalo sinews, of which thread was made for sewing leather, and feasted upon any wolf which they had the good luck to poison. On the way in their chief dependence had been gophers, caught by pouring water in their holes and forcing them out to snares set at the openings. The only food which was abundant that spring was suckers, which swarmed the creeks, and these fish of many bones and poor eating, became, with a little milk, barley and potatoes, the only rations at the fort. So when we were packing the furs and robes there was little skylarking and laughter, neither was there any merry-maker, like Flemmand—or rather Jackson—to cheer them up.

Cowie, 1913, p. 425.

Reference:

Cowie, I. 1913, “The Company of Adventurers”, Toronto, Wm. Briggs.

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