THIS was just at the
beginning of the fall fishing, and as the Indians were scattered for miles
in every direction, my school was broken up, and my father sent me to
establish a fishery.
So with a young Indian as my
companion we went into camp across the lake, and went to work setting our
nets and making our stagings on which to hang the fish, as all fish caught
before the ice makes are hung up on stagings.
You put up good strong posts
on which you lay logs, and across these you place strong poles about two and
a half feet apart; then you cut good straight willows about an inch in
thickness and three feet long. You sharpen one end of these, and, punching a
hole in the tail of the fish, you string them on the willows, ten to a
stick, and with a forked pole you lift these to the staging, hanging them
across between the poles; and there they hang, and dry, and freeze, until
you haul them away to your storehouse.
After ice makes, the fish
freeze almost as soon as you take them out of the water, and are piled away
When the fish are plentiful
you visit your nets two and three times in the night, in order to relieve
them of the great weight and strain of so many fish.
Overhauling the nets, taking
care of the fish, mending and drying your nets—all this keeps you busy
almost all the time. In taking whitefish out of the net, one uses teeth and
hands. You catch the fish in your hand, lift it to your mouth, and, taking
hold of its head with your teeth, you press down its length with both hands
meeting, and thus force the fish from the net without straining your net.
When the fish is loose from the net, you give a swing with your head, and
thus toss the fish into the boat behind you or away out on the ice beside
All of this, except mending
the nets in the tent, is desperately cold work. The ice makes on your
sleeves and clothing. Your hands would freeze were it not that you keep them
in the water as much as possible.
In my time hundreds of
thousands of whitefish were thus taken every year for winter use, the
principal food for men and dogs being fish.
When the lakes and rivers are
frozen over, you take a long rope about a quarter of an inch in thickness,
and pass it under the ice to the length of your net. To do this you take a
long dry pole, and fasten your rope at one end of this; then you cut holes
in the ice the length of your pole apart in the direction you want to set
your net; you then pass this pole under the ice using a forked stick to push
it along, and in this way bring your line out at the far end of where your.
net will be when set. One pulls the rope and the other sets the net,
carefully letting floats and stones go as these should in order that the net
My man and I put up about two
thousand white-fish, besides a number of jack-fish. These were hauled home
My four pups which I bought
from Mr. Sinclair over a year since were now fine big dogs, but as wild as
wolves. I had put up a square of logs for a dog-house, and by feeding, and
coaxing, and decoying with old dogs, I finally succeeded in getting them
into it. Then I would catch one at a time, and hitch him with some old and
trained dogs. Father would go with me, and fight off the other three while I
secured the one I was breaking in, and by and by, I had the whole four
broken, and they turned out splendid fellows to pull and go. Very few, if
any, trains could leave me in the race, and when I loaded them with two
hundred hung fish, they would keep me on the dead run to follow.
I was very proud of my first
train of dogs, and also of my success in breaking them.
Many a flying trip I gave
father or mother and my sisters over to the fort or out among the Indians.
Sometimes I went with father to visit Indian camps, and also to the Hudson's
Bay shanties away up Jack River, where their men were taking out timber and
wood for the fort. What cared we for the cold Father was well wrapped in the
cariole, and I, having to run and keep the swinging cariole right side up,
had not time to get cold.