July and August of 1911 were months of great fires in the Northland. The swamp home of Kazan and Gray Wolf, and the green valley between the two ridges, had escaped the seas of devastating flame; but now, as they set forth on their wandering adventures again, it was not long before their padded feet came in contact with the seared and blackened desolation that had followed so closely after the plague and starvation of the preceding winter. In his humiliation and defeat, after being driven from his swamp home by the beavers, Kazan led his blind mate first into the south. Twenty miles beyond the ridge they struck the fire-killed forests. Winds from Hudson’s Bay had driven the flames in an unbroken sea into the west, and they had left not a vestige of life or a patch of green. Blind Gray Wolf could not see the blackened world, but she sensed it. It recalled to her memory of that other fire, after the battle on the Sun Rock; and all of her wonderful instincts, sharpened and developed by her blindness, told her that to the north—and not south—lay the hunting-grounds they were seeking. The strain of dog that was in Kazan still pulled him south. It was not because he sought man, for to man he had now become as deadly an enemy as Gray Wolf herself. It was simply dog instinct to travel southward; in the face of fire it was wolf instinct to travel northward. At the end of the third day Gray Wolf won. They recrossed the little valley between the two ridges, and swung north and west into the Athabasca country, striking a course that would ultimately bring them to the headwaters of the McFarlane River.
Late in the preceding autumn a prospector had come up to Fort Smith, on the Slave River, with a pickle bottle filled with gold dust and nuggets. He had made the find on the McFarlane. The first mails had taken the news to the outside world, and by midwinter the earliest members of a treasure-hunting horde were rushing into the country by snow-shoe and dog-sledge. Other finds came thick and fast. The McFarlane was rich in free gold, and miners by the score staked out their claims along it and began work. Latecomers swung to new fields farther north and east, and to Fort Smith came rumors of “finds” richer than those of the Yukon. A score of men at first—then a hundred, five hundred, a thousand—rushed into the new country. Most of these were from the prairie countries to the south, and from the placer beds of the Saskatchewan and the Frazer. From the far North, traveling by way of the Mackenzie and the Liard, came a smaller number of seasoned prospectors and adventurers from the Yukon—men who knew what it meant to starve and freeze and die by inches.