Traveling with Indian guides, it is always a matter of marvel and admiration to me how the fur companies have bred into the very blood for generations the careful nurture of all game. At one place canoeing on Saskatchewan we heard of a huge black bear that had been molesting some new ranches. “No take now,” said the Indian. “Him fur no good now.” Though we might camp on bare rocks and the fire lay dead ash, it was the extra Indian paddler who invariably went back to spatter it out. You know the white’s innate love for a roaring log fire in front of the camp at night? The Indian calls that “a-no-good-whitemen-fire-scare-away-game.”
Now take another look at the map. Where the Saskatchewan makes a great bend three hundred miles northeast of Prince Albert, it is no longer a river—it is a vast muskeg of countless still amber water channels not twice the width of your canoe and quaking silt islands of sand and goose grass—ideal, hidden and almost impenetrable for small game. Always muskeg marks the limit of big game and the beginning of the ground of the little fellows—waupoos, the rabbit; and musquash, the muskrat; and sakwasew, the mink; and nukik, the otter; and wuchak or pekan, the fisher. It is a safe wager that the profits on the millions upon millions of little pelts—hundreds of thousands of muskrat are taken out of this muskeg alone—exceed by a hundredfold the profits on the larger furs of beaver and silver fox and bear and wolf and cross fox and marten.
Look at the map again! North of Cumberland Lake to the next fur post is a trifling run of two hundred and fifty to three hundred miles by dog-train to Lac du Brochet or Reindeer Lake—more muskeg cut by limestone and granite ridges. Here you can measure four hundred miles east or west and not get out of the muskeg till you reach Athabasca on the west and Hudson’s Bay on the east. North of Lac du Brochet is a straight stretch of one thousand miles—nothing but rocks and cataracts and stunted woods, “little sticks” the Indians call them—and sky-colored waters in links and chains and lakes with the quaking muskeg goose grass and muskrat reed, cut and chiseled and trenched by the amber water ways.
If you think there is any danger of settlement ever encroaching on the muskegs and barrens, come with me on a trip of some weeks to the south end of this field.
We had been pulling against slack water all day, water so slack you could dip your hand down and fail to tell which way the current ran. Where the high banks dropped suddenly to such a dank tangle of reeds, brush wood, windfall and timbers drifted fifteen hundred miles down from the forests of the Rocky Mountains—such a tangle as I have never seen in any swamp of the South—the skeleton of a moose, come to its death by a jump among the windfall, marked the eastern limit of big game; and presently the river was lost—not