But Mackenzie’s position was not to be envied. Ten starving men on a barbarous coast had exactly twenty pounds of pemmican, fifteen of rice, six of flour. Of ammunition there was scarcely any. Between home and their leaky canoe lay half a continent of wilderness and mountains. The next day was spent coasting the cove for a place to take observations. Canoes of savages met the white men, and one impudent fellow kept whining out that he had once been shot at by men of Mackenzie’s color. Mackenzie took refuge for the night on an isolated rock which was barely large enough for his party to gain a foothold. The savages hung about pestering the boatmen for gifts. Two white men kept guard, while the rest slept. On Monday, when Mackenzie was setting up his instruments, his young Indian guide came, foaming at the mouth from terror, with news that the coast tribes were to attack the white men by hurling spears at the unsheltered rock. The boatmen lost their heads and were for instant flight, anywhere, everywhere, in a leaky canoe that would have foundered a mile out at sea. Mackenzie did not stir, but ordered fusees primed and the canoe gummed. Mixing up a pot of vermilion, he painted in large letters on the face of the rock where they had passed the night:—
“Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.”
The canoe was then headed eastward for the homeward trip. Only once was the explorer in great danger on his return. It was just as the canoe was leaving tide-water for the river. The young Indian guide led him full tilt into the village of hostiles that had besieged the rock. Mackenzie was alone, his men following with the baggage. Barely had he reached the woods when two savages sprang out, with daggers in hand ready to strike. Quick as a flash, Mackenzie quietly raised his gun. They dropped back; but he was surrounded by a horde led by the impudent chief of the attack on the rock the first night on the sea. One warrior grasped Mackenzie from behind. In the scuffle hat and cloak came off; but Mackenzie shook himself free, got his sword out, and succeeded in holding the shouting rabble at bay till his men came. Then such was his rage at the indignity that he ordered his followers in line with loaded fusees, marched to the village, demanded the return of the hat and cloak, and obtained a peace-offering of fish as well. The Indians knew the power of firearms, and fell at his feet in contrition. Mackenzie named this camp Rascal Village.
At another time his men lost heart so completely over the difficulties ahead that they threw everything they were carrying into the river. Mackenzie patiently sat on a stone till they had recovered from their panic. Then he reasoned and coaxed and dragooned them into the spirit of courage that at last brought them safely over mountain and through canon to Peace River. On August 24, a sharp bend in the river showed them the little home fort which they had left four months before. The joy of the voyageurs fairly exploded. They beat their paddles on the canoe, fired off all the ammunition that remained, waved flags, and set the cliffs ringing with shouts.