References to Beavers in the Jesuit Relations

When colonizing the New World, French authorities allowed Jesuit priests to try to convert Indians to the Catholic faith. These priests sent many reports back to Jesuit officials in France in part to justify their work to the benefactors who supported it.

The Jesuit Relations: volume 5

Having piled up their baggage, they asked me for a knife, and I gave them one; then they asked me for some string to tie to an iron arrow-point or dart, with barbed teeth. They throw these [56] darts against the Beavers, and hold the end of the string, letting it go to the bottom of the water where the wounded Beaver dives; and, when it has lost blood and become weak, they draw it back by this string, of which they never let go until they have their prey. Having then made them a present of the piece of string, they said to me: Ania Capitana ouias amiscou: " My brother, the Captain, we will bring thee the meat of a Beaver," and they gave me very clearly to understand that it would not be smoked. They know very well that the French people do not like their dried food: that is, their meat dried in smoke, for they have no other salt than smoke to preserve their meats.

The Jesuit Relations: Book Ten 163-

On the fourteenth of April, the son of Chief Aenons, after having lost at the game of straws a Beaver robe and a collar of four hundred Porcelain beads, had such a fear of meeting his relatives that, not daring to enter the Cabin, he became desperate, and hanged himself to a tree. He had a [56] very melancholy disposition. The first of the Winter he was on the point of putting an end to himself, but a little girl caught him in the act. When asked what had led him to this wicked resolution, " I do not know," said he, " but some one within me seems always to be saying, 'Hang thyself, hang thyself."' Gambling never leads to anything good; in fact, the Savages themselves remark that it is almost the sole cause of assaults and murders.

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Now, to begin with the foundation of their belief, [page 125] the greater part boast of deriving their origin from Heaven, which they found on the following fable, which passes among them for a truth. They recognize as head of their Nation a certain woman whom they call Ataentsic, who fell among them, they say, from Heaven. For they think the Heavens existed a long time before this wonder; but they cannot tell you when or how its great bodies were drawn from the abysses of nothing. They suppose, even, that above the arches of the Sky there was and still is a land like ours, with woods, lakes, rivers and fields, and Peoples who inhabit them. They do not agree as to the manner in which this so fortunate descent occurred. [87] Some say that one day, as she was working in her field, she perceived a Bear; her dog began to pursue it and she herself afterwards. The Bear, seeing himself closely pressed, and seeking only to escape the teeth of the dog, fell by accident into a hole; the dog followed him. Aataentsic, having approached this precipice, finding that neither the Bear nor the dog were any longer to be seen, moved by despair, threw herself into it also. Nevertheless, her fall happened to be more favorable than she had supposed; for she fell down into the waters without being hurt, although she was with child,-after which, the Waters having dried up little by little, the earth appeared and became habitable.

Others attribute this fall to another cause, which seems to have some relation to the case of Adam, but falsehood makes up the greater part of it. They say that the husband of Aataentsic, being very sick, dreamed that it was necessary to cut down a certain tree from which those who abode in Heaven obtained their food; and that, as soon as he ate of the fruit, [page 127] he would be immediately healed. Aataentsic, knowing the desire of her husband, takes his axe and goes away with the resolution not to make two trips of it; but she had no sooner dealt the first [88] blow than the tree at once split, almost under her feet, and fell to this earth; whereupon she was so astonished that, after having carried the news to her husband, she returned and threw herself after it. Now, as she fell, the Turtle, happening to raise her head above water, perceived her; and, not knowing what to decide upon, astonished as she was at this wonder, she called together the other aquatic animals to get their opinion. They immediately assembled; she points out to them what she saw, and asks them what they think it fitting to do. The greater part refer the matter to the Beaver, who, through courtesy, hands over the whole to the judgment of the Turtle, whose final opinion was that they should all promptly set to work, dive to the bottom of the water, bring up soil to her, and put. it on her back. No sooner said than done, and the woman fell very gently on this Island. Some time after, as she was with child when she fell, she was delivered of a daughter, who almost immediately became pregnant. If you ask them how, you puzzle them very much. At all events, they tell you, she was pregnant. Some throw the blame upon some strangers, [89] who landed on this Island. I pray you make this agree with what they say, that, before Aataentsic fell from the Sky, there were no men on earth. However that may be, she brought forth two boys, Tawiscaron and Iouskeha, who, when they grew up, had some quarrel with each other; judge if this does not relate in some way to the murder of Abel. They came to blows, but with very different [page 129] weapons. Iouskeha had the horns of a Stag; Tawiscaron, who contented himself with some fruits of the wild rosebush, was persuaded that, as soon as he had struck his brother, he would fall dead at his feet. But it happened quite differently from what he had expected; and Iouskeha, on the contrary, struck him so rude a blow in the side, that the blood came forth abundantly. This poor wretch immediately fled; and from his blood, with which the land was sprinkled, certain stones sprang up, like those we employ in France to fire a gun,-which the Savages call even to-day Tawiscara, from the name of this unfortunate. His brother pursued him, and finished him. This is what the greater part believe concerning the origin of these Nations.

[90] There are some who do not soar so high, and are not so ambitious as to believe that they derive their origin from Heaven. They say that, in the beginning of the world, the land was quite covered with water, with the exception of a little Island on which was the sole hope of the human race,- to wit, a single man, whose sole companions were a Fox and a little animal like a Marten, which they call Tsouhendaia. The man, not knowing what to do, seeing himself cut off in so narrow a range of country, asked the Fox to plunge into the water, to see if there were any bottom to it; but he had no sooner wet his paws than he drew back, fearing that this experience would cost him his life. Whereupon the man became indignant; "Tessandion, thou hast no sense," he said to him, and kicked him into the water, where he drank a little more than his fill. However he did not desist from his design, and so encouraged the little animal that was now his sole companion, that it finally [page 131] resolved to plunge in; and as it did not imagine that the water was so shallow, it did this so violently as to dash itself against the bottom, and came back with its snout all covered with slime. The man, very glad [91] at this happy discovery, exhorts it to continue, and to bring up soil to increase the size of the Islet; which it did with so much assiduity, that the Islet lost its identity, and was changed into these vast fields that we see. If you again press them here, and ask them what they think of this man,-who gave him life, who put him upon this little Island, how he could become the father of all these Nations, since he was alone and had no companion; you will gain nothing by asking all these questions, except that you will get this solution, which would not be bad, if their Religion were good, We do not know; we were told so; our Fathers never taught us any more about it. What would you say to that? All that we do is to bear witness to them that we feel compassion for their so gross ignorance; we take thence occasion, when we judge them capable of appreciating it, for explaining some of our Mysteries, and of showing them how fully they conform to reason. They listen very willingly, and are well satisfied therewith.

But to return to Aataentsic and Iouskeha; they hold that Iouskeha is the Sun and [92] Aataentsic the Moon, and yet that their Home is situated at the ends of the earth, namely, toward our Ocean sea; for beyond that it is a lost country to them, and before they had any commerce with the French they had never dreamed that there was under Heaven a different land from their own,-and, now that they are disabused of this idea, many still believe that their [page 133] country and ours are two pieces quite separate, and made by the hands of different workmen. They say, therefore, that four young men once undertook a journey to find out the truth about it; that they found Iouskeha quite alone in his Cabin, and that he received them very kindly. After some compliments on both sides, in the fashion of the Country, he advised them to conceal themselves in some corner, otherwise he would not answer for their lives; that Aataentsic was sure to play them a bad trick, if they did not keep on their guard. This Fury arrives toward evening, and, as she assumes any form she sees fit, perceiving that there were new guests in the house she took the form of a beautiful young girl, handsomely adorned, with a beautiful necklace and bracelets of [93] Porcelain, and asked her son where his guests were. He replied that he did not know what she meant. Thereupon she went out of the Cabin, and Iouskeha took the opportunity to warn his guests, and thus saved their lives. Now, although their Cabin is so very distant, they are nevertheless both present at the feasts and dances which take place in the villages.Aataentsic is often badly abused there. Iouskeha throws the blame on a certain horned oki named Tehonrressandeen; but it is found at the end of the tale that it is he himself who, under that disguise, thus insults his mother.

Moreover, they esteem themselves greatly obliged to this personage; for, in the first place, according to the opinion of some,-who hold a belief quite contrary to that of those whom we have mentioned thus far,-without him we would not have so many fine rivers and so many beautiful lakes. In the beginning of the world, they say, the earth was dry and [page 135] arid; all the waters were collected under the armpit of a large frog, so that Iouskeha could not have a drop except through its agency. One day, he resolved to deliver himself and all his Posterity from this servitude; and, in order to attain this, he made [94] an incision under the armpit, whence the waters came forth in such abundance that they spread throughout the whole earth, and hence the origin of rivers, lakes, and seas. Behold here a subtle solution of the question of our Schools upon this point. They hold also that without Iouskeha their kettles would not boil, as he learned from the Turtle the process of making fire. Were it not for him, they would not have such good hunting, and would not have so much ease in capturing animals in the chase, as they now have. For they believe that animals were not at liberty from the beginning of the world, but that they were shut up in a great cavern, where Iouskeha guarded them. Perhaps there may be in that some allusion to the fact that God brought all the animals to Adam. However, one day he determined to give them liberty in order that they might multiply and fill the forests,-in such a way, nevertheless, that he might easily dispose of them when it should seem good to him. This is what he did to accomplish his end. In the order in which they came from the cave, he wounded them all in the foot with an arrow. However, the Wolf escaped the shot; hence, they say, they have great difficulty in catching him in the chase.

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One of our little Christians was very sick; his mother dreamed that to make him well he must have a hundred cakes of Tobacco, and four Beavers, with which she would make a feast; but, because the Tobacco was very rare, the hundred cakes were reduced to ten, and the Beavers which were out of season were changed to four large fish that passed for Beavers in the feast, and the tails of which were given to the principals as Beaver tails. But this little Angel, for all that, flew away to heaven, to the great grief of its parents, but with much consolation to us.

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On the night of the thirty-first, he dreamed that he must have a Canoe, eight Beavers, two Rays, six score Gull's eggs, a Turtle, and [139] a man who would adopt him as his son; just think, what a fancy! and yet they must make for him a cataplasm of all that, to heal his brain. Indeed, he had no sooner recited his dream than the old people of the village met to talk it over. They set about finding what he had asked with as much care and eagerness as if it had been a question of preserving the whole Country; the Captain's father adopted him as his son, and everything he had dreamed was given up to him, the same day; as for the Gull's eggs, they were changed into as many small loaves, which kept busy all the women of the village. The feast took place in the evening, and all without effect. The Devil had not everything yet.

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Thirdly, and principally, to serve the soul of the deceased, which they believe takes pleasure in the feast, and in eating its share. All the kettles being emptied, or at least distributed, the Captain publishes throughout the Village that the body is about to be borne to the Cemetery. The whole Village assembles in the Cabin; the weeping is renewed; and those who have charge of the ceremonies get ready a litter on which the corpse is placed on a mat and enveloped in a Beaver robe, and then four lift and carry it away; the whole Village follows in silence to the Cemetery. A Tomb is there, made of bark and supported on four stakes, [page 269] eight to ten feet high. However, before the corpse is put into it, [189] and before they arrange the bark, the Captain makes known the presents that have been given by the friends. In this Country, as well as elsewhere, the most agreeable consolations for the loss of friends are always accompanied by presents, such as kettles, axes, Beaver robes, and Porcelain collars. If the deceased was a person of importance in the Country, not only the friends and neighbors, but even the Captains of other Villages, will come in person and bring their presents. Now all the presents do not follow the dead man into the grave; sometimes a Porcelain collar is put around his neck, and near by a comb, a gourd full of oil, and two or three little loaves of bread; and that is all. A large share goes to the relatives, to dry their tears; the other share goes to those who have directed the funeral ceremonies, as a reward for their trouble. Some robes, also, are frequently laid aside, or some hatchets, as a gift for the Youth. The Chief puts into the hand of some one of the latter a stick about a foot long, offering a prize to the one who will take it away from him. They throw themselves [190] upon him in a body, with might and main, and remain sometimes a whole hour struggling. This over, each one returns quietly to his Cabin.

For, after having opened the graves, they display before you all these Corpses, on the spot, and they leave them thus exposed long enough for the spectators to learn at their leisure, and once for all, what they will be some day. The flesh of some is quite gone, and there is only parchment on their bones; in other cases, the bodies look as if they had been dried and smoked, and show scarcely any signs of putrefaction; and in still other cases they are still swarming with worms. When the friends have gazed upon the bodies to their satisfaction, they cover them with handsome Beaver robes quite new: finally, after some time they strip them of their flesh, taking off skin and flesh which they throw into the fire along with the robes and mats in which the bodies were wrapped. As regards the bodies of those [198] recently dead, they leave these in the state in which they are, and content themselves by simply covering them with new robes.

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The bones having been well cleaned, they put them partly into bags, partly into fur robes, loaded "This," said they, " is what such and such a dead man gives to such and such a relative." About five or six o'clock, they lined the bottom and sides of the [page 295] pit with fine large new robes, each of ten Beaver skins, in such a way that they extended more than a foot out of it. As they were preparing the robes which were to be employed for this purpose, some went down to the bottom and brought up handfuls of sand. I asked what this ceremony meant, and learned that they have a belief that this sand renders them successful at play. Of those twelve hundred presents that had been displayed, forty-eight robes served to line the bottom and sides of the pit; and each, entire body, besides the robe in which it had been enveloped, [208] had another one, and sometimes even two more, to cover it. That was all; so that I do not think each body had its own robe, one with another, which is surely the least it can have in its burial; for what winding sheets and shrouds are in France, Beaver robes are here. But what becomes then of the remainder? I will explain, in a moment.

At seven o'clock, they let down the whole bodies into the pit. We had the greatest difficulty in getting near; nothing has ever better pictured for me the confusion there is among the damned. On all sides you could have seen them letting down half-decayed bodies; and on all sides was heard a horrible din of confused voices of persons, who spoke and did not listen; ten or twelve were in the pit and were arranging the bodies all around it, one after another. They put in the very middle of the pit three large kettles, which could only be of use for souls; one had a hole through it, another had no handle, and the third was of scarcely more value. I saw very few Porcelain collars; it is true, they [209] Put many on the bodies. This is all that was done on this day.[page 297] All the people passed the night on the spot; they lighted many fires, and slung their kettles. We withdrew for the night to the old Village, with the resolve to return the next morning, at daybreak, when they were to throw the bones into the pit; but we could hardly arrive in time, although we made great haste, on account of an accident that happened. One of the souls, which was not securely tied, or was perhaps too heavy for the cord that fastened it, fell of itself into the pit; the noise awakened the Company, who immediately ran and mounted in a crowd upon the scaffold, and emptied indiscriminately each package into the pit, keeping, however, the robes in which they were enveloped. We had only set out from the Village at that time, but the noise was so great that it seemed almost as if we were there. As we drew near, we saw nothing less than a picture of Hell. The large space was quite full of fires and flames, and the air resounded in all directions with the confused voices of these Barbarians; the noise ceased, however, [210] for some time, and they began to sing,-but in voices so sorrowful and lugubrious that it represented to us the horrible sadness and the abyss of despair into which these unhappy souls are forever plunged.

Nearly all the souls were thrown in when we arrived, for it was done almost in the turning of a hand; each one had made haste, thinking there would not be room enough for all the souls; we saw, however, enough of it to judge of the rest. There were five or six in the pit, arranging the bones with poles. The pit was full, within about two feet; they turned back over the bones the robes which bordered the edge of the pit, and covered the remaining space [page 299] with mats and bark. Then they heaped the pit with sand, poles, and wooden stakes, which they threw in without order. Some women brought to it some dishes of corn; and that day, and the following days, several Cabins of the Village provided nets quite full of it, which were thrown upon the pit.

The whole morning was passed in giving presents; and the greater part of the robes in which the souls had been wrapped were cut into pieces, and thrown from the height of the Stage into the midst of the crowd, for any one who could get them; it was very amusing when two or three got hold of a Beaver skin, since, as none of them would give way, it had to be cut into so many pieces, and thus they found themselves almost- empty-handed, for the fragment was scarcely worth the picking up. In this connection, I admired the ingenuity of one Savage,-he did not put himself to any trouble to run after these flying pieces, but, as there had been nothing so valuable in this Country, this year, as Tobacco, he kept some pieces of it in his hands which he immediately offered to those who were disputing over a skin, and [212] thus settled the matter to his own advantage.

Before going away from the place, we learned that, [page 301] during the night, when they had made presents to outside Nations on behalf of the master of the feast, our names had been mentioned. And indeed, as we were going away, Anenkhiondic came to present to us a new robe of ten Beaver skins, in return for the collar that I had given them as a present in open Council, to open for them the way to heaven. They had felt themselves under such obligations for this gift that they desired to show some gratitude for it in so great an assembly. I did not accept it, however, telling him that, as we had only made this present to lead them to embrace our faith, they could not render us greater service than by listening to us willingly, and believing in him who made all things. He asked me then what I desired he should do with the robe; I replied that he might dispose of it as seemed good to him, whereat he remained perfectly satisfied.

As to the rest of the twelve hundred presents, forty-eight robes were used in adorning the pit. Each whole body had [213] its robe, and some had two or three. Twenty were given to the master of the feast, to thank the Nations which had taken part therein. The dead distributed a number of them, by the hands of the Captains, to their living friends; some served only for show, and were taken away by those who had exhibited them. The Old Men and the notables of the Country, who had the administration and management of the feast, took possession secretly of a considerable quantity; and the rest was cut in pieces, as I have said, and ostentatiously thrown into the midst of the crowd. However, it is only the rich who lose nothing, or very little, in this feast. The middle classes and the poor bring and leave there [page 303] whatever they have most valuable, and suffer much, in order not to appear less liberal than the others in this celebration. Every one makes it a point of honor.

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The versatile superior next describes with admiration the skill with which the beaver constructs its dwelling. He mentions the attempt made by Montmagny, the governor, to domesticate the native elk; and hopefully anticipates the time when this animal may be trained as a beast of burden, thus greatly aiding the labors of both the missionaries and the colonists. He also has a plan for a " park," in which beavers may be enclosed and raised on a large scale, for both their skins and their flesh.

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It would be a great blessing for their bodies, for their souls, and for the traffic of these Gentlemen, if those Tribes were stationary, and if they became docile to our direction, which they will do, I hope, in the course of time. If they are sedentary, and if they cultivate the land, they will not die of hunger, as often happens to them in their wanderings; we shall be able to instruct them easily, and Beavers will greatly multiply. These animals are more prolific than our sheep in France, [104] the females bearing as many as five or six every year; but, when the Savages find a lodge of them, they kill all, great and small, male and female. There is danger that they will finally exterminate the species in this Region, as has happened among the Hurons, who have not a single Beaver, going elsewhere to buy the skins they bring to the storehouse of these Gentlemen. Now it will be so arranged that, in the course of time, each family of our Montaignais, if they become located, will take its own territory for hunting, without [page 57] following in the tracks of its neighbors; besides, we will counsel them not to kill any but the males, and of those only such as are large. If they act upon this advice, they will have Beaver meat and skins in the greatest abundance.

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241] The Savages pass the winter in these woods, ranging here and there to get their living. In the early snows, they seek the Beaver in the small rivers, and Porcupines upon the land; when the deep snows come, they hunt the Moose and Caribou, as I have said.

On the sixth day of March, we shifted our quarters. The Sorcerer, the Renegade, and two young hunters, directed their steps before us straight to the banks of the great river. The cause of this separation was that my host, a good hunter, had discovered four Moose, and a number of Beaver lodges; and not being able alone to hunt in places so widely separated, the Sorcerer took these young hunters to chase the Moose, and he remained for the Beavers. This separation was fraught with both good and evil for me. With good, because I was freed from the Sorcerer; I have no words to describe the pertinacity of this wicked man. With evil, because my host did not capture any Moose, and we had nothing to eat but smoked meat, which was very distasteful to me; for, if he captured any Beavers, they were smoked, [303] except the little ones, which we ate; the finest and best ones were reserved for the feasts they were to give in the Spring, at the place where they had appointed a rendezvous.

 

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[46] They also say that all animals, of every species, have an elder brother, who is, as it were, the source and origin of all individuals, and this elder brother is wonderfully great and powerful. The elder of the Beaver, they tell me, is perhaps as large as our Cabin, although his junior (I mean the ordinary Beaver) is not quite as large as our sheep. Now these elders of all the animals are the juniors of the Messou. Behold him well related, this worthy restorer of the Universe, he is elder brother to all [page 159] beasts. If any one, when asleep, sees the elder or progenitor of some animals, he will have a fortunate chase; if he sees the elder of the Beavers, he will take Beavers; if he sees the elder of the Elks, he will take Elks, possessing the juniors through the favor of their senior whom he has seen in the dream. I asked them where these elder brothers were. " We are not sure, " they answered me, " but we think the elders of the birds are in the sky, and that the elders of the other animals are in the water. " They recognize two progenitors of the seasons; one [471 is called Nipinoukhe, it is this one that brings the Spring and Summer. This name comes from Nipin, which in their language means Springtime. The other is called Pipounoukhe, from the word Pipoun, which means Winter; it therefore brings the cold season. I asked them if this Nipinoukhe and Pipounoukhe were men, or if they were animals of some other species, and in what place they usually dwelt; they replied that they did not know exactly what form they had, but they were quite sure they were living, for they heard them, they said, talking or rustling, especially at their coming, but they could not tell what they were saying. For their dwelling place they share the world between them, the one keeping on one side, the other upon the other; and when the period of their stay at one end of the world has expired, each goes over to the locality of the other, reciprocally succeeding each other. Here we have, in part, the fable of Castor and Pollux. When Nipinoukhe returns, he brings back with him the heat, the birds, the verdure, and restores life and beauty to the world; but Pipounoukhe lays waste everything, [48] being accompanied by the cold winds, [page 161] ice, snows, and other phenomena of Winter. They call this succession of one to the other Achitescatoueth; meaning that they pass reciprocally to each others' places.

They have, besides, great faith in their dreams, imagining that what they have seen in their sleep [page 181] must happen, and that they must execute whatever they have thus imagined. This is a great misfortune, for if a Savage dreams that he will die if he does not kill me, he will take my life the first time he meets me alone. Our Savages ask almost every morning, "Hast thou not seen any Beavers or Moose, [64] while sleeping? " And when they see that I make sport of their dreams, they are astonished and ask me, " What does thou believe then, if thou dost not believe in thy dream? I believe in him who has made all things, and who can do all things." "Thou hast no sense, how canst thou believe in him, if thou hast not seen him? " It would take too long to relate all their silly ideas upon these subjects; let us return to their superstitions, which are numberless

Their Religion, or rather their superstition, consists besides in praying; but O, my God, what prayers they make! In the morning, when the little children come out from their Cabins, they shout, Cacouakhi, [81] Pakhais Amiscouakhi, Pakhais Mousouakhi, Pakhais, "Come, Porcupines; come, Beavers; come, Elk; " and this is all of their prayers.

The Savages do not throw to the dogs the bones of female Beavers and Porcupines,—at least, certain specified bones; in short, they are very careful that the dogs do not eat any bones of birds and of other animals which are taken in the net, otherwise they will take no more except with incomparable difficulties. Yet they make a thousand exceptions to this rule, for it does not matter if the vertebrę or rump of these animals be given to the dogs, but the rest must be thrown into the fire. Yet, as to the Beaver which has been taken in a trap, it is best to throw its bones into a river. It is remarkable how they gather and collect these bones, and preserve them with so much care, that you would say their game [page 211] would be lost if they [88] violated their superstitions As I was laughing at them, and telling them that Beavers do not know what is done with their bones, they answered me, " Thou dost not know how to take Beavers, and thou wishest to talk about it. " Before the Beaver was entirely dead, they told me, its soul comes to make the round of the Cabin of him who has killed it, and looks very carefully to see what is done with its bones; if they are given to the dogs, the other Beavers would be apprised of it and therefore they would make themselves hard to capture. But they are very glad to have their bones thrown into the fire, or into a river; especially the trap which has caught them is very glad of this. I told them that the Hiroquois, according to the reports of the one who was with us, threw the bones of the Beaver to the dogs, and yet they took them very often; and that our Frenchmen captured more game than they did (without comparison), and yet our dogs ate these bones. "Thou hast no sense," they replied, "dost thou not see that you and the Hiroquois cultivate the soil [89] and gather its fruits, and not we, and that therefore it is not the same thing? "I began to laugh when I heard this irrelevant answer. The trouble is, I only stutter, I take one word for another, I pronounce badly; and so everything usually passes off in laughter. What great difficulty there is in talking with people without being able to understand them. Furthermore, in their eat-all feasts they must be very careful that the dogs do not taste even the least of it; but of this in another chapter.

 

The Castor or Beaver is taken in several ways. The Savages say that it is the animal well-beloved by the French, English and Basques,—in a word, by the Europeans. I heard my host say one day, jokingly, Missi picoutau amiscou, "The Beaver does everything perfectly well, it makes kettles, hatchets, swords, knives, bread; and, in short, it makes everything." He was making sport of us Europeans, who have [page 297] such a fondness for the skin of this animal and who fight to see who will give the most to these Barbarians, to get it; [151] they carry this to such an extent that my host said to me one day, showing me a very beautiful knife, "The English have no sense; they give us twenty knives like this for one Beaver skin."

In the Spring, the Beaver is taken in a trap baited with the wood it eats. The Savages understand perfectly how to handle these traps, which are made to open, when a heavy piece of wood falls upon the animal and kills it. Sometimes when the dogs encounter the Beaver outside its House, they pursue and take it easily; I have never seen this chase, but have been told of it; and the Savages highly value a dog which scents and runs down this animal.

During the Winter they capture them in nets and under the ice, in this way: They make a slit in the ice near the Beaver's House, and put into the hole a net, and some wood which serves as bait. This poor animal, searching for something to eat, gets caught in a net made of good, strong, double cord; and, emerging from the water to the opening made in the ice, they kill it with a big club.

The other way of taking them under the ice is more noble. Not all the Savages use [152] this method, only the most skillful ; they break with blows from the hatchet the Cabin or house of the Beaver, which is indeed wonderfully made. In my opinion no musket ball can pierce it. During the Winter it is built upon the shore of some little river or pond, is two stories high, and round. The materials of which it is composed are wood and mud, so well joined and bound together that I have seen our [page 299] Savages in Midwinter sweat in trying to make an opening into it with their hatchets. The lower story is in or upon the edge of the water, the upper is above the river. When the cold has frozen the rivers and ponds, the, Beaver secludes himself in the upper story, where he has provided himself with wood to eat during the Winter. He sometimes, however, descends from this story to the lower one, and thence he glides out under the ice, through the holes which are in this lower story and which open under the ice. He goes out to drink and to search for the wood that he eats, which grows upon the banks of the pond and in the pond itself. This wood at the bottom is fastened in the ice and the Beaver goes below to cut it and carry it to his house. Now the Savages having broken this house, these poor animals, which are sometimes in great numbers [153] under one roof, disappear under the ice, some on one side, some on the other, seeking hollow and thin places between the water and ice, where they can breathe. Their enemies, knowing this, go walking over the pond or frozen river, carrying a long club in their hands, armed on one side with an iron blade made like a Carpenter's chisel, and on the other with a Whale's bone, I believe. They sound the ice with this bone, striking upon it and examining it to see if it is hollow; and if there is any indication of this, then they cut the ice with their iron blade, looking to see if the water is stirred up by the movement or breathing of the Beaver. If the water moves, they have a curved stick which they thrust into the hole that they have just made; if they feel the Beaver, they kill it with their big club, which they call ca ouikachit; and, drawing it out of the water, go and make a feast of [page 301] it at once, unless they have great hopes of taking others. I asked them why the Beaver waited there until it was killed. "Where will it go?" they said to me; " its house is broken to pieces and the other places where it could breathe between the water and ice are broken; it remains there in the water, seeking air, and meanwhile it is killed." Sometimes [154] it goes out through its House, or some hole; but the dogs which are there, scenting and waiting for it, have soon caught it.

When there is a river near by, or an arm of water connecting with the pond where they are, they slip into that; but the Savages dam up these rivers when they discover them, breaking the ice and planting a number of stakes near each other, so that the Beaver may not escape in that direction. I have seen large lakes which saved the lives of the Beavers; for our people, not being able to break all the places where they could breathe, therefore could not trap their prey. Sometimes there are two families of Beavers in the same House, that is, two males and two females, with their little ones.

The female bears as many as seven, but usually four, five, or six. They have four teeth, two below, and two above, which are wonderfully drawn out; the other two are small, but these are large and sharp. They are used to cut the wood for their food, and the wood with which they build their house; they sharpen these teeth when they are dull, by rubbing and pressing them against [155] each other, making a little noise which I have myself heard.

The Beaver has very soft fur, the hats made of it being an evidence of this. It has very short feet which are well adapted to swimming, for the nails [page 303] are united by skin, in the same way as those of river-birds or seals; its tail is entirely flat, quite long and oval-shaped. I measured one of a large Beaver; it was a palm and eight fingers or thereabout in length, and almost one palm of the hand in width. It was quite thick, and was covered, not with hair, but with a black skin looking like scales; however, these are not real scales. The Beaver here is regarded as an amphibious animal, and therefore it is eaten in all seasons. My idea is that the grease when melted is more like oil than grease; the flesh is very good, but it seems to me a little stale in the Spring, and not so in Winter. But if the pelt of the Beaver excels the pelt of the sheep, the flesh of the sheep is superior, in my opinion, to that of the Beaver,—not only because it tastes better, but also because the Sheep is larger than the Beaver.

 

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