My immediate reaction was, "How friendly are these people, really? Even though there are parts and pieces of French, English, trade languages (Chinook) through which they can exchange information, did each group actually know what the other meant?"
I had also thought that the two groups as differentiated by Mackenzie where of the same people ... or thought I had read that somewhere ... so I looked into that. Yes, apparently they are Heiltsuk but some villages or clans could be more warlike than others.
The Bella Bella had good reason to be a little violent. Apparently some European traders had tried to lure them on to a ship and then capture them. This had resulted in some deaths and injury on both sides. There was a later incident where three Europeans where abducted and only escaped after several years (3 I believe).
Yes, the Heiltsuk people did trade with ships in coastal waters but both sides where very careful.
There are also several stories about shipwrecked sailors (fishermen?) washed up on the west coast and from the descriptions in those tales they where probably Asian.
So here is another of my short stories for your, I hope, enjoyment.
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Mackenzie's route from Fort Chipewyan to the coast
Marker of stone.
By D.M. McGowan
When I had seen eighteen winters, I left the village and traveled toward the rising sun for two days. On the third day I turned toward the home of the cold wind, and began a circle back toward the village. I searched for meat, but I found strangers.
In the high land where the rivers flow in all directions, I began to hear strange, loud noises. Soon my nose could see the smoke of a poor fire, but the noises were nothing that I knew. I worked closer so that my eyes could tell my ears and nose what was causing this unknown thing.
At a place where the bank of the river is quite flat, there were many strangers. There was a family of Carrier people, who live in that land, and two of these strangers looked like the Cree people, that come from beyond where the sun rises. I had not seen these people until that time, but had been told of them.
The other strangers were as nothing I had seen. They wore strange clothing, and all but one had faces covered in hair. Even the one whose face I could see had much hair under his nose. I had heard of white men who traded for furs along the shores of the Great Water, and saw that these men were like that.
I knew then why I had not taken any meat during my hunt. These noisy strangers had chased all the game ahead of them.
Moving back from their camp, I circled wide toward my village. I hurried to carry the news of the coming strangers to my father.
I can not say why I began to travel from our village, for it was not a thing done by others. It made me different. There was a time when I was lost and very hungry and I ate the meat of a deer. From that day I was not the same as my own people who only eat fish. I was still welcome in my father's home, but all looked at me with different eyes. Because I was different, I knew of the strangers and could warn my father and the village.
"Are they like the others?" my father asked, when I had told him of the noisy camp that I had found.
"I was not yet of this world when the others came," I reminded him. "Only my father can know if these men are like those who came from the sea."
I waited for my father's third wife to serve me food, before continuing. "I have heard my father's story of the yellow-skin men many times, and because of his great skill as a story teller, I do not believe these men who camp on top of the mountain are the same. One man has hair and skin the color of fire, and they all have much hair on their faces."
My father nodded, and then quietly smoked his pipe for the time it might take an eagle to soar across our valley.
"When the others came, some of them were good, and some were bad," he finally said. "One of our people who is a great boatman and fisherman is the son of the daughter of one of the good ones. One of our best carvers and his sister also carry the blood of a good man of yellow skin.
"But many of the strangers cast up by the Great Water were not good men! All of their children have brought great trouble to our people. These children have been cast out of the village, or sent to the spirit world."
He paused, removed his pipe stem from his mouth, and smiled at me. "Perhaps those sent beyond have learned better ways.
"From our neighbors, the Bella Bella, we have also heard many stories about the men who trade for furs on the Great Water. But we know that our good neighbors sometimes have bad memories, so we must see these things for ourselves."
He drew on his pipe before continuing. "You must return to this camp of noisy strangers that you have found. Offer to show them what they search for. You will spend time with them, then tell the council if they are good men, or bad men."
"What is it they search for?" I asked.
My father shrugged. "Fish? Furs? Perhaps to watch the eagle soar? Strangers have strange ways!"
"And if they are good men?" I asked.
My father shrugged again, puffing on his pipe. "We will show them kindness, and peace."
"And if they are bad men?"
My father removed the pipe from his mouth, and his eyes became hard as winter wind. "Then we will show them peace!"
I hastily finished my meal, and then returned up the
to the top of the
mountain. Great River
There is a good place to camp at the top of the trail where I waited for the strangers, hoping to watch as they settled for the night. When they arrived, I could see they were fewer in number. The Carrier people had left them so that now they numbered ten white men, and two Cree.
Since the making of camp is the work of woman, the Cree did not help but stood near one side of the clearing leaning on long sticks. When the strangers were busy with fire and cooking, I made myself known to the Cree.
I thought I had given the warriors enough warning, but perhaps their long time with the hairy ones had dulled their senses. When I appeared they where much afraid, and pointed the long sticks at me.
The Bella Bella told stories of sticks that held death inside. It was said these sticks would let death out, hidden in smoke. Only those who faced the stick would see death.
From the camp, in a language my father had taught me, a voice cried, "Stop!"
The Cree froze, still pointing the sticks at me, but glancing quickly at the one who spoke.
Slowly I bowed toward the Cree, then toward the speaker, who was walking toward us. This one who gave orders was the only one who wore no clothes made of animal skins, and had less hair on his face than the others.
"I welcome you to the home of the people of the sea," I greeted, in the language he had used.
"You speak French!" he remarked.
He did not sound happy to hear me use this language. I knew my use of this tongue would not be great for I only spoke it with my father who had taught it to me. But it was rude for this stranger to put the poor use of my father's teachings before my face.
Perhaps the stranger could see in my face that I was unhappy, for he bowed low and asked me to step aside. I did not understand this, but took a step to the side, and bowed in return.
"Welcome to our camp," he said. "Come, eat with us!"
I nodded in agreement, but did not speak, concerned that my use of their language might offend them.
When we had eaten much burned meat and drank a brew of boiled leaves, the chief of these strangers asked my name. When I told him, he looked puzzled, then said, "I will call you 'Spirit', because you appear from nowhere."
He then told me his name, which I could not understand. Reaching out to his coat, I pinched the material and asked, "What is this called?"
"It is cloth," he said. "Wool."
"I will call you 'Wool'," I advised, "for you wear strange clothes."
Several of the strangers laughed, though I had returned their leaders insult with one of mine. Then the leader said something in another language, and those who had sat with faces of stone, smiled.
I learned two things about these men. They had not been taught good manners, but did not seem to mind when these bad manners were returned. It also appeared that not all of them spoke this language taught to me by my father.
"How is it you speak the French?" Wool asked me.
"I have learned from my father," I replied. "This language was taught to him before he was a man by those who came from the Great Water. They also taught him another language, which I have not learned to speak."
I could see that Wool was made unhappy by what I said, though he tried to hide this distress while lighting his pipe.
"It is far to this Great Water?" he asked.
"Perhaps two days," I replied, pointing down river.
"And these men who came from the sea," he continued, "can you describe them?"
"This was long ago, before I came to this world," I replied. "It is a story from my father who was very young when they came. They were washed ashore by a great storm, lived with the people for two winters, then took a great war canoe, and disappeared back out on the Great Water. Two of them did not go, but stayed with the people."
Wool showed much excitement. "Are they still at your village?" he asked.
Shaking my head, I replied, "No, they passed to the other world when I was very young."
Wool showed much disappointment. "How many seasons have passed since these people came?" he asked.
Again, I shrugged. "My father is the oldest man there is. I am the only son that still lives, for all the others have gone beyond. He had seen few winters when these men came from the Great Water."
"But you saw the two men who stayed," Wool said. "Where these two men like my people?"
I shrugged. "My father says they had yellow skin, although I do not remember that."
Again, Wool was very excited. He turned to a man who sat beside him, and said something in yet a third language that had many choking sounds. It appeared that none of the others understood this talk, for they all looked puzzled.
Turning back to me, Wool asked, "Can you show us the Great Water?"
The next day, when the sun was in the center of the sky, we could see my village far below. Wool paused near where I waited for them, and pointed to the trail of smoke far below.
"What people are these?" he asked.
"My people," I said. "Bella Coola."
"We will be welcome there?" he asked.
That was for my father to say, after I had told him what I had learned, but I did not lie. I nodded, and said, "My father is a great leader."
That night in my father’s village, after eating much fish, the strangers slept very hard. We tested them as they lay, and found that it would take a great deal to wake them. My father told me that he was very happy that they trusted me so much, for if it became necessary to send them beyond, it would be easy to do so while they slept.
The next day there was much trouble. The white man tried to make my people eat some of their meat, and I had to tell them that I alone, among my people, ate meat. I told them how the smell of meat would make the fish go away, so those who catch fish can not eat it. Some of the white men found this very funny, but Wool did not.
Later, these same men who laughed caused more trouble, much as small boys sometimes do. They threw the bone from the meat at one of the dogs who promptly swallowed it. The owner loved his dog, so in order to avoid killing him, he beat the dog until it let go of this bone. Then these trouble makers threw a bone in the river, and one of my people who saw this jumped in and retrieved the bone.
The bones were burned in fire, but the two men who retrieved them had to be purified. First they washed in scented water and sand, and then they washed in the smoke of a fire made from cedar and grass.
Wool returned from his study of our village, or perhaps a study of the sun and sky that he was always making, and asked why these men where washing in the smoke. When I told him, he went to his men and they spoke quietly. Those who had caused the trouble hung their heads in shame.
My father and I watched this from the entrance to his lodge.
"They are like boys when they first become men," my father observed. "They are not bad, just foolish. It is good that they have a strong leader, but you must get them away from here."
"They wish to see the Great Water," I told my father.
"So, take them to the Great Water, then they will leave. We have had peace for many summers, but these white men will bring back war with their foolish ways." He turned and entered his lodge but then came back and added, “They are our guests so we must see to their safety. Those of the other clan, the people of Bella Bella hate all white men and there will be fighting. Or perhaps these …” he gestured toward the white men, “these children will cause trouble with our own people. Then when the big canoes come on the Great Water they will no longer trade with us. Take them to the Great Water, let them see it, then have them go.” He turned back into the dimness of the lodge.
With the help of a few well picked men, and three canoes, I arranged for the white men to travel to the village of my uncle.
Uncle greeted us at the water's edge and presented a great feast. After much food we slept there, then returned to our canoes and went on to the Great Water.
Later that day, two canoes of Bella Bella people came out from shore to meet us. Their chief said that he knew all about white men, and had just shown some of them the power of the Bella Bella people. Then he jumped in our canoe and demanded that we take him to the path leading from the shore to his village.
While we paddled to that place, Wool asked me what was said.
"The Bella Bella trade with the white men who come in big canoes, out on the Great Water," I explained. "Then they trade with other people for these things."
I gestured toward the chief of the Bella Bella. "This one says that a short time ago he was badly treated by white men in a big canoe, and that his people defeated them in battle."
Wool looked at the two canoes of Bella Bella and asked. "Is this dangerous?"
I shrugged. "The Bella Bella people are very loud, and cause much trouble. They are of our people, but unlike those of my father’s village and my uncle’s village these people like war very much. My people try to stay away."
"Were many people killed in this battle he speaks of?" Wool asked.
Again I shrugged. "The Bella Bella people have poor memories," I advised.
At Wool's look of puzzlement, one of the Cree said, "He means they are liars."
When we reached the shore, the Bella Bella left our canoe, and we backed away into the water. He had wished to take the death sticks of the white men, and was not happy as we paddled away. He danced on the shore and made a great noise.
I directed the canoes to the place where the empty village stands by the rock. Wool was happy with this place, and we placed our camp on top of the rock, where we might see the Bella Bella if they came to cause trouble.
We stayed there for three days. Each day Wool would look through a thing at the sky, then shake his head in sadness. Two other white men spent much time looking at the empty lodges and trash in the old village. Finally, on the third day, I told them that I would leave them to the Bella Bella if they did not come with me. I had to make them leave our land, as my father had said.
Wool showed me this strange thing he used to look at the sky and said, "I need to find out where we are. I am keeping a record."
"You are on the Great Water, near the river of the Bella Coola," I told him, though I thought he should already know this. "You are also near the home of the Bella Bella who would like to send you beyond and take your things to their lodges. We must go!"
"Then leave me a canoe and go back," Wool said. "I will try one more time to read the sky, and then I will follow."
Wool and two other white men stayed at the old village. As we paddled away, I could see him making marks on the big rock.
The next day Wool and his men caught up to us, and we entered the village of my Uncle. The Bella Bella where already there, and almost brought death to some of our people with their trouble. They hid in one of the lodges when Wool and his people pointed the death sticks at them.
To the Bella Bella I said, "You will leave this place or the white men will kill all of us. You can come back and trade when the white men are gone."
Then I went outside and said to Wool, "Let the people of the loud talk go to their homes. Then we will all go up to my father's village, for there is no happiness here."
Wool agreed, and his men did not point their sticks. The Bella Bella people went to their village, and we went to my father's.
This was a very close thing, but it was not over. We still had the white men and all their trouble for one more day. That day was spent at my father's village, and passed with no further trouble.
When they left the next day, I followed to make sure that they left our land. One of the Cree was not well, and had to be carried by Wool when they crossed the river, but leave they did. As they climbed the cliffs out of our land, I watched them until I could no longer see them.
Two days after Wool and his men had left, I borrowed a canoe, and went once more to the Great Water. I went to the large rock where I had seen Wool making marks.
The marks had not been made deep in the rock, but had been put on it with the color of blood. I studied them for many moments but could not understand why Wool had done this thing. It was not pretty, like a drawing, nor did it tell a story, like the work of a carver. It did not help to make the stone look better, and was the color of war.
I have remembered these marks, and will make them again, so that you will see.
Alexander Mackenzie, from
, by land, the
twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three. Canada