"The next day was treaty day, and we were still a long way from the
treaty post. The Police, not yet hardened to the work, felt fagged, but
would not own up, a nephew of Sir William Vernon Harcourt bringing up the
rear, and all slithering, but hanging to it with dogged perseverance.
Nothing, indeed, can be imagined more arduous than this tracking up a
swift river, against constant head winds in bad weather. Much of it is in
the water, wading up 'snies,' or tortuous shallow channels, plunging
into numberless creeks, clambering up slimy banks, creeping under or
passing the line over fallen trees, wading out in the stream to round long
spits of sand or boulders, floundering in gumbo slides, tripping,
crawling, plunging, and finally, tottering to the camping place sweating
like horses, and mud to the eyes - but never grumbling. After a whole day
of this slavish work, no sooner was the bath taken, supper stowed, and
pipes filled, than laughter began, and jokes and merriment ran round the
camp-fires as if such things as mud and toil had never existed.
The old Indian, Peokus, heading the Police line, was a study. His garb
was a pair of pants toned down to the colour of the grime they daily sank
in, a shirt and corduroy vest to match, a faded kerchief tied around his
head, an Assomption sash, and a begrimed body inside of all - a short,
squarely built frame, clad with rounded muscles - nothing angular about
him! - but the nerves within tireless as the stream he pulled against. On
the lead, in harness, his long arms swung like pendulums, his whole body
leant forward at an acute angle, the gait steady, and the step solid as
the tramp of a gorilla. Some coarse black hairs clung here and there to
his upper lip; his fine brown eyes were embedded in wrinkles, and his
swarthy features, though clumsy, were kindly - a good-humoured face,
which, at a cheerful word or a glance, lit up at once with the grotesque
grin of an animated gargoyle. This was the typical old-time tracker of the
North; the toiler who brought in the products of man's art in the East,
and took out Nature's returns - the Indian's output - ever since the
trade first penetrated these endless solitudes."
Reprinted from Through the Mackenzie Basin: An Account of
the Signing of Treaty No. 8 and the Scrip Commission, 1899 by Charles Mair.