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New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

With Indian Guides in the Wilds of New Brunswick, 1862

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From the blog at http://JohnWood1946.wordpress.com

With Indian Guides in the Wilds of New Brunswick, 1862

This is the story of a British military man’s trip from Cork, in Ireland, to Saint John in a decrepit steamer, then to Saint Stephen in an equally disagreeable stagecoach, and finally to the headwater lakes of the Saint Croix River for a fishing trip. It took place in 1862, and is slightly edited from Chiploquorgan; or, Life by the camp fire … by Richard Lewes Dashwood, Dublin, 1871. Chiploquorgan is the Maliseet name for the stick used to suspend a kettle over a camp fire.

Crockers Island

Crocker’s Island on the Saint Croix River

From the N.B. Museum, via the McCord Museum

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On the 24th of January, 1862, I sailed in the steam transport Adelaide, from Cork, for North America, with six companies of my regiment, which formed part of the force sent from England at that time, in consequence of the seizure by an American man-of-war of Messrs. Mason and Slidell, while passengers on board the royal mail steamer Trent.

After our engines breaking down on several occasions, and meeting other damages from a severe hurricane, we were obliged to put back to Plymouth for repairs. Here we were detained three weeks; and at the end of that time we sailed for St. John, New Brunswick. We were ordered to take the southern route as a means of avoiding the rough storms of the North Atlantic, against which our ship had proved herself totally unequal to make any headway. We were also ordered to touch at the Bermudas for coals. We reached those islands with just enough coal to take us into port. We stayed there ten days, and eventually reached St. John, New Brunswick, on the 24th of March, seventy-nine [sic] days after our original departure from Cork. If we had embarked in one of Cunard’s or Inman’s steamers, we should probably have crossed the Atlantic in a fortnight, and besides having a pleasanter voyage, the saving of expense would have been considerable.

The Adelaide was quite unfit to cross the Atlantic at that time of year, her engines being deficient in power, and being moreover old-fashioned and worn-out. Their defective state may be imagined from the fact that they broke down altogether about ten times.

The Victoria, the sister ship of the Adelaide, sailed from Cork with the 96th regiment on board, the day after we left that port. She proved even in a worse state than the Adelaide, for besides being defective in her engines, her rigging was rotten. She also put back to refit, and starting again for America, got no farther than the Azores (she was likewise ordered to take the southern route), when her engines breaking down, she was obliged to return to port; nor did she make another attempt to cross the “herring pond.” It is to be hoped that the lives of British soldiers will never again be entrusted to either of these ill-fated vessels.

I had always a great longing to be quartered in North America, and make practical acquaintance with the various sports to be obtained in that country. My keenness had also been much increased by the description given to me by a near relative, who, thirty years ago, was quartered in New Brunswick with the 34th regiment, and who spent all his leave in the woods. The Indians at Fredericton, to this day, speak of him as a well-remembered sportsman of the right sort, or, as an old Indian said one day when referring to him, “He great hunter, good hand in woods, same as Indian in canoe.”

On disembarking at St. John I was much struck with the appearance of the town, which was both novel and interesting: the sleighs flying about in all directions; little boys sliding down the hilly streets on small hand-sleighs, and gliding just clear of the horses when a collision appeared certain. This amusement is called “coasting;” and in winter appears to take the place of the marbles and peg-top of the boys at home. Having shaken down into barracks, I began to make inquiries as to the commencement of the fishing season, and made arrangements to join a fishing party at the end of May to the Schoodic lakes, which are situated in the State of Maine. On the 15th of May I was to start for these lakes by steamer from St. John to St. Stephen’s; but being detained, I sent all my traps and fishing gear with the rest of the party, and I myself left St. John the same evening by stage.

Of all the miserable means of locomotion, a stage waggon in America is the most wretched. The road was in parts very bad, and full of large boulders. Luckily I was the only occupant of the vehicle, except the driver, and so had plenty of room. I was amused, on driving up to a place where we changed horses, at the remark of a loafer to the driver, on his paucity of passengers, “Why, you have quite a small crowd to-day, Jim.”

Three people would be quite a crowd, and four or five a big crowd, in the Yankee parlance of the country; and this habit of calling everything by the most grandiloquent names strikes a stranger as being especially ridiculous. Every pothouse is an hotel, every village a city, and the most dirty eating-room a dining saloon.

I reached St. Stephen’s at about nine o’clock the next morning, and went to an hotel to have some breakfast, where I joined the rest of our party, I found that I was rather late for the table d’hote all meals at American hotels being on that plan as, on being shown into the breakfast-room, I found all the servants of the establishment feeding on the remains. Fancy, in an English hotel, the servants being turned into the coffee-room, en masse, to feed! The servants at the hotels in this country are exceedingly touchy, and object to being called “waiter” or “boots,” but expect to be addressed as “young man,” or by their Christian name. I remember, on one occasion, when dining at an hotel in St. John, an officer, whom I shall name Captain Heavyswell, called to the waiter, during dinner, for a glass of beer. The man addressed “waiter,” merely shouted to the bar-keeper, loud enough to be heard all over the room, “Pitcher of beer for Heavyswell.”

After breakfast we all started by train for Louis Island, a small village situated on one of the lower Schoodic lakes, at a distance of about twenty miles. Here we hired Indians and canoes, and took the steamer to the head of the lake, about fifteen miles off. Having disembarked our luggage, we portaged to the upper lake, which is connected with the lower one by a stream three miles long. In this stream the trout congregate at certain times of the year, as also in the other streams connecting the chain of lakes, which extend some sixty miles up the country. We arrived at the head of the stream at sundown. Here was a lumber dam, and a large crew of men engaged in “driving” the timber brought down the lake in large rafts.

Whilst the Indians were putting up our tents, I made haste to put up my rod, and have a cast before dark my first cast in American waters. In half an hour I had landed nine trout, averaging over two pounds each. These fish gave immense play, jumping high out of the water, several times on being hooked after the manner of sea trout at home. I may here say a word as to the species of trout in these lakes, as it has been a matter of a good deal of controversy between American naturalists, some of whom affirm that they are pent-up salmon. The St. Croix river, of which these lakes are the head waters, formerly abounded with salmon, but is now blocked up and quite impassible by the mill dams. I, for my part, do not for a moment suppose that these fish are salmon. In my opinion the idea is absurd, as there is nothing to prevent the fish going down to the sea; and when the river was blocked up in the first place, surely the fish then in the river would have followed their natural instinct, and returned to the salt water. Besides, I know plenty of rivers in North America from which the salmon have been shut out, and they contain no such fish. The trout in question are only like salmon in two respects, in colour and shape. I can only account for their being called salmon from the general ignorance of the people in America of natural history, and their common habit of calling birds and animals by their wrong appellations, merely because they have a slight resemblance to the animals they are named after. For instance, an American thrush (turdus migratorius) is called a robin, because it has a red breast; at the same time, it is the size and has the note of a thrush. I could enumerate many other like instances.

But to resume. On returning to camp much gratified with my trial of the fishing, I soon discovered that whilst I had been so occupied I had been most horribly bitten by mosquitoes, which were in swarms everywhere. I had, in the innocence of my heart, worn a pair of knickerbockers; this was a lesson to me not to do so in future, as the mosquitoes had stung me through my stockings in all directions.

There were some excellent casts near some piles which were formed to guide the timber down the dam, and were filled up with stones above the water line. I found it a good plan to take up my station on one of these stands, with a good supply of rotten wood with which to make a fire with plenty of smoke, and so baffle the attacks of the mosquitoes to a great extent. I remained at this place about a week, and had capital sport, killing with the fly one day sixty-three trout, of an average of two pounds each, few being smaller than one and a half pound, and none over three and a quarter pounds.

There were several camps of Yankees alongside of us, who were a great nuisance, following one about to any spot where they saw you successful, and fishing close to you with enormous flies, which fell with a great flop in the water. I managed to shake them off by fishing out of a canoe. These people were no sportsmen, and came out to have more what they call “a good time,” and consume an unlimited quantity of liquor of the strongest kind.

To escape these annoyances, and for the sake of change, one of our party and myself made an excursion in canoes to the stream connecting the lake on which we were camped with the one above. After a paddle of about fifteen miles we arrived, towards evening, at our destination. The stream here, between the upper and lower lake, was only a few hundred yards in length, and very rapid and rocky, but with a capital pool both at the inlet and outlet.

The trout here rose so greedily that I continually hooked two at once; and the fish broke my casting line so often by jumping in different directions at the same moment, that I was obliged to fish with only one fly.

The scenery on our voyage up the lake was very pretty, the trees coming down to the water’s edge. The foliage was very beautiful, and of a brighter green than one sees in England, the birch and white maple especially so.

I found that these trout took an artificial bait readily. I also caught with a spoon a togue (salmo siskawitz) of about six pounds. This fish is of the trout species, but never rises to a fly. They give no play, and their flesh is white, and very indifferent eating. They are sometimes caught as large as thirty pounds and upwards. I saw some specimens of the wood duck, so useful to the fly-makers, but was unable to bag one. Loons, also, were plentiful, with their peculiar weird-like note. I do not know anything more mournful, and at the same time more fascinating, than the cry of a loon on a still night, coming across a large lake, and echoing back among the forests.

The flies I found most killing in these waters were a light mallard wing, with red or orange body, and red cock’s hackle. In the middle of the day, when the sun was bright, I did good execution with small greys and dark browns.

I was astonished at the ease and skill with which the Indians paddled their bark canoes, which were of the Malecite pattern long, narrow, and crank. A single-bladed paddle is used; and one man at the stern, paddling from one side, both steers and propels the canoe with the same stroke. It looks very easy, but I, who was at that time quite a tyro as regards the woods, and had never been in a canoe before, on attempting to paddle one found myself describing small circles, nor did I feel exceedingly safe from turning a turtle at any moment.

However most things are to be learnt by practice and perseverance; since then many a mile have I paddled, many the hour have I stood up pole in hand forcing the frail birch bark up the foaming rapid where loss of balance would be an upset, and an upset the loss of one’s tackle and perhaps the ruin of the expedition.

We kippered several hundred of the largest trout, which one of our Indians packed in a box made of spruce bark and sewn with the roots of the same tree.

The Indians were of the Malecite tribe. On one occasion after breakfast we paddled up the lake about four miles to try a brook for brown trout; on our return in the evening, Joe appeared slower than usual, and on being asked why he did not paddle quicker, replied in very doleful accents, “Me had no breakfast, me had no dinner;” the amount of pork and trout he had consumed at the first mentioned meal would have sufficed two ordinary men. Owing to a raft of timber which blocked up the end of the lake, we had to land and walk home about a mile. Joe being too idle to carry his canoe, left it on the beach. Next morning he went to fetch it, and returning with a very long face, informed us, “Canoe spoilt. Porcupine he eat him hole last night.” Sure enough, the animal had evidently dined off the canoe, eating a large hole in the bark.

These Indians of the State of Maine were very exorbitant in their charges. A dollar a day is the regular tariff, but the following year they wanted to charge a party from New Brunswick a dollar and a half per diem, expecting to receive it in gold or the equivalent, although no such stipulation was made. The party at last agreed to give them what they demanded, but when pay day arrived, handed the Indians the amount in greenbacks, much to their disgust and discomfiture. As the premium was at that time very high they received in reality less than a dollar in gold. Some Yankees who were present at the time were much amused, and guessed the strangers “were pretty smart.”

I consider the trout fishing in the Schoodic lakes the best in North America, for although there are plenty of both sea and brown trout to be killed in most of the streams, they do not jump when hooked, and I have never met any fish either at home or abroad, which for their size gave equal play to these “lake shiners,” as they are called by the settlers. I learnt one wrinkle by this trip viz., how to dress for the flies, which had punished me most severely. I have never but in one place since found them so numerous.

A person fresh from England always suffers at first, the bites swelling very much, but after a year or two one’s blood seems to get accustomed to the stings, for although they annoy at the time, the swelling soon subsides and the irritation is much less. There are many receipts for keeping off flies; the most effective of any, and I have tried most of them, is a mixture of hog’s lard and Stockholm tar, three parts of the former and one of the latter mixed together. It easily washes off, the grease preventing its sticking. With a small box of this in my pocket I could always in a few minutes render myself proof against mosquitoes, black flies or sand flies, the latter called by the Indians “bitum no seeum,” are the worst of all, but are only very thick in light soils. This specific requires to be renewed about every hour. A veil is also of great use with a broad brimmed hat to keep it off one’s face; but it is a great obstacle to the sight which, when fly fishing, as I need not mention, requires to be quick and sharp.

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Written by johnwood1946

August 31, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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