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The Werwolves: From Honore Beaugrand’s ‘La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories’ (1900)

The Werwolves

From Honore Beaugrand’s ‘La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories’  (1900); With Annotations by Hammerson Peters

Back to Honore Beaugrand’s Classic French-Canadian Folktales.

I

A MOTLEY AND PICTURESQUE-looking crowd had gathered within the walls of Fort Richelieu [1] to attend the annual distribution of powder and lead, to take part in the winter drills and target practice, and to join in the Christmas festivities, that would last until the fast-approaching New Year.

Coureurs des bois [2] from the Western country, scouts, hunters, trappers, militiamen, and habitants from the surrounding settlements, Indian warriors from the neighboring tribe of friendly Abenakis, were all placed under the military instruction of the company of regular marine infantry that garrisoned the fort constructed in 1665, by M. de Saurel, at the mouth of the Richelieu River, where it flows into the waters of the St. Lawrence, forty-five miles below Montreal.

It was on Christmas eve of the year 1706, and the dreaded Iroquois were committing depredations in the surrounding country, burning farmhouses, stealing cattle and horses, and killing every man, woman, and child whom they could not carry away to their own villages to torture at the stake.

The Richelieu River was the natural highway to the Iroquois country during the open season, but now that its waters were ice-bound, it was hard to tell whence the attacks from those terrible savages could be expected.

The distribution of arms and ammunition having been made, under the joint supervision of the notary royal and the command of the fort, the men had retired to the barracks, where they were drinking, singing, and telling stories.

Tales of the most extraordinary adventures were being unfolded by some of the hunters, who were vying with one another in their attempts at relating some unheard-of and fantastic incidents that would create a sensation among their superstitious and wonder-loving comrades.

A sharp lookout was kept outside on the bastions, where four sentries were pacing up and down, repeating every half-hour the familiar watch-cry:

          “Sentinelles! Prenez garde a vous!” [3]

Old Sergeant Bellehumeur of the regulars, who had seen forty years of service in Canada, and who had come over with the regiment of Carignan-Salieres [4], was quietly sitting in a corner of the guard-room, smoking his Indian calumet [5], and watching over and keeping order among the men who were inclined to become boisterous over the oft-repeated libations.

One of the men, who had accompanied La Salle [6] in his first expedition in search of the mouths of the Mississippi, was in the act of reciting his adventures with the hostile tribes that they had met in that far-off country, when the crack of a musket was heard from the outside, through the battlements. A second report immediately followed the first one, and the cry of, “Aux armes!” [7] was soon heard, with two more shots following close on each other.

The four sentries had evidently fired their muskets at some enemy or enemies, and the guard tumbled out in a hurry, followed by all the men, who had seized their arms, ready for an emergency.

The officer on duty was already on the spot when Sergeant Bellehumeur arrived to inquire into the cause of all this turmoil.

The sentry who had fired the first shot declared excitedly that all at once, on turning round on his beat, he had seen a party of red devils dancing around a bush fire, a couple of hundred yards away, right across the river from the fort, on the point covered with tall pine-trees. He had fired his musket in their direction, more with the intention of giving alarm than in the hope of hitting any of them at that distance.

The second, third, and fourth shots had been successively fired by the other sentries, who had not seen anything of the Indians, but who had joined in the firing with the idea of calling the guard to the spot, and scaring away any enemy who might be prowling around.

“But where are the Indians now?” inquired the officer, who had climbed on the parapet, “and where is the fire of which you speak?”

“They seem to have disappeared as by enchantment, sir,” answered the soldier, in astonishment; “but they were there a few moments ago, when I fired my musket at them.”

“Well, we will see”; and, turning to Bellehumeur: “Sergeant, take ten men with you, and proceed over there cautiously, to see whether you can discover any signs of the presence of Indians on the point. Meanwhile, see to it that the guard is kept under arms until your return, to prevent any surprise.”

Bellehumeur did as he was ordered, picking ten of his best men to accompany him. The gate of the fort was opened, and the drawbridge was lowered to give passage to the party, who proceeded to cross the river, over the ice, marching at first in Indian file. When nearing the opposite shore, near the edge of the wood, the men were seen to scatter, and to advance carefully, taking advantage of every tree to protect themselves against a possible ambush.

The night was a bright one, and any dark object could be plainly seen on the white snow, in the clearing that surrounded the fort.

The men disappeared for a short time, but were soon seen again, coming back in the same order and by the same route.

“Nothing, sir,” said the sergeant, in saluting the officer. “Not a sign of fire of any kind, and not a single Indian track, in the snow, over the point.”

“Well, that is curious, I declare! Had the sentry been drinking, sergeant, before going on post?”

“No more than the rest of the men, sir; and I could see no sign of liquor on him when the relief was sent out, an hour ago.”

“Well, the man must be a fool or a poltroon to raise such an alarm without any cause whatever. See that he is immediately relieved from his post, sergeant, and have him confined in the guardhouse until he appears before the commandant in the morning.”

The sentry was duly relieved, and calm was restored among the garrison. The men went back to their quarters, and the conversation naturally fell on the peculiar circumstances that had just taken place.

 

II

An old weather-beaten trapper who had just returned from the Great Lakes volunteered the remark that, for his part, he was not so very sure that the sentry had not acted in perfect good faith, and had not been deceived by a band of loups-garous, -werwolves,- who came and went, appeared and disappeared, just as they pleased, under the protection of old Nick [8] himself.

“I have seen them more than once in my travels,” continued the trapper; “and only last year I had occasion to fire at just such a band of miscreants, up on the Ottawa River, above the portage of the Grandes-Chaudieres [9].”

“Tell us about it!” chimed in the crowd of superstitious adventurers, whose credulous curiosity was instantly awakened by the promise of a story that would appeal to their love of the supernatural.

And everyone gathered about the old trapper, who was evidently proud to have the occasion to recite his exploits before as distinguished an assemblage of dare-devils as one could find anywhere, from Quebec to Michilimackinac [10].

“We had left Lachine [11], twenty-four of us, in three war-canoes, bound for the Illinois country, by way of the Ottawa River and the Upper Lakes; and in four days we had reached the portage of the Grandes-Chaudieres, where we rested for one day to renew our stock of meat, which was getting exhausted. Along with one of my companions, I had followed some deer-tracks, which led us several miles up the river, and we soon succeeded in killing a splendid animal. We divided the meat so as to make it easier for us to carry, and it was getting on toward nightfall when we began to retrace our steps in the direction of the camp. Darkness overtook us on the way, and as we were heavily burdened, we had stopped to rest and to smoke a pipe in a clump of maple-trees on the edge of the river. All at once, and without warning of any kind, we saw a bright fire of balsam boughs burning on a small island in the middle of the river. Ten or twelve renegades, half human and half beasts, with heads and tails like wolves, arms, legs, and bodies like men, and eyes glaring like burning coals, were dancing around the fire, and barking a sort of outlandish chant that was now and then changed to peals of infernal laughter. We could also vaguely perceive, lying on the ground, the body of a human being that two of the imps were engaged in cutting up, probably getting it ready for the horrible meal that the miscreants would make when the dance would be over. Although we were sitting in the shadow of the trees, partly concealed by the underbrush, we were at once discovered by the dancers, who beckoned to us to go and join them in their disgusting feast. That is the way they entrap unwary hunters for their bloody sacrifices. Our first impulse was to fly towards the woods; but we soon realized that we had to deal with loups-garous; and as we had both been to confession and taken holy communion before embarking at Lachine, we knew we had nothing to fear from them. White loups-garous are bad enough at any time, and you all know that only those who have remained seven years without performing their Easter duties [12] are liable to be changed into wolves, condemned to prowl about at night until they are delivered by some Christian drawing blood from them by inflicting a wound on their forehead in the form of a cross. But we had to deal with Indian renegades, who had accepted the sacraments only in mockery, and who had never since performed any of the duties commanded by the Church. They are the worst loups-garous that one can meet, because they are constantly intent on capturing some misguided Christian, to drink his blood and to eat his flesh in their horrible fricots [13]. Had we been in possession of holy water to sprinkle at them, or of a four-leaved clover to make wadding for our muskets, we might have exterminated the whole crowd, after having cut crosses on the lead of our bullets. But we were powerless to interfere with them, knowing full well that ordinary ammunition was useless, and that bullets would flatten out on their tough and impenetrable hides. Wolves at night, those devils would assume again, during the day, the appearance of ordinary Indians; but their hide is only turned inside out, with the hair growing inward. We were about to proceed on our way to the camp, leaving the loups-garous to continue their witchcraft unmolested, when a thought struck me that we might at least try to give them a couple of parting shots. We both withdrew the bullets from our muskets, cut crosses on them with our hunting-knives, placed them back in the barrels, along with two dizaines [14] of beads from the blessed rosary which I carried in my pocket. That would surely make the renegades sick, if it did not kill them outright.

“We took good aim, and fired together. Such unearthly howling and yelling I have never heard before or since. Whether we killed any of them I could not say; but the fire instantly disappeared, and the island was left in darkness, while the howls grew fainter and fainter as the loups-garous seemed to be scampering in the distance. We returned to camp, where our companions were beginning to be anxious about our safety. We found that one man, a hard character who bragged of his misdeeds, had disappeared during the day, and when we left on the following morning he had not yet returned to camp, neither did we ever hear of him afterward. In paddling up the river in our canoes, we passed close to the island where we had seen the loups-garous the night before. We landed, and searched around for some time; but we could find no traces of fire, or any signs of the passage of werwolves or of any other animals. I knew that it would turn out just so, because it is a well-known fact that those accursed brutes never leave any tracks behind them. My opinion was then, and has never changed to this day, that the man who strayed from our camp, and never returned, was captured by the loups-garous, and was being eaten up by them when we disturbed their horrible feast.”

“Well, is that all?” inquired Sergeant Bellehumeur, with an ill-concealed contempt.

“Yes, that is all; but is it not enough to make one think that the sentry who has just been confined in the guard-house by the lieutenant for causing a false alarm has been deceived by a band of loups-garous who were picnicking on the point, and who disappeared in a twinkle when they found out that they were discovered?”

 

III

A murmur of assent greeted these last remarks of the speaker, and a number of coureurs des bois were ready to corroborate the absolute likelihood of his story by relating some of their own experiences with the loups-garous.

One of them, however, in his dislike for anything connected with military discipline, ventured to add some offensive remarks for the young officer who had ordered the sentry to be placed in confinement.

“Halte-la!” [15] growled the sergeant. “The first one who dares insinuate anything contrary to discipline, or show a want of respect for any of our officers, will be placed in the dungeon without further ado. Tell as many stories as you please, but as long as you are under my orders you will have to remember that you are not roaming at large in the wilderness, and that you are here in one of the forts of his Majesty the King of France.”

This had the effect of producing an immediate silence, and the sergeant continued:

“I am not ready to gainsay the truthfulness of the story that has just been told, because I am myself inclined to believe in loups-garous, although I have never met one face to face; but I will not suffer any one to speak disrespectfully of my superior officers. I will, however, if you desire it, tell you the experience of one of my old copains [16], now dead and gone these many years, with a female loup-garou, who lived in the Iroquois village of Caughnawaga, near Montreal.”

At the unanimous request of the crowd, the sergeant went on:

“Baptiste Tranchemontagne was a corporal with me, in the company of M. de Saurel [17], in the old regiment of Carignan-Salieres. We had come from France together, and he and I made a pair in everything connected with the service, having fought side by side in many an encounter with the redskins. The poor fellow fell into the hands of the Iroquois at Cataracoui [18], and he was tortured at the stake in the village of the Mohawks [19]. He died like a man, smiling when they tore the flesh from his body with red-hot tongs, and spitting in the faces of his tormentors when they approached him to cut off his lips and to pull out his eyes. May God have mercy on his brave soul!”

And the sergeant devoutly crossed himself.

“Baptiste, in one of our expeditions on the south shore of Lake Ontario, had made the acquaintance of a young Indian maiden who was known as La-linotte-qui-chante [20] among the warriors of her tribe. An intimacy sprang up between Baptiste and the young squaw [21], and they were married, Indian fashion, without much ceremony, the father’s consent having been obtained by the gift of an old musket. The girl followed us back, and joined the tribe that had settled at Caughnawaga, under the protection of the guns of Fort St. Louis [22], opposite Lachine, where our company was stationed for nearly a whole year. Everything went well as long as we remained at Fort St. Louis, although, Indian-like, the young squaw was fearfully jealous of Baptiste, and at times would threaten him with acts of direful vengeance if he ever became unfaithful to her.

“One day our command was ordered to Fort St. Frederic [23], on Lake Champlain, and our captain gave the strictest order that no camp-follower of any kind, men, women, or children, should be allowed to accompany us in the expedition. We started in the middle of the night, and Baptiste hurriedly said good-by to his Indian wife, telling her that he would return to see her in a short time. The squaw answered sulkily that she would follow him anywhere, and that, in spite of the captain or any one else, she would reach the fort before we did. We knew the Indian character too well to doubt that she would do as she promised, and when we marched over the drawbridge of Fort St. Frederic, five days afterward, we were not too much astonished to see, among the throng of Indians who had gathered to see us arrive, the face of Baptiste’s squaw, half concealed under her blanket. Baptiste was slightly annoyed at her presence, because he feared that the officers might think that, contrary to orders, he had encouraged her to follow the company. But we had no time to reflect on the situation before our company was ordered to embark in canoes, to proceed at once to Lake St. Sacrament (now Lake George). Baptiste did not even have the chance to speak to his squaw before we got under way, with three more companies of our regiment, under the command of Colonel de Ramezay [24]. We were away for three months, engaged in an expedition against the Mohawks; and we gave the red devils such a thrashing that they pleaded for peace, and we returned victorious to enjoy a few weeks of well-earned repose in the garrison of Montreal. Baptiste had lost sight of La-linotte-qui-chante, and he supposed that she had either returned to her tribe or else formed new ties with some of the trappers who regularly visited the forts to sell their furs and squander the proceeds in riotous living.

“The Indians having buried the tomahawk, there came a period of peace, when the governor-general at Quebec offered a grant of land to any soldier who would quit the regular service, and a dowry of eighty pistoles [25] in money to any woman, provided that they got married and settled in the country. I never had any taste for wedded life or for the career of a pekin [26], but Baptiste was not slow in casting his eyes upon a pretty girl who lived at Laprairie [27], across the river from Montreal. He told me confidentially that he had made up his mind to leave the service and to profit by the liberal offers of the government. I attempted to dissuade him from his project, because I hated to part with my best friend; but he was smitten, and I had to make up my mind to bow to the inevitable when strange and unexpected occurrences soon took place that upset all his plans. One day, when we were both lounging about the market-place, Baptiste suddenly found himself face to face with La-linotte-qui-chante, whom he had last seen some six months before at Fort St. Frederic. To say that he felt embarrassed would be putting it very mildly; but he assumed a bold countenance, and spoke words of welcome that were received with apparent indifference by the Indian girl. She had returned to Caughnawaga, where she was now living, and she had come to Montreal with some Indian hunters who had brought their furs to market. She spoke not a word, but looked reproachfully at her old lover with her piercing black eyes, and disappeared in the crowd. Baptiste was seriously annoyed at this unexpected meeting, but as the girl had left without uttering any reproaches, he took it for granted that she had become reconciled to the idea of a final separation between them. My chum had applied for his discharge, and was to be married on the coming Easter Monday, and, as a matter of course, I was to act as his best man- his garcon d’honneur [28]. Preparations were being made for the wedding, and there was hardly a day that Baptiste did not cross over the river to go and see his fiancée. Ten days before the date appointed for the ceremony, Baptiste returned one night in great trouble. His intended had been taken ill, seriously ill, with a violent fever, and no one at Laprairie seemed to understand the nature of her sickness. He would ask the post surgeon to go and see her in the morning. And besides, on leaving Laprairie, that very night, he had met La-linotte-qui-chante at the cross-road that led to Caughnawaga. No words had been exchanged between them, but her presence there at such a time was sufficient to give him food for presages of no pleasant nature. Accompanied by the surgeon, he repaired to Laprairie on the following morning, and he was horrified to learn that his fiancée had been stricken down with the smallpox, that was then raging among our Indian allies encamped about Fort St. Louis. Baptiste insisted at once that he should nurse his sweetheart through her dangerous illness, and the doctor returned to Montreal after having prescribed the necessary treatment. It was useless, however, for five days later my friend returned to Montreal with the sad news that his fiancée was dead. The poor fellow, in despair, reenlisted at once in our company, and declared that he would end his life in the ranks. He then took me aside and related to me the following incidents that occurred on the night before the death of his betrothed. During the day he had been astonished, on entering the large family living-room, to find La-linotte-qui-chante sitting by the fireplace, as the Indians are wont to do, coming and going oftentime without asking permission of any kind from the inmates, and ever without speaking a single word. Suspicious of her presence at such a place and under such circumstances, he immediately went to her and asked her what she was doing there.

“‘I have come to offer you help in your trouble and consolation in your sorrow. The white maiden whom you love so much will be dead before morning, if I do not come to the rescue. I will go back to Caughnawaga, and ask for a potion that will cure her from our medicine-man. Meet me to-night, at twelve o’clock, at the first turn of the road, among the pine-trees on the riverside.’

“And before Baptiste could answer she had left the house, going in the direction of the Indian village.

“Although he did not half like the mysterious ways of the squaw, Baptiste said to himself that no harm could come of trying the decoction as a last resort, because the dreadful disease had made such progress that it was evident that his sweetheart was likely to die at any moment.

“Shortly before midnight Baptiste took his musket and went out to the rendezvous. He had been waiting for some time, and was getting impatient, when he heard a noise behind him, and in turning round perceived a pair of eyes glaring at him from a small distance in the underbrush. It could not be the squaw, and he supposed that it was some wild animal prowling about, probably a bear, a wolf, or a wild-cat. He instinctively shouldered his musket, and although he could not take a good aim in the dark, he fired, missing the beast, who sprang at him with a terrible growl.

“It was a wolf of enormous size, and for the first time Baptiste thought of a loup-garou. He was too well accustomed to danger to lose his presence of mind, and throwing his empty musket in the snow, he seized his hunting-knife, and made a lunge at the beast; but the blade bent on the hide of the animal as if it had been thrust into the side of sole-leather. Baptiste now bethought himself of the only way of getting at the wolf, by drawing its blood in cutting a cross in its forehead. The wolf seemed to realize the fact, and fought at paw’s length with its powerful claws, tearing Baptiste’s flesh into shreds, and trying to strike at his face so as to blind him, if possible, while keeping its own head out of the reach of the gleaming knife. The fight had lasted for some time, and Baptiste was getting exhausted, when by an adroit stroke of his weapon, always as sharp as a razor, he completely cut off one of the fore paws of the animal, who uttered a terrible yell resembling the scream of a woman, and fled through the woods, where it disappeared in an instant.

“Baptiste now understood the situation in a moment. La-linotte-qui-chante, who had been baptized and duly received in our holy religion, having afterward relapsed into idolatry, had been turned into a loup-garou, condemned to roam by night, while keeping her usual appearance during the day. Jealousy and revenge had induced her to attack her former lover, hoping to take him unawares, and to kill him in the woods, while his new love was lying on her death-bed, a victim to the terrible scourge that the squaw had brought to the house. Baptiste learned that La-linotte-qui-chante had been a frequent visitor for some time past, having succeeded in ingratiating herself with the poor dead girl, undoubtedly bringing to her the germ of the disease that was raging at the Indian village. Such was the savage revenge of the young squaw to punish the faithlessness of Baptiste to his former vows of love and affection. It was also learned afterward that a human arm, evidently that of an Indian woman, had been found in the snow by some children who had strayed in the woods, at the very spot where the fight had taken place between Baptiste and the loup-garou. It was undoubtedly the fore paw of the wolf, which had resumed its former shape as the arm of the renegade squaw.

“I have already told you,” continued Sergeant Bellehumeur, “that poor Baptiste was later on taken prisoner by the Iroquois at Cataracoui, and that he was burned at the stake by the Mohawks. One of the prisoners who escaped from the redskins, and returned to Montreal, told me that he had remarked a one-armed squaw, who seemed to take special pleasure in inventing the most abominable devices to add to the sufferings of poor Baptiste. It was she who pulled out his tongue by the root, and who crushed in his skull with a tomahawk when he fainted from pain and loss of blood.

“Now,” summed up the sergeant, so as to cut short any more story-telling, “this is a real loup-garou story that I can vouch for, and that I would not permit any one to gainsay; and I now would call your attention to the fact that I will order the couvre-feu [29] to be sounded, and that I shall expect every one of you to be snoring at the bugle-call, so as to observe the rules of this garrison.

“Lights out! And silence in the barracks!”

 

Footnotes

[1] A French military fort built at the mouth of the Richelieu River near the present-day city of Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, in 1641.

[2] Independent French-Canadian fur traders; literally “runners of the woods”.

[3] Literally “Sentinels! Take care!”; the French equivalent of “All’s Well!”

[4] A 1200-man regiment of the French Royal Army sent to New France in 1665 to assist in the Beaver Wars against the Iroquois. The Carignan-Salieres Regiment would go on to launch two counteroffensives against the Iroquois Confederacy in the late winter and autumn, respectively, of 1666.

[5] Peace pipe.

[6] Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, was a French Jesuit priest-turned-explorer who travelled to New France in 1666 in search of adventure. After establishing a seigneury on the Island of Montreal, La Salle searched for the Northwest Passage- the legendary trans-American water route to the Orient- in 1669, possibly exploring the upper reaches of the Ohio River; this operation is probably the “first expedition” referred to in this story. La Salle would go on to explore the Mississippi River to its mouth in 1682, whereupon he founded the vast colony known as French Louisiana. He would lose his life to a mutineer’s musket ball in 1687, while leading a disastrous French colonization project in southeastern Texas.

[7] Literally “To arms!”

[8] The Devil.

[9] Also known as the Chaudiere Falls, a large horseshoe-shaped waterfall located in the middle of the Ottawa River near present-day Ottawa, Ontario; literally “Big Cauldron”.

[10] In the time in which this story is set, the word “Michilimackinac”, which means “Great Turtle” in Ojibwa, would probably be a denotation for the Island of Michilimackinac (also known as Mackinac Island), located in Lake Huron near that lake’s junction with Lake Michigan. In 1715, French fur traders would build Fort Michilimackinac nearby, on the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

[11] Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle’s old seigneury on the Island of Montreal.

[12] Easter duties include going to confession (i.e. receiving the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation) before Easter, and receiving Holy Communion at Easter Sunday Mass.

[13] Festive dinners.

[14] Tens.

[15] “Stop it!”

[16] Friends.

[17] Monsieur Pierre de Saurel, a captain of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment who rebuilt Fort Richelieu in 1665, the original fort having been burned by the Iroquois in 1641. Pierre de Saurel saw action during the 1666 offensives against the Iroquois Confederacy.

[18] Also spelled ‘Cataraqui’, a settlement located outside the walls of Fort Frontenac (a French fur trading and military fort built at the mouth of the Cataraqui River not far from the St. Lawrence’s junction with Lake Ontario in 1673). The fictional Corporal Baptiste Tranchemontagne was probably captured during the Seneca Iroquois’ 1688 Siege of Fort Frontenac.

[19] One of the five nations which comprise the Iroquois Confederacy.

[20] The Singing Linnet

[21] First Nations woman.

[22] Built on the Richelieu River about 22 kilometres, or 13 miles, west of the Island of Montreal, in 1665; later known as Fort Chambly.

[23] Sometimes spelled ‘Fort Saint-Frederic’. The fort’s inclusion in this story is anachronistic, as it was constructed by the French in 1734- sixty eight years after Saurel’s 1666 offensives against the Iroquois and twenty-eight years before the 1706 telling of the sergeant’s tale- for the purpose of defending against the southerly British.

[24] Possibly inspired by Claude de Ramezay, who commanded French-Canadian troops and served as the Governor of New France in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. Ramezay’s inclusion in this story would be anachronistic, as Ramezay came to New France in 1685, where he first served as a lieutenant in the colonial militia. During the offensives of 1666, he would have been seven years old.

[25] A Louis d’or, or 17th/18th Century gold French coin, with the same value as a Spanish double escudo, or ‘doubloon’.

[26] Idiom meaning ‘homebody’; literally a domestic duck of Chinese origin.

[27] Today, La Prairie, a suburb of Montreal, located on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River.

[28] Literally “best man”.

[29] Literally “curfew”.

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7 Finale: Timeline

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7 Finale: Timeline

The following is a plot summary and analysis of the Season 7, Episode 23 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

Mike Jardine meets with Craig Tester and Gary Drayton at the Money Pit area, where caisson RF1 had encountered a 180-foot-deep obstruction the previous episode. Mike informs the treasure hunters that Vanessa Lucido’s idea of leaving the hammergrab atop the obstruction overnight appears to have moved the offending object five feet. The treasure hunters then use the hammergrab to remove the obstruction, which appears to be gravel they previously used to backfill Borehole H8, before encountering what oscillator operator Danny Smith declares “feels like a void” at a depth of 202 feet. Despite this tantalizing development, the hammergrab proceeds to bring up more gravel backfill, prompting the treasure hunters to reluctantly terminate the shaft for safety purposes.

The next day, the Oak Island crew uses an excavator to extract some of the stones from the Paved Area in the swamp. While they work, the treasure hunters are approached by Doug Crowell and Dr. Ian Spooner. Dr. Spooner informs the treasure hunters that the stick which he extracted from beneath the Paved Area the previous episode was carbon dated to around 1200 A.D. – a date consistent with the Knights Templar theory. The geoscientists declares this to be evidence that the Paved Wharf, which multiple experts have opined was created by the hand of man, was formed around 1200 A.D. The treasure hunters decide to convene in the War Room in light of this startling development.

The crew members file into the War Room the following day, where they find a visual timeline laid out on the table. This display, created by Charles Barkhouse, stretches from 1100 A.D. to the present day. There is a thick line of demarcation at 1795, the date in which the Money Pit was first discovered. Various artifacts recovered on Oak Island over the years have been placed on the timeline in the respective centuries during which they are believed to have been created or deposited. A cluster of coins, nails, and buttons lie between 1650 and 1795, in the midst of which are the labels ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ at 1700 and ‘Crown Jewels Theory’ at 1793. The burnt iron bracket found in the swamp lies at around 1700, and the rhodolite garnet brooch found on Lot 8 lies at around 1650. The Spanish maravedis sits at 1652, and the conical pike pole point found in the swamp is located at 1600 (despite Carmen Legge’s dating the artifact from 1710 to 1790), overtop the labels ‘Rosicrucians’ and ‘Francis Bacon’. In the middle of the 1500s, we see two large rusted iron strips presumably recovered from Smith’s Cove. At 1500 is the label ‘French Exploration’, and at 1400 is the label ‘Portuguese Exploration’, below which lies the hand-point chisel found at Isaac’s Point. Somewhere in the 1400s, we see the swage blocks discovered on Lot 21. At 1300 is the label ‘Order of Christ’, overtop of which sits a clump of coconut fibre. The lead cross and the swamp stick extracted by Dr. Spooner have been placed in the late 1200s. The year 1200 bears the label ‘Norsemen Exploration’. At the beginning of the timeline, at the year 1100, we see a blackened piece of wood- perhaps one of the pieces of burnt wood found in the swamp. Below this item is the label ‘Templar Exploration’.

The treasure hunters proceed to discuss the implications of the finds. Jack Begley points out that the data seems to point to multiple operations that took place at different times. “We know, during specific dates,” he says, “that large amounts of work went on on Oak Island in at least two different clumps of time. You’ve got the 1600s,” he says, pointing to artifacts which date to that time period, “which fits with the Rosicrucians and the Francis Bacon theories. You’ve got the 11-1400s, which fits right in with the Templar theories. And we have dendro information from the slipway that someone was there doing a lot of work before searchers.” Doug Crowell echoes that notion, saying, “All of this changes the mystery as we know it… because it was supposed to be an uninhabited island in 1795 when the treasure hunt began as we know it, but this has shown us that there was a story, and there was activity going on here much earlier, and on possibly a very continual basis, whether it’s the same group or not.”

During the discussion, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton express their belief that some of the artifacts bolster the Knights Templar theory. Craig Tester, on the other hand, remarks that much of the evidence points to an event that took place in the late 1600s. Gary Drayton suggests that, based on the swage blocks found on Lot 21 and the pick head found at the Eye of the Swamp, tunnels may run beneath Oak Island in places other than the Money Pit area. Surveyor Steve Guptill then discloses that data collected during “strategic digs” indicates that the Paved Area measures 170’x 80’, and that, according to Dr. Ian Spooner, it may have lain at the edge of open water in the 1200s.

Once each of the treasure hunters have said their piece, Marty Lagina withdraws a modern toonie, or $2 Canadian coin, from his pocket and places it at the right end of the timeline. “That’s my toonie,” he says. “That’s the one I put down H8”. The narrator then reminds us that, back in Season 5, Episode 8, Marty threw a coin down H8 for good luck, saying “Go find your brother.” In the War Room, Marty observes that the PVC casing he tossed the toonie down was located about ten feet from the centre of RF1, indicating that the toonie drifted about ten feet underground. In light of this new evidence, the treasure hunters discuss the possibility that the Money Pit treasure similarly drifted underground from its original position, perhaps both vertically and horizontally.

Marty Lagina then asks the Fellowship whether they believe treasure still lies hidden somewhere on Oak Island. Every crew member but Alex Lagina, Laird Niven, and Dan Henskee express their belief that there is probably still treasure to be found on the Island. Marty himself states that he believes there to be a 40% possibility that Oak Island was ever the depository of treasure, and a 20% possibility that treasure remains to be found. “But that’s way farther than I ever was before,” he continues. “My leading theory, when I first came on this island, was that it was just collective madness.”

Next, the treasure hunters bring up the subject of the “Big Dig”- a long-discussed comprehensive excavation of the Money Pit area, which Marty Lagina estimates would cost tens of millions of dollars and take as long as three years to complete. The narrator then explains that the Big Dig would either involve the “construction a massive concrete shaft around the entire Money Pit area so that access to the vault would be unhampered by flooding,” or the drilling of a 100-foot-wide ring of boreholes which would be pumped full of some freezing agent, allowing the treasure hunters to excavate the Money Pit area without having to contend with floodwater.

“The Big Dig has been kind of hanging out there for a long time,” Marty Lagina summarizes in a later interview. “It’s almost like a child’s dream. The science is relatively simple. It’s just basically trying to make a solid ring around the Money Pit, and then plug the bottom of it, and then excavate that.” Rick Lagina then adds, “It’s enormously expensive from a financial [perspective, and] commitment of time and resources, but at the end of the day, you dig an 80 foot, 100-foot-in-diameter circle, we all know within that resides the original Money Pit. I think it’s ultimately the only way to really get to the bottom of what happened here on Oak Island.”

The Fellowship of the Dig concludes the War Room meeting and heads to Borehole 10-X, where a commemorative plaque honouring Dan Blankenship has been erected. The plaque reads:

“Daniel Christian Blankenship, 1923-2019

“A Titan of Oak Island

“This dedication stands as a memorial to his abounding drive for answers and unwavering faith in God.

“Dedicated Husband & Father

“Fearless Soldier

“Preserver of History

“Tenacious Treasure Hunter

“Dan was an inspiration to all who called him a faithful friend”

The Lagina brothers explain that the monument on which the plaque is affixed is composed of rock from Oak Island and old drill pipes that Dan Blankenship used during his Oak Island treasure hunt. Rick and Marty honour the veteran treasure hunter in a eulogy, keeping their speeches intentionally brief, since Dan, in the words of his son, Dave, was a man of few words.

 

Analysis

Dr. Spooner’s Third Analysis of the Swamp

In the previous episode, Dr. Ian Spooner extracted a stick wedged between the rocks which compose the Paved Area. In this episode, he had the stick carbon dated to about 1200 A.D., and took this as evidence that the Paved Area was artifically created at that time- a notion congruent with the Knights Templar theory.

This is not the first theory that Dr. Spooner has developed regarding Oak Island’s swamp. Back in Season 7, Episode 3, the geoscientist extracted core samples from the swamp’s ‘Ship Anomaly’, from which he concluded that the triangle-shaped bog was formed sometime in the 1600s, and supported trees and other forms of terrestrial vegatation prior to its transformation into a wetland.

Back in Season 7, Episode 9, Dr. Spooner and his graduate students extracted sticks and other organic matter from the ‘Eye of the Swamp’. The evidence gleaned from these samples, coupled with his discovery of unnaturally-interlayered organic matter and till in the swamp, led the geoscientist to conclude that the swamp first formed around 1220 A.D., and that the Eye of the Swamp was disturbed by man sometime between 1674 and 1700. He elaborated on this theory in Season 7, Episode 18, in which he suggested that the Eye of the Swamp constitutes the remains of a 300-year-old clay mine, and that the Paved Area constituted the roadway by which clay was transported from the mine onto ships.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 22: Marks X the Spot

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 22: Marks X the Spot

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 22 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the Money Pit area, where the excavation of Borehole RF1 is underway. The Fellowship of the Dig works feverishly to process the spoils, extracting old timbers and transporting the rest of the muck to the wash table. Some of the timbers are inscribed with Roman numerals, evoking the U-shaped structure. In a later interview, Rick and Marty Lagina explain that the large timbers extracted from RF1 are unlike those which comprise the Chappell or Hedden Shafts.

In RF1 spoils taken from a depth of about 120 feet, Gary Drayton discovers a strange iron crowbar-like device with a sharp hook on one end, which Rick Lagina suggests might have been used to maneuver timbers. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to show the artifact to Carmen Legge.

The next morning, Craig Tester and Alex Lagina drive to the Ross Farm Museum, where they show Carmen Legge some of the items they discovered in RF1. First, the blacksmithing expert examines the crowbar-like object and finds a “wear mark” on one side of the hooked end. “So, that tells me,” he says, “that it was sort of anchored into the wall of a rock formation… These would be driven into the roof or wall of a cave, and then lanterns or other working equipment like hoists and pulleys would be anchored on” the hook. When prompted by Craig Tester, Legge dates the artifact to the 1700s.

Next, Carmen Legge take a look at the pickaxe found at a depth of 90 feet in RF1 the previous episode. The blacksmithing expert identifies the artifact as a “very typical rock hammer” which would have been used in a tunnel or a cave, and declares that such an object could have been made as far back as the Middle Ages.

Back on Oak Island, Jack Begley and Steve Guptill search through 120-foot-deep RF1 spoils at a wash table. Jack picks out what appears to be a piece of rope. Shortly thereafter, he comes across a clump of coconut fibre. The treasure hunters are joined by Dan Henskee, whereupon Steve finds a mysterious black object, one side of which appears to be caked in concrete.

At the Money Pit area, the RF1 caisson reaches a depth of 160 feet- the neighbourhood of the Teardrop anomaly introduced in the previous episode. The hammergrab emerges from the caisson bearing a crumpled piece of sheet metal in its jaws. Doug Crowell identifies the object as a “shield” used in 1931 to protect the builders of the Chappell Shaft from falling debris.

As soon as the caisson begins its descent into uncharted territory below the Chappell Shaft, one of the brackets securing the oscillator to the hammergrab crane snaps due to the pressure. The contractors spend the rest of the day repairing the damage before resuming the excavation that evening. At a depth of 181 feet, the hammergrab brings up little aside from water. Vanessa Lucido informs the boys that the caisson is now advancing at a rate of 4 inches per hour due to some nether obstruction- probably limestone bedrock. “I have a super unconventional method we could try,” she says, before suggesting that they try raising the caisson five feet and setting the 50,000-pound hammergrab on top of it in an effort to slowly sink the caisson deeper into the obstruction. Rick and Marty Lagina agree to the proposal.

The following day, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Laird Niven drive to the foundations of Samuel Ball’s house on Oak Island’s Lot 25. The narrator informs us that Laird has acquired a permit to excavate the site in an archaeological manner, for which he said he would apply back in Season 7, Episode 18. After taking photographs of the site, the treasure hunters begin excavating the designated perimeters of the test pits with trowels. They are soon joined by Kelly Bourassa, Gary Drayton, and Jack Begley, who assist in the operation. Less than an inch below the surface, Bourassa uncovers a metal strip, which he identifies as hinge belonging to a building or a chest, as well as a metal bracket.

The next day, Alex Lagina, Billy Gerhardt, and Dr. Ian Spooner do some work in the Swamp’s Paved Area. Dr. Spooner extracts some wood taken from beneath the stones, which he hopes to carbon date. “This stick,” he says, “will tell me when that stone was placed”.

Back on Lot 25, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Laird Niven dig on the GPR anomaly discovered in Season 7, Episode 18. Several feet below the surface, Jack Begley hits a layer of stacked stones which appear to lie atop some sort of cavity- apparently, the anomaly indicated by the GPR scan. The treasure hunters are soon joined by Rick Lagina and Billy Gerhardt, the former of whom enthusiastically designates this potential tunnel on the Ball foundation the long-coveted “one thing… for the Ball foundation”.

The next day, the boys excavate more of the cavity before showing it to Marty and Alex Lagina. The treasure hunters proceed to invite Derek Hale, the owner of a company called ‘The Septic Doctor’, to Oak Island. Hale produces a hose with a small camera on the end from his truck, telling the crew that he and his employees use this device to “scope sewer lines”. Hale lowers the camera into the cavity, revealing a long, narrow stone tunnel. At an undisclosed distance from the cavity’s entrance, the camera’s progress is impeded by a rock lying in the middle of the tunnel. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to excavate the tunnel by hand in order to find out where it leads. “It’s a complete mystery what this is,” says Marty Lagina, “but it can’t be a tunnel to nowhere. It just can’t be. Nobody would do that.”

 

Analysis

The Lot 25 Tunnel

In this episode, the Oak Island crew excavated the foundation of Samuel Ball’s home on Oak Island’s Lot 25, where GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston discovered the presence of underground anomalies in Season 7, Episode 18. During the excavation, the treasure hunters uncovered a mysterious underground rock-lined tunnel which they plan to fully uncover in the future.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 21: A Leaf of Faith

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 21: A Leaf of Faith

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 21 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

While the Irving Equipment Ltd. crew fills in Borehole 8A, which was terminated in the previous episode, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room with geophysicist Jeremy Church of Eagle Canada. Church, who has had the opportunity to study the data collected during the seismic scan carried out in Season 7, Episode 6, shows the crew diagrams depicting various underground anomalies on the eastern half of Oak Island. First, the geoscientist shows the crew a representation of the Money Pit area on a screen. “Each one of these…” Church says, hovering his cursor over various irregularities, “these are all little disturbances- probably searcher tunnels. But within there, there’s a subtle, little anomaly.” Church then indicates a 13’ x 13’ feature located at the centre of the Money Pit area at a depth of 160 feet. He calls this feature the “Teardrop”, and reveals that the H8 shaft intersected its southern end. The narrator then remarks that this feature brings to mind the original Money Pit, which was said to have a diameter of 13 feet, and attempts to equate it with the Chappell Vault, which H8 is believed to have grazed and possibly pushed to the side.

Upon hearing Church’s report, Rick Lagina expresses pleasant surprise and suggests that the crew sink a caisson overtop of the Teardrop anomaly. Marty Lagina expresses similar sentiments and concludes the meeting.

Later that day, Rick Lagina, Doug Crowell, Billy Gerhardt, and Scott Barlow meet with botanist Dr. Roger Evans of Acadia University at the Eye of the Swamp. There, they show the scientist the largest of the three oak stumps unearthed in the area in Season 7, Episode 16. Dr. Evans extracts some bark from the stump and promises to examine it at his lab, remarking that the ease with which he removed the material reminds him of cork oak, a tree native to Portugal. The narrator proceeds to suggest that Portuguese explorers, or perhaps the Portuguese Knights of Christ- groups around which various Oak Island theories revolve- may have planted cork oak trees on Oak Island for some purpose. Scott Barlow then discloses that he has always believed the mysterious oak trees which once grew on Oak Island were intentionally planted as markers by the original treasure depositors.

The next day, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room with Lee Lamb and Richard Restall, the children and siblings, respectively, of former Oak Island treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall. The Lagina brothers show the Restall siblings a variety of artifacts they discovered on the island over the years which seem to indicate human activity predating the 1795 discovery of the Money Pit. Lee then tells the treasure hunters about an incident which took place during her family’s Oak Island tenure. As Lee tells it, Robert and Bobby Restall’s first operation on Oak Island was the excavation of a trench on Smith’s Cove. On the morning following their first day of digging, the Restall father and son found their trench filled with water. Floating on the water’s surface was a leaf and a cluster of acorns. For some reason, Robert Restall formed the opinion that the leaf was not from one of the so-called “canopy oaks” for which the island was named, but rather a piece of the mysterious coconut fibre-eelgrass filtration system believed to prevent the Smith’s Cove box drains from becoming flooded with sand and debris. “It was part of the filtration system,” Lee says, “and it was coming from underneath. They used eelgrass, coconut fibre… and sometimes branches.” Lee then presents the treasure hunters with two envelopes, one of them containing leaf in question, which the Restalls had pressed so as to preserve it, and the other containing some of the acorns which Robert and Bobby had recovered from Smith’s Cove. Marty Lagina thanks Lee and Richard for bringing the specimens and informs them that the team with have them analyzed by Dr. Roger Evans.

Following the War Room meeting, Rick Lagina drives Richard Restall to the dilapidated remains of the old Restall shack, which Fred Nolan transported years ago onto his own property. Inside the ruins, Richard describes the bygone furnishings which once transformed the former tool shed into his family’s Oak Island home, pointing out the corner where the radio once stood and the spot where his bunk used to be. “That was the sum total of our existence,” he concludes, after describing how he would spend his evenings reading while his brother, Bobby, wrote letters or entries in his journal. “That was it. It was pretty Spartan.”

Following Richard Restall’s tour, Doug Crowell and Scott Barlow, who have since joined the two Ricks, reveal that they intend to refurbish the shack and return it to the state in which it existed while it served as the Restall family home. “Keep it as sparse as you can,” Richard advises, “because there was nothing fancy about that shack.”

The next day, the Lagina brothers, Craig Tester, and Dr. Roger Evans meet with Lee Lamb and Richard Restall in the Oak Island Research Centre. There, the treasure hunters show Dr. Evans the leaf and acorns with which the Restall siblings provided them during their War Room meeting. The botanist compares the Restall acorns with local red oak acorns and concludes that the two derive from different species of oak, conceding the possibility that the Restall acorns may have derived from a type of oak which someone brought to Oak Island and planted long ago. When prompted by Richard Restall, Dr. Evans expresses his belief that the Restall acorns could not have floated across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe or Africa due to their poor resistance to the deleterious effects of salt water. Unfortunately, the botanist declares that it is unlikely the team will be able to extract any DNA from the Restall acorns for identification purposes due to their advanced age.

Rick and Marty Lagina then drive the Restall siblings to the Money Pit area, where the rest of the team is preparing to sink a caisson on the Teardrop anomaly introduced earlier in the episode. Rick informs Lee and Richard that the team has decided to name this caisson ‘RF1’, an acronym for “Restall Family 1”, in honour of the Restall family’s contributions towards the Oak Island treasure hunt. The treasure hunters look on as Lee and Richard start up the oscillator, initiating the sinking of RF1.

The Fellowship of the Dig resumes the excavation of RF1 the following day. At a depth of 86 feet, the shaft encounters timbers, which Craig Tester suggests are part of the Chappell Shaft. When the shaft reaches a depth of 100 feet, Gary Drayton begins examining each load of material removed from the caisson with his metal detector. Following Gary’s preliminary examination, the spoils are transferred to a wash table, where they are manually washed and sifted through by Jack Begley and Steve Guptill. At the wash table, Steve Guptill finds a shard of red pottery. “That’s really old pottery, Steve,” Jack says. “Look at how thick it is! The thicker, the older, too, and that’s the thickest pottery I’ve seen at this wash table.”

Shortly after Steve Guptill’s discovery, Gary Drayton finds the upper half of an old pickaxe in a batch of RF1 spoils brought up from a depth of 90 feet. Gary shows Terry Matheson his find before calling over Rick and Marty Lagina. Gary remarks that this artifact appears to have the same style as the pickaxe he discovered at the Eye of the Swamp in Season 7, Episode 13, which Carmen Legge, in Season 7, Episode 14, dated from the mid to late 1700s. “It’s a cool artifact,” says Marty of the pick in a later interview. “I can tell you without going to the venerable Carmen Legge. It was probably built long ago.” Unfortunately, since the pick was found at a depth of 90 feet, it probably constitutes the leavings of a previous searcher rather than that of an original depositor.

Below the 100-foot depth, the hammergrab brings up loads of large hand-cut timbers, which the treasure hunters set to the side. One of these timbers has a wooden dowel protruding from its end, evoking the wooden pegs found in the U-shaped structure. The artifact’s resemblance to the Smith’s Cove feature is further enhanced when Gary Drayton discovers what appears to be the Roman numeral ‘II’ carved into the wood. The treasure hunters speculate that this timber and the others like it might have been left by the original Money Pit depositors and agree to have them dendrochronolically tested.

 

Analysis

The Teardrop

In this episode, geoscientist Jeremy Church of Eagle Canada showed the Oak Island crew the results of the seismic survey carried out by Eagle Canada in Season 7, Episode 6. On a diagram of the Money Pit area, he pointed out a 160-foot-deep 13’x13’ anomaly he calls the “Teardrop”, and revealed that Borehole H8 intersected the southern end of this feature.

This scene is reminiscent of Season 6, Episode 3, in which Jeremy Church showed Rick and Marty various diagrams based off seismic survey data collected in Season 6, Episode 1. In that episode, Church pointed out a 10-foot-tall anomaly in the Money Pit area which lay at a depth of 160 to 170 feet- essentially, the same feature as the “Teardrop” anomaly introduced in this episode. The feature appeared to be a cavern in the hard limestone, the edge of which Borehole H8 apparently clipped. Oak Island Tours Inc. searched for this supposed cavern via exploration drilling in Season 6, Episode 4 and recovered a fragment of possible coconut fibre and a piece of axe-hewn wood at a depth of 170 feet from a drillhole called H7.5.

In Season 6, Episode 12, Mike Roberts and Joey Rolfe of Divetech Ltd. lowered a camera-equipped ROV into H8, with which they conducted a sonar scan of the anomaly. At a depth of 170 feet- the bottom of the alleged cavity- the scanner picked up what appeared to be the right-angled corner of a void. Before the operation could be completed, the scanner and camera malfunctioned and the ROV filled with water, becoming the most recent additions to a long list of unexplainable equipment failures on Oak Island.

The Oak Leaf and Acorns

In this episode, Lee Lamb and Richard Restall showed the Oak Island team a pressed oak leaf and a handful of acorns which their father had retrieved from a flooded exploratory trench he dug at Smith’s Cove. According to Lee, Robert Restall believed that these items did not come from a local red Oak, but had rather floated up from the Smith’s Cove filter. Botanist Dr. Roger Evans examined these specimens and concluded that they do not belong to the same species of red oak endemic to that part of Nova Scotia.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 20: Springing the Trap

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 20: Springing the Trap

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 20 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the Money Pit area, where the sinking of caisson 8A is underway. The shaft reaches a depth of 78 feet without incident, passing through what appears to be in situ soil.

Meanwhile, Alex Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Billy Gerhardt dig an exploratory trench between the Eye of the Swamp and the Paved Wharf. Less than a foot below the surface, they uncover a layer of large rocks embedded in clay, which Gary suggests might be a continuation of the Paved Area. The boys then do some metal detecting in the trench and come across two long, thin iron rods bearing resemblance to the pieces of primitive rebar found near the slipway in Season 7, Episode 11, and to the crib spikes discovered at Smith’s Cove throughout Seasons 6 and 7. Gary remarks that these artifacts, which are the first of their kind to be discovered in the Oak Island swamp, constitute evidence of tunneling or shaft-building in the area, similar to the pickaxe head found at the Eye of the Swamp in Season 7, Episode 13. He then suggests that they show the artifacts to Carmen Legge.

Alex, Gary, and Billy continue digging and quickly come across several pieces of charred wood. The narrator then reminds us of the theory, introduced in Season 7, Episode 14, following the discovery of the scorched metal bracket in the northern section of the swamp, that a sailing ship was burned centuries ago in the swamp. Gary Drayton suggests that they show the wood to Dr. Ian Spooner, while Alex Lagina suggests that they have the pieces carbon dated.

The three treasure hunters then call over Rick and Marty Lagina and show them their recent swamp discoveries. Marty confidently identifies one of the metal rods as a crib spike, concurring with Gary Drayton’s earlier assessment, and expresses surprise that such an object would be found in the swamp. “What does it mean?” he asks, clearly frustrated by the discoveries’ mysterious implications.

The next morning, the Oak Island crew congregates at the Money Pit area to watch the sinking of Borehole 8A. At a depth of about 103 feet- five feet shy of the approximate target depth, the suspected location of the Shaft 6 tunnel- the caisson encounters some resistant material

which caisson operator Danny Smith believes to be wood. The next hammergrab load indeed contains a handful of splintered wood, to Danny’s obvious delight. Certain that 8A has intersected the Shaft 6 tunnel, the treasure hunters extract several more hammergrab loads from the caisson, which they scan with a metal detector before washing by hand. The spoils yields many tiny scraps of leather, evoking the leather fragments recovered from Borehole H8 throughout Seasons 5 and 6, as well as the leather piece found in Borehole S6 in Season 6, Episode 17. The narrator then reveals that 8A lies ten feet southeast of H8.

 

 

The crew continues to excavate 8A, finding a large hand-cut piece of oak at a depth of 114 feet. Gary Drayton then examines the spoils with his metal detector. “Talk about finding a needle in a haystack,” he says as he retrieves what he identifies as a sail cloth needle from the muck.

The next day, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Gary Drayton drive to the Ross Farm Museum, where they show Carmen Legge the thin iron rods they found in the swamp. The blacksmithing expert identifies the longer of the two artifacts as a tine from a “long fork or a seaweed fork or a moss fork”. He then suggests that the shorter rod, which is tapered at both ends, might be a marlinspike- a tool used for nautical rope work and rope repair. The narrator subsequently attempts to connect the possible marlinespike with the theory that a sailing ship was burned or buried centuries ago in the Oak Island swamp. Finally, the treasure hunters show Legge the needle-like object found at a depth of 114 in Borehole 8A. Although the blacksmithing expert initially declares that he has no idea what the object is or what it was doing at depth in the Money Pit area, he later opines that it is too large to be a sailing cloth needle, and suggests that it might have served as a spike in a trou de loup-type booby trap.

Later, while the Oak Island crew gathers at the Money Pit area to oversee the completion of Borehole 8A, Jack Begley and Steve Guptill manually wash some of the spoils already extracted from the shaft at a wash table. Steve finds a piece of what appears to be hand-wrought metal, which Jack suggests might be a piece of a hinge. The treasure hunters are then joined by Laird Niven, who independently, tentatively identifies the object as part of a strap hinge.

Back at the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters sink the 8A caisson to a depth of about 165 feet. The last few hammergrab loads contain nothing but water, prompting the Fellowship to abandon the hole.

 

Analysis

The Fork Tine and the Marlinespike

In this episode, Gary Drayton and Alex Lagina discovered two thin iron objects in the Oak Island swamp between the Eye of the Swamp and the Paved Wharf. Although the objects bear some resemblance to the crib spikes found at Smith’s Cove throughout Seasons 6 and 7, and to the rebar found near the slipway in Season 7, Episode 11, blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge identified one of them as the tine of a long fork, and the other as a marlinespike- a tool used for nautical rope work and rope repair.

Leather in the Money Pit

In this episode, Oak Island Tours Inc. recovered many tiny scraps of leather from a depth of 103 feet in Borehole 8A, the suspected location of the junction of the Money Pit and the Shaft 6 tunnel.

These are not the first pieces of leather to be found on Oak Island. Throughout Seasons 5 and 6, the crew discovered fragments of leather in Borehole H8, some of them at a depth of 162 feet. At least one of these fragments was determined to be vegetable-tanned book binding through which sheepskin parchment was woven. Strikingly similar to the events of this episode, the crew also found leather at a depth of 101 feet in Borehole S6 in Season 6, Episode 17, at what was then suspected to be the confluence of the Money Pit and the Shaft 6 tunnel.

The Booby Trap Spike

In this episode, the crew discovered an iron needle at a depth of 114 feet in Borehole 8A. Although Gary Drayton initially identified the artifact as a sail cloth needle, blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge suggested that the artifact might have served as a spike in a trou de loup-type booby trap at the bottom of the Money Pit.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 19: Lords of the Ring

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 19: Lords of the Ring

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 19 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the Money Pit area, where the excavation of caisson OC1 is underway. At a depth of 50 feet, the caisson intersects what appears to be the remains of the Hedden Shaft. The treasure hunters stand by as the hammergrab brings up load after load of timber.

Later, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton do some metal detecting along the southern lip of the Oak Island swamp. After unearthing the lid of a tin can, they come across an old ring on which a flower and other decorations have been engraved. Visibly pleased with this new discovery, Gary designates the ring a “top pocket find” and puts it away for future analysis.

Rick and Gary proceed to the Oak Island Research Centre, where they show the ring to Marty Lagina, Laird Niven, and Kelly Bourassa. Marty and Laird observe that the ring is quite small- an indication that it was probably intended for a woman. Laird examines the artifact under a Grobet digital microscope, revealing a silver inlay in the grooves that make up the ring’s central flower motif. Bourassa points out that the artifact contains two different types of corrosion, one of them green and the other reddish, which he suggests might be an indication that the ring is composed of a copper alloy. While pondering ring’s implications, Rick refers to the artifact’s central ornament as a “starburst”,

evoking the 18th Century silver laminate dandy button which Gary Drayton and Charles Barkhouse discovered at Isaac’s Point in Season 7, Episode 1. Marty concludes the preliminary inspection by suggesting that they show the ring to gemologist and master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain, who analyzed Lot 8 and Lot 21 brooches back in Season 6, Episode 2.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson meet with oscillator operator Danny Smith at the Money Pit area, where they learn that OC1 has reached a depth of about 105 feet. Craig remarks that everything extracted below this point is of potential interest and will need to be examined. Rick asks Smith to inform him and the team if anything unusual occurs henceforth in the excavation.

The ROC and Irving Equipment Ltd. crews continue to excavate OC1, pausing after every hammergrab scoop to allow the treasure hunters to process the spoils. The Fellowship searches through each hammergrab load with a metal detector, manually extricates every large timber or piece of wood, and transfers the rest of the muck into the wash plant for sifting. In a later interview, Marty Lagina declares his intention to submit some of the wood extracted from OC1 for dendrochronological testing.

The treasure hunters watch as the hammergrab emerges from the caisson with a large metal object in its jaws. Although the artifact brings to mind the metal artifacts brought up from the GAL1 caisson in Season 4, Episode 15, Craig Tester declares that the object must be the “Hedden shield”- a notion with which his fellow treasure hunters immediately concur. “That hasn’t seen the light of day since 1936,” Doug Crowell says. The narrator then explains that this artifact is almost certainly the 6-foot-tall metal brace of “shield” with which the Hedden Shaft was reinforced back in the 1930s.

Later that day, the treasure hunters examine the OC1 spoils which the wash plant has sorted. Paul Troutman finds several fragments of glass

and pottery with which Rick Lagina is unimpressed. Paul then comes across a large piece of what appears to be bone- perhaps human bone- which had lain at a depth of about 120 feet. The narrator reminds us that, back in Season 5, Episodes 5 and 6, 17th Century human bones were discovered in Borehole H8. These bones, however, were discovered at a depth of 160-165 feet.

That same afternoon, the Oak Island team congregates in the War Room and calls up Charles Lewton-Brain, who has had a chance to examine photographs of the ring found at the southern edge of the swamp. The gemologist and master goldsmith tells the crew that he observed evidence of crude repairs made to the ring, their purposes being to make the ring “much bigger” and “a little smaller”, respectively. These repairs were made with silver, while Lewton-Brain suspects that the rest of the ring is composed of either bronze or a copper-silver alloy. The goldsmith states that the ring’s floral design appears to have been hand-chiseled, which he claims is potential evidence that the artifact was crafted prior to the 1730s. “Saw blades,” he explains, “don’t really become available to jewelers until the 1730s, 1750s, and so, prior to that, you would be cutting the metal out with a chisel.” Lewton-Brain goes on to identify the style as European, and possibly Spanish.

The next day, the crew resumes the excavation of OC1. Somewhere below 120 feet, the hammergrab picks up half of a circular wooden sheet which Terry Matheson identifies as “the top or bottom of a barrel”. In the same load, the treasure hunters find a short wooden slat which Matheson identifies as a stave of the same barrel. These artifacts reminds Doug Crowell of the yellow-painted wooden disk discovered by the Oak Island Association at a depth of 118 feet in 1861.

At a depth of about 147 feet, the hammergrab brings up an axe-cut beam. As the treasure hunters are unaware of any wood-cribbed searcher shafts or tunnels having been constructed at that depth, they deduce that the wood must be part of the original Money Pit. Disappointingly, the next few hammergrab loads contain nothing of interest. The treasure hunters decide to abandon the shaft at a depth of 158 feet in order to avoid destroying the caisson’s teeth on the bedrock below.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Doug Crowell drive to the home of the late Dan Blankenship. There, they are greeted by Dave’s sister, Linda Flowers, who now owns the house. Linda takes the boys to Dan’s old office, where the veteran treasure hunter kept his records, and leaves them to search through the papers for any clue which might help them select the location of their next Money Pit shaft.

The next day, Rick Lagina meets in the Oak Island Research Centre with Charles Barkouse, Doug Crowell, Laird Niven, and Steve Guptill. Rick assigns his fellow treasure hunters the task of determining the location of their next shaft in the Money Pit area. “We’ve got a lot of date [which] keeps on pointing in a similar area,” Steve says, “but that area isn’t tight enough.” Doug then produces a sheet of paper he discovered in the archive of Dan Blankenship, which he asks his fellow crewmembers to take a look at. Doug explains that this document was produced by Erwin Hamilton, who looked for treasure on Oak Island from 1938-1941, and contains a birds-eye diagram depicting the old searcher tunnels which Hamilton re-excavated during his Oak Island tenure. In a later interview, Rick Lagina expresses his hope that this document will help the team more accurately determine the location and orientation of the Shaft 6 tunnel, which constituted one of their primary goals throughout Season 6. Steve Guptill agrees to compare the diagram with the coordinates he has already plotted.

The next day, the crew meets at the Money Pit area, where the sinking of a new shaft called ‘8A’ is about to commence. The narrator informs us that, aided by Hamilton’s diagram, Steve Guptill was able to pinpoint what he believes to be the location of Shaft 6 and its tunnel. Similar to Shaft S6, which was excavated in Season 6, Episodes 17 and 18, 8A will be sunk at the suspected junction of the Shaft 6 tunnel and the Money Pit- a site located about 20 feet southwest of OC1. The treasure hunters express their optimism in the project as the 8A caisson begins its descent into the earth.

 

Analysis

The Ring in the Swamp

In this episode, Gary Drayton and Rick Lagina discovered a metal ring engraved with a floral motif at the southern edge of the Oak Island swamp. Gemologist and master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain of the Alberta College of Art and Design examined photos of this artifact and observed that its central motif appears to have been hand-chiseled. He took this as evidence that the ring might date prior to the mid-18th Century, when jewelers began cutting out metal with saw blades rather than chisels. He tentatively identified the engraving’s style as European, and possibly Spanish.

In the days following this episode’s first airing, at least two fans of The Curse of Oak Island posted photos of very similar rings to various Oak Island-related Facebook groups, these baubles being identical in every respect to the artifact found in the swamp save for their coloration and lack of tarnish or corrosion. One of these fans, whose ring has a bright silver colour, claimed to have found his own trinket in 2015, in a farmer’s field in Wisconsin. Another, whose ring is bronze-coloured, claimed to have been given this ring by her mother forty years ago. In a Facebook thread attached to a photo of the bronze-coloured ring, a specialist who has appeared on the show in the past declared that, although he is not a jewelry expert, this object looks “like stamped costume jewelry with a silvered copper alloy core”.

If the bronze-coloured ring is indeed a piece of modern costume jewelry, and if the ring found in the swamp is a piece from the same batch, as it appears to be, then it seems likely that the artifact discovered in this episode is a relatively modern item which was deposited in the swamp sometime in the last century. This possibility evokes the so-called “Swordgate” scandal in which archaeologist Andy White and writer Jason Colavito demonstrated that the supposed Roman gladius showcased in Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11 of The Curse of Oak Island is not a genuine Roman artifact but rather a relatively modern souvenir item of a type once sold to tourists in Italy.

About a week after the first ring owners came forth with their jewelry, an American Oak Island researcher named John Frick announced on various Oak Island-related Facebook groups that he had determined the swamp ring’s manufacturer to be Joseph Esposito, a jewelry manufacturing company established in 1910. Frick purchased a ring of the same model on Ebay and found that, allowing for tarnish and corrosion, it was virtually identical to the ring found in the swamp. Although Frick’s claims drew some harassment from fans of the show, an expert who has appeared on Oak Island in the past came to his defense, writing the following as a reply to his post:

“John Frick did his homework well. Scientific analysis results on the metals that comprise the ring, performed after the filming wrapped and which I read constantly, pointed to a unique plating method that was developed after 1930. Knowing this, even though the earlier opinion that the fabrication method could allow the ring to be much older, it became obvious this year that it was not. What you don’t often see on TV is the real lag time in receiving test results. The show tells the story of the hunt, and sometimes test results come in too late to be of impact to the show.”

The Barrel Bottom

In this episode, the Oak Island crew discovered a piece of what appears to be the head or bottom of a barrel, along with what might be a stave of that barrel, below a depth of 120 feet in Borehole OC1. These artifacts reminded Doug Crowell of a similar object discovered by the Oak Island Association at a depth of 118 feet in 1861.

That summer, the Oak Island Association sank the 118-foot-deep Shaft 6 eighteen feet west of the Money Pit. That accomplished, they tunneled towards the Money Pit, hoping to circumvent the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel (Oak Island Tours Inc. mapped this tunnel via exploration drilling throughout Season 6). Much to their pleasure, the Association men reached the Money Pit without being flooded out; the circumvention was a success. With the elusive treasure nowhere to be seen at that 118-foot-depth, the treasure hunters proceeded to dig through the Money Pit’s eastern wall. As soon as they did, water began to seep in from the east, and in no time, both Shaft 6 and the Money Pit were both completely flooded with seawater. The Association men proceeded to bail water from Shaft 6. That accomplished, they began to clear the tunnel of the mud and debris which had filled it. The first pieces of debris they removed, which presumably slid into the tunnel from the Money Pit during the flooding, included fragments of age-blackened wood, a spruce slab perforated by an auger hole, a hand-cut branch of juniper, and a round yellow-painted object resembling a dish or the bottom of a barrel. The barrel bottom recovered from OC1 reminds Doug Crowell of the latter artifact.

No sooner had the labourers begun the job of clearing the tunnel than, according to foreman Jotham McCully, “they heard a tremendous crash in the Money Pit and barely escaped being caught by the rush of mud which followed them into the West pit and filled it up 7 feet in less than three minutes.”

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 18: The Turning Point

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 18: The Turning Point

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 18 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The Lagina brothers and Dave Blankenship stand by as Irving Equipment Ltd. and ROC Equipment deliver 8-foot-wide caissons, an oscillator, and a crane to Oak Island. The trio meets with Vanessa Lucido, Jared Busby and Danny Smith, who inform them that they have brought 210 feet of caisson to Oak Island, and will be able to 202-foot-deep shafts.

While ROC and Irving set up their equipment in the Money Pit area, Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, Steve Guptill, and Dr. Ian Spooner resume their excavations at the Eye of the Swamp. Dr. Spooner, who has been examining the geological makeup of the dig site with a trowel, shows Rick a sample of material he extracted from beneath one of the boulders uncovered in Season 7, Episode 16, and sites it as proof that the boulders constitute relatively recent additions to the swamp. While the dig resumes, Spooner informs Rick that the vibracore samples of the Eye of the Swamp which he and his graduate students extracted in Season 7, Episode 9 contained high concentrations of mercury and lead near their bottoms, which he takes as an indication of human activity. In a later interview, Rick Lagina remarks that the presence of mercury in the swamp evokes Petter Amundsen’s theory that Francis Bacon is the man behind the Oak Island mystery, and that the lost manuscripts of William Shakespeare, written in Bacon’s hand and preserved in mercury, lie buried on Oak Island. Although the show fails to mention it, Spooner’s disclosure also brings to mind the lump of scrap lead which Gray Drayton discovered in Season 7, Episode 16, on the beach of Oak Island’s Lot 18, which Dr. Chris McFarlane, in the previous episode, revealed contains a significant quantity of mercury.

The next day, the Oak Island team meets at the swamp with archaeologist Aaron Taylor, a colleague of Dr. Spooner’s who teaches archaeology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Taylor examines some of the stones in the swamp and opines that they were not deposited by glaciers. “In archaeology,” he says, “we have an expression: ‘when in doubt, excavate’”. He then suggests that the crew subject a section of the swamp’s stone formations to a formal archaeological excavation. When pressed by Marty Lagina, he admits that he believes the stones were placed by man.

Following Aaron Taylor’s preliminary analysis, Dr. Spooner proffers his own theory that the Eye of the Swamp constitutes the remains of a 300-year-old clay mine, considering the significant quantities of blue clay which Jack Begley discovered at the site in Season 7, Episode 16. Taylor concurs with his theory and elaborates on it by suggesting that, if the Eye of the Swamp is indeed the site of a clay mine, the Paved Wharf might have been constructed as a roadway by which clay could be transported from the mine to the beach, where it could be loaded onto ships.

That evening, the Fellowship of the Dig congregates in the Mug & Anchor Pub in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. There, the treasure hunters discuss Ian Spooner and Aaron Taylor’s theory that the Eye of the Swamp is the site of an old blue clay mine. Rick Lagina concludes the meeting with the toast: “To the swamp!”, to which Marty Lagina, who has made no secret of his aversion to the swamp, refuses to raise his glass.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Steve Guptill meet with Vanessa Lucido and Mike Jardine at the Money Pit area. The narrator informs us that the team plans to sink a caisson at a site dubbed ‘OC1’. While the oscillator is moved into position, Lucido remarks that this custom-built piece of machinery weighs 110,000 pounds- nearly double the weight of the oscillator used in prior seasons, which weighed 64,000 pounds.

Later that day, Rick Lagina, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and Billy Gerhardt excavate the edges of the Paved Wharf in the hopes of better determining the extent of the structure. The treasure hunters observe a rapid influx of water into one of the trenches they dig and speculate as to the water’s sources, of which there appear to be two. Jack notes that some of the water appears to be issuing from a cluster of rocks, which he suggests might be part of the Paved Area. “It’s very simple,” says Rick in a later interview. “If you have a pile of rocks, water will flow through, certainly. Was it a way to conduct water from one area to another? It’s possible. It’d be great if it were a French drain [Season 4, Episode 13] or part of the flood tunnel system, but as of yet, we have not been able to ascertain its purpose.” The treasure hunters are soon joined by Craig Tester, who observes that some of the water appears to be flowing into the trench from the direction of the beach, and suggests that they ought to try to take samples of each apparent water source in order to determine whether they are fresh or salty. Billy extracts some of the water with the bucket of his excavator, the runoff from which Rick collects in a bottle and tastes. Rick declares that the water tastes brackish- an indication that one of the water sources might be Smith’s Cove.

The next day, Charles Barkhouse, Doug Crowell, and Laird Niven meet with GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston at Oak Island’s Lot 25, where Samuel Ball’s home once stood. The narrator informs us that, although the foundation of Ball’s cabin is a protected heritage site, and that treasure hunters are precluded from excavating within 200 feet of the ruins, Laird Niven has secured a special permit to allow Watson and Johnston to conduct a GPR scan of the area.

 

As the GPR experts prepare to carry out their scan, Rick Lagina shows Ian Spooner the recently-dug trench in the Oak Island swamp which appears to be fed by multiple sources of water. Rick and Dr. Spooner watch as Billy Gerhardt drains the trench, which is now full of water, with his backhoe.

Back on Lot 25, Steve Watson and Don Johnston discover what appear to be underground wall near the Ball foundations with their GPR scanner. Shortly thereafter, they come across another anomaly which appears to lie 1.5 feet below the surface. When the GPR experts complete their survey, Laird Niven states that he thinks they now have sufficient data to apply for an excavation permit from the Nova Scotian government.

Later, Rick Lagina, Dan Henskee, and Dave Blankenship drive to the Money Pit area, where they find the rest of the crew in attendance. The treasure hunters stand by while Dave Blankenship and Dan Hensee start up the oscillator which is now in place, initiating the sinking of the massive caisson dubbed ‘OC1’.

 

Analysis

The Clay Mine Theory

In this episode, Dr. Ian Spooner put forth the theory that the Eye of the Swamp might constitute the remains of a 300-year-old clay mine, considering the significant quantities of blue clay which Jack Begley discovered at the site in Season 7, Episode 16. His colleague, Aaron Taylor, who teaches archaeology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, concurred with his assessment.

Dr. Spooner is not the first to hypothesize that Oak Island was once the site of a clay mine. Back in Season 3, Episode 6, miner John O’Brien outlined his own theory that pre-Conquista Mayans discovered palygorskite clay on Oak Island in around 800 A.D. Palygorskite is a rare type of clay arguably most famous for being a key constituent of Maya blue, a bright blue pigment used by members of the Maya civilization. Essentially a mixture of palygorskite and indigo dye, Maya blue was employed as a colorant in ceramics, murals, sculptures, and illuminated codices, and was used to paint sacrificial human victims during Mayan rituals. Mysteriously, palygorkite clay is not known to exist in any substantial natural deposits in Mesoamerica. John O’Brien believes that the “blue clay” discovered at depth on Oak Island over the years is, in fact, a rare form of naturally blue palygorskite clay. He maintains that this substance, having a natural blue pigmentation, would have been especially valuable to the Maya. O’Brien contents that Maya miners sank shafts on and dug tunnels beneath Oak Island throughout the Middle Ages in search of this material. He also believes that, during the Conquista of Hernan Cortes, members of the dying Aztec Empire secreted their most valuable treasures out of Mexico and entombed them on Oak Island, in the old Mayan mine shafts.

 

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The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15.

The Chipewyans of Lake Athabasca

On the morning of February 20th, the Assiniboine broke camp and, accompanied by Henry and his companions, set out for Fort de la Corne. They arrived at the fort on the evening of February 28th, having stopped at another Assiniboine village in the middle of their journey and convinced its inhabitants to similarly pay a visit to the French-turned-English fur trading fort. There, Great Road’s warriors exchanged dried meat and furs for European trinkets.

The Assiniboine spent four days at the fort, whereupon they parted amicably with Henry and the other traders, apparently satisfied with their reception. Henry himself left the fort on March 22nd and returned to Amisk Lake. There, Henry and the fort’s occupants spent the next two months fishing and hunting fowl. On May 21st, Alexander Henry, Joseph Frobisher, and forty French-Canadian voyageurs set out for the northerly Churchill River, which empties into Hudson Bay. They reached their destination with little difficulty and met up with Thomas Frobisher, who had made the same journey earlier. Together, the party travelled up the Churchill River, hoping to meet with a band of Chipewyan Indians who had travelled all the way from Lake Athabasca (which Henry called “Lake Arabuthcow”), with whom Thomas Frobisher had scheduled a rendezvous.

The Europeans met with the natives upriver as prearranged. After exchanging gifts, the traders asked the Chipewyans to accompany them to Amisk Lake. The Indians acquiesced, and the party made the return journey without incident, accompanied by their new native friends. At Frobisher-Henry Fort, the Chipewyans traded furs for rum, diluted at their own request, and for guns, ammunition, blankets, hatchets, and other European goods. Throughout the course of their transactions, the natives told the Europeans about Peace River Country, the Pacific Ocean west of the Rocky Mountains, and of the Slave River which empties into Great Slave Lake.

Once their business was concluded, the Chipewyans set out on their return journey to Lake Athabasca, accompanied by Thomas Frobisher. Alexander Henry, on the other hand, decided to return to the Grand Portage on the western shores of Lake Superior. All throughout the journey, Henry and his travelling companions met with Indians who informed them that strange white men from the southeast had killed all the Englishmen in Montreal and Quebec, and would soon occupy the Great Lakes. Henry suspected, and later learned definitively, that these were exaggerated tidings of the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

The Beaver Club

Although Alexander Henry the Elder’s memoirs end with his return to the Grand Portage, this point does not mark the end of his adventures. In the fall of 1776, Henry sailed to England, where he visited the London headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company and proposed that the great British fur trading syndicate make a practice of hiring the French-Canadians voyageurs of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. That accomplished, he proceeded to Versailles, France, where he gained audience with the French queen, Marie Antoinette.

Alexander Henry returned to British North America in the spring of 1777 and thrust himself back into the fur trade, conducting most of his business on the Great Lakes. He returned to England twice more, in 1778 and 1780, before finally settling in Montreal, where he established himself as a merchant. Throughout the 1780s, he had five children with a wealthy English widow named Julia Kittson, whom he eventually married in the summer of 1785.

In February of that year, Alexander Henry and eighteen fellow English fur traders who had cut their teeth in the Great Lakes and the Northwest beyond- including the Frobisher brothers, Peter Pond, and other friends Henry had made during his travels; many of them co-founders of the North West Company, a Montreal-based fur trading enterprise which would serve as rival to the Hudson’s Bay Company throughout the late 18th and early 19th Centuries- established a gentleman’s club which they called the ‘Beaver Club’. These nouveau riche gentlemen frontiersmen established a tradition of meeting at one another’s homes,

or hotels or taverns in Montreal, for very peculiar dinners. Dressed in their finest clothes, club members would initiate the evening’s festivities by passing around a peace pipe in the Indian style, as every one of them had done around countless campfires during their adventures in the Canadian wilds. When the ritual was complete, the frontiersmen would sit down to a feast of country fare, the menu including courses such as pemmican, venison, buffalo tongue, whitefish, and wild rice, all prepared in European style and served with the finest crystal and silverware. When the meal was finished, the participants would spend the rest of the night drinking, smoking, dancing, singing old voyageur songs, and regaling each other with tales of their exploits and adventures during their fur trading days.

Prompted by financial difficulties, Alexander Henry returned to the fur trade in the spring of 1786 and remained in the business until 1790. In the 1790s, Henry played a role in organizing North West Company fur shipments to Qing China.

Alexander Henry spent the rest of his days in Montreal, enjoying a place in high society and remaining an active and enthusiastic member of the Beaver Club. He spent his time engaging in various business ventures, serving as a captain in the Canadian militia, and working as a justice of the peace. In a private letter to a friend, penned in 1809, he lamented the changing spirit of the Canadian fur trade, writing, “There is only us four old friends alive, all the new North westards are a parcel of Boys and upstarts, who were not born in our time, and supposes they know much more of the Indian trade than any before him.”

On April 4th, 1824, 85-year-old Alexander Henry the Elder passed away in his home in Montreal, leaving behind five children, an entertaining and historically invaluable memoir, and a place in history as one of the first “pedlars”, or English coureur des bois, to resume the Great Lakes and Northwestern fur trade in the wake of the British conquest of New France.

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14.

Across the Prairies

On January 1, 1776, Alexander Henry decided to visit the westerly prairies. Accompanied by two French-Canadians, Henry snowshoed to Cumberland House, struggling through deep snow and suffering bitterly cold temperatures. In addition to his two employees, Henry was accompanied on this first leg of the journey by Joseph Frobisher, whom, he wrote in gratitude, “is certainly the first man that ever went the same distance in such a climate and upon snowshoes to convey a friend.”

Henry and his men snowshoed across Cumberland Lake and continued up the Saskatchewan River. The temperature was so cold that the explorers were obliged to sleep huddled together on the same buffalo robe. When the travellers ran out of provisions, Henry produced a bar of chocolate that he had saved for such an occasion. The men gradually consumed the confection by dissolving a square at a time onto a pot of hot water and drinking the liquid. They subsisted on this weak hot chocolate for several days, nearly succumbing to starvation, when they stumbled upon the bones of an elk recently devoured by wolves. “Having instantly gathered them,” Henry wrote, “we encamped, and filling our kettle, prepared ourselves a meal of strong and excellent soup. The greater part of the night was passed in boiling and regaling on our booty, and early in the morning we felt ourselves strong enough to proceed.”

On January 25th, Henry and his men reached the edge of the Canadian prairies. There, they found the whole frozen carcass of a red deer, which appeared to have become stuck in the river ice at the onset of winter. The adventurers removed as much meat from the carcass as they could and enjoyed their first good meal since Cumberland House.

On the morning of January 27th, Henry and his men came upon a pair of day-old snowshoe tracks. They followed the tracks and arrived at a fur trading post called Fort des Prairies, also known as Fort de la Corne, that evening. There, the fort’s occupants treated Henry and his employees to a bountiful feast of buffalo bull tongues.

A band of Assiniboine Indians were also visiting Fort de la Corne at the time. Hoping to more thoroughly experience the prairies, and perhaps see the Rocky Mountains beyond, Henry asked the Assiniboine if he might accompany them to their village. The natives agreed, and thus Henry, along with his two French-Canadian employees and two English fur traders named Patterson and Holmes, set out with their new native companions in early February.

The Europeans followed the Indians up to a high plateau where trees were sparse. They struggled to keep up with the natives, who wore narrower snowshoes than them, and who had loaded much of their supplies onto dog-drawn travois. They stopped and made camp at sunset. “The tent in which I slept,” Henry wrote, “contained fourteen persons, each of whom lay with his feet to the fire, which was in the middle; but the night was so cold that even this precaution, with the assistance of our buffalo robes, was insufficient to keep us warm. Our supper was made on the tongues of the wild ox, or buffalo, boiled in my kettle, which was the only one in the camp.”

The following day, Henry and his companions followed the Indians across the open prairie. When a snow storm threatened to descend upon them, they took shelter in a small isolated copse of trees and shrubs, the trunks of the largest of which did not exceed a man’s wrist in diameter.

The party resumed their journey the next day, finally making camp on the shores of a frozen lake. There, they were approached by scouts sent by Great Road, the head chief of the Assiniboine, who had had sent them to search for the band, worried that something might have befallen the travellers on their journey to the east. The scouts were pleased to find Henry and his companions among the Assiniboine, telling them that their chief would be interested in meeting them.

The travellers and the scouts spent the next few days encamped beside the lake, where they waited out a storm that nearly buried their teepees in snow. At the height of the blizzard, the wooded oasis was invaded by a herd of buffalo which might have trampled the camp had it not been for the barking of the Indian dogs and the shooting of the Assiniboine hunters, the latter killing any animal which ventured too close to their teepees with bows and arrows. “Whatever were the terrors which filled the wood,” Henry wrote, “[the buffalo] had no other escape from the terrors of the storm.”

When the storm finally abated, the scouts set out for the camp of Great Road bearing gifts of tobacco and vermillion with which the Europeans had supplied them. The rest of the travellers followed more slowly, burdened by their equipment and provisions.

The Assiniboine Camp

The travellers reached the camp of Great Road on the morning of February 11th, 1776. Henry and his men were greeted by an honour guard, whose members ushered them into a tent which had been set aside for their use. There, Assiniboine women presented them with warm water for washing. “The refreshment was exceedingly acceptable,” Henry wrote, “for on our march we had become so dirty that our complexions were not very distinguishable from those of the Indians themselves.”

Following their ablutions, the Europeans were taken to Great Road’s tent. Henry described the great Assiniboine chief as standing about 5’10’’ and having a darker complexion than most of his fellow tribesmen. Great Road’s most peculiar physical attribute was his hair, which he wore in long, wild, matted dreadlocks. Henry learned that the chief never cut or groomed in accordance with a peculiar Samson-esque superstition he held; Great Road believed that his hair was the source of his fortune and power.

When the guests entered his teepee, the head chief shook each of their hands and invited them to sit on bearskins which had been spread on the ground. Great Road then produced a pipe, which everyone in attendance proceeded to smoke. The chief then made a long and eloquent speech, following which every Indian in the teepee began to weep. Henry was told later that the Indians practiced this custom in honour of their deceased relatives, memories of whom invariably surfaced at the commencement of feasts and ceremonies. The weeping continued for ten minutes, and when it ended, the Indians feasted their guests on boiled buffalo tongue. Henry and his companions were invited to a second feast later that night, in which all the Assiniboine men, due to the warmth of the fire, stripped entirely naked, to some of the white men’s amusement.

The following day, after Henry and his companions toured the village, Great Road delivered another speech in which he informed the Europeans that he was at their service, and that he planned to visit Fort de la Corne at the earliest opportunity. He then gave his guests a gift of beaver pelts and wolf furs, prompting the travellers to present him with more tobacco and vermillion.

Henry and his companions spent five more days in the camp of the Assiniboine. Although they had liberty to go about the camp as they pleased, they were guarded at all times by six warriors who savagely thrashed anyone who came too close to them.

During their say, the Assiniboine invited the Europeans to accompany them on a buffalo hunt. Henry described how the Assiniboine had built a fence, or buffalo pound, about five miles from the camp many years ago. The v-shaped enclosure consisted of birch stakes through which smaller branches were woven. Once the pound was sufficiently repaired, a handful of Assiniboine hunters donned buffalo robes with horns. “Their faces were covered,” Henry wrote, “and their gestures so closely resembled those of the animals themselves that had I not been in the secret I should have been as much deceived as the oxen.”

These special hunters spent most of the evening luring the buffalo towards the pound, successfully convincing their quarry that they were bison calves by mimicking their sounds and behavior. Slowly but steadily, the hunters lured the buffalo herd into the enclosure, finally slipping out of the pound through a hidden gate at its end. The rest of the warriors, meanwhile, concealed themselves behind the pound walls. On a prearranged signal, the hunters emerged from their hiding places and began to shower the buffalo with arrows. Whenever any of the animals attempted to escape the pound, a hunter would wave a buffalo robe in its face, prompting the creature to scramble backwards. The morning following the slaughter, the carcasses were processed, the tongues, hearts, and shoulders being set aside for feasts and the remainder dried for future use, and for sale at Fort de la Corne. The Assiniboine spent the rest of the day and much of the night feasting, dancing, singing, and making music.

“The [musical] instruments,” Henry wrote, “consisted principally in a sort of tambourine, and a gourd filled with stones, which several persons accompanied by shaking two bones together; and others with bunches of deer hoofs, fastened to the end of a stick. Another instrument was one that was no more than a piece of wood of three feet with notches cut on its edge. The performer drew a stick backward and forward along the notches, keeping time. The women sang; and the sweetness of their voices exceeded whatever I had heard before.”

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16.

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 13.

Journey to the Northwest

In the summer of 1775, Alexander Henry decided to take up trading once again. He purchased 3,000 pounds sterling-worth of provisions, bought four large canoes and twelves smaller ones, and hired a crew of 51 French-Canadian voyageurs. On June 10, he and his men left Sault Ste. Marie for the northwestern shores of Lake Superior. They passed a large hollow rock called Tete de la Loutre, or the “Otter’s Head”, and camped at the mouth of the Pijitic River, known today as the “Pic River”. They visited Pic Island and paddled past the Pays Plat, or “Flat Land”- a flat wooded shore between two mountains where the French had once operated a trading post.

Finally, the voyageurs reached the so-called Grand Portage, located on the western end of Lake Superior southwest of the present-day city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. There, he and his men hauled their canoes and provisions overland to what Henry called the River aux Groseilles, or “Gooseberry River” (known today as the Pigeon River), the lower 21 miles of which were unnavigable due to rapids and waterfalls. They proceeded up the Pigeon River, portaged around what are known today as the “High Falls”, and entered what Henry called the Hauteur de Terre, or “Land’s Height”- a wooded, lake-ridden highland. There, they followed a chain of lakes and rivers to Saganaga Lake, once the site of an Ojibwe village, and further northwest to what is known today as Rainy Lake, which Henry called “Lake a la Pluie”. They continued up the Rainy River to the Lake of the Woods. There, Henry and his men found an Indian village of several hundred souls. The village chiefs welcomed the traders cordially with gifts and speeches. In return, Henry gave the natives a present consisting of a sixty-pound keg of gunpowder, eighty pound bags of shot and additional gunpowder, and a keg of rum. After purchasing wild rice from the Indians, Henry and his crew paddled across the Lake of the Woods and portaged to the Winnipeg River.

The voyageurs continued down the Winnipeg River, portaging around its more turbulent sections. They headed down a scenic branch of the river called the Pinawa Channel and encamped at the head of a portage trail called the Carrying-Place of the Lost Child. “Here,” Henry wrote, is a chasm in the rock, nowhere more than two yards in breadth, but of great and immeasurable depth. The Indians relate that many ages past a child fell into this chasm, from the bottom of which it is still heard at times to cry.”

At the entrance to Lake Winnipeg, the voyageurs came upon a village of Cree Indians, whom Henry called “Christinaux”. Henry wrote that the Cree were very different in appearance and custom from the Ojibwa, and remarked that a few Cree men lent some of their wives, of which they had several, to some of his voyageurs, asking that they return them in a year’s time.

On August 18th, 1775, Henry and his men left the Cree camp and paddled up the lake’s eastern shore. They soon met and were joined by Peter Pond, a gruff soldier, adventurer, and fur trader famous for his violent temper. The following day, they were beset by a storm which killed four men and destroyed one canoe.

On August 21st, the voyageurs paddled across Lake Winnipeg to its southern shore. There, several weeks later, they encountered brothers Joseph and Thomas Frobisher- fur traders and distant relatives of the famous Elizabethan explorer Sir Martin Frobisher.

In early autumn, the explorers were in desperate need of food. Spurred by the fear of starvation, they proceeded up the Saskatchewan River, which Henry called the “River de Bourbon, Pasquayah, or Sascatchiwaine”. They tracked and portaged up and around the Grand Rapids and entered Cedar Lake. They crossed the lake and continued up the Saskatchewan River, in which they caught several large sturgeon and killed a huge number of wild fowl.

Eighty leagues upriver from the ruins of an old French fur trading post called Fort Bourbon, Henry and his men came to another old trading post called Fort Paskoya, around which revolved a Cree village. There, the village chief- a tall, chubby, sly-looking warrior named Chatique, or “Pelican”- invited the Europeans to a council in his teepee. Pelican informed the travellers that he would allow them to continue up the Saskatchewan River only if they gave him a present consisting of three casks of gunpowder, four bags of shot, two bales of tobacco, three kegs of rum, and some knives. Left with little alternative, the voyageurs complied with the demand and continued up the river. Shortly after their departure, they were overtaken by Chief Pelican himself, who had pursued them alone in a canoe. The daring chief boarded one of their canoes with a spear in his hand and demanded another keg of rum. Knowing there could be serious consequences if they killed the chief, the voyageurs granted Pelican’s request and parted ways with him.

On October 26th, the adventurers reached Cumberland House- a Hudson’s Bay Company fort built the year prior on the shores of Cumberland Lake by English explorer Samuel Hearne. Although the great explorer himself was absent at the time, the fort was occupied by Highlanders from the Orkney Islands, who treated Henry and his men with hospitality. There, Henry’s party fractured into several different groups, each of which headed to a separate fort in the region. Henry and the Frobisher brothers, along with forty of their employees, remained together and decided to make for what is known today as Amisk Lake, which Henry called “Beaver Lake, or Lake aux Castors”.

Henry and company paddled their canoes across Cumberland Lake, which Henry called “Sturgeon Lake”, and up the Sturgeon-Weir River, which Henry called the “River Maligne”, or “Bad River”, battling rapids all the way. They continued to Amisk Lake just as the water began to freeze. There, the party split into three groups, two of which were tasked with ice fishing and the third of which was given the task of constructing a fort on the lake’s shore. Ten days later, the voyageurs completed the construction of what is known today as Frobisher-Henry Fort. Henry and his men spent the winter fishing and hunting on Amisk Lake, subsisting on trout and elk.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15.