01-039: THE IROQUOIS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN TRENCH

By Dorthea Calverley

 

There were Iroquois free traders in the Finlay River country in the early years of the nineteenth century. So reports R.M. Patterson in the book Finlay’s River, where he calls them " the pioneers... the free Iroquois hunters and trapper who traded with the Northwest Company’s posts."

Patterson describes the Iroquois as wanderers and exiles, far from their homeland in Eastern Canada. They apparently had no trouble pushing the Sekani aside if they came into conflict. Because they were not residents of the region, the Iroquois swept through fur territories, cleaning them out before moving on. Eventually, however, some of them settled down in the mountains and took ‘alien’ wives.

These Indians bear thinking about, for in the early 1800’s, not even the Northwesters had been here long enough to lose many run-away voyageurs, who were mostly French-Canadians anyway. The Iroquois were historically more allied to the English and the Hudson Bay Company was not here at all in those early years. Governor George Simpson’s famous paddlers were the first recorded Iroquois to reach Hudson’s Hope. Where had these other Iroquois come from then?

One possible explanation is that they may have been some remnants of the old coureurs de bois who roamed the Western Plains before Quebec fell to the English in 1759. The flaw in this, though, is that most coureurs de bois were French Canadian tired of the boredom and poverty of farm life along the St Lawrence – not Iroquois. Could the western ‘Iroquois’ be the descendents of restless young French trappers and Iroquois women?

This adds another bit of weight to the speculation of Mr. Allan Robinson, late of Bear Flats, west of Fort St. John. When on a survey party far north in the mountains, he had come upon the completely decomposed but unburned remains of a very large, rectangular, log building, which, he said, must have been built long before the establishment of forts at Fort St. John or Rocky Mountain Canyon. We know that French habitants built large houses. So did the Iroquois, famous for their "long houses". We know that there were Iroquois near Jasper, which is not hard to reach from Edmonton. From Jasper, down the Smoky River to the Peace and then up to the Finlay is a long, but not especially difficult for expert canoe men.

Perhaps Peter Pond was not the first explorer and trapper to enter the Peace Country from the "outside".

And if some of our Northern natives are tall and proud like the mighty hunter Wolf, and if they have hawk-like faces instead of the flatter features of some of the Beavers or Sekanni, perhaps a strain of Iroquois resides in their genes.

 

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