Sunday, December 13, 2009

Anderson's Reindeer, the Caribou

Now that we are in the area close to the Chilcotin plateau, let us talk about Anderson's reindeer.
They were not, of course, reindeer, but the caribou.
On his 1867 map of British Columbia, Anderson has written across the shoulders of the Chilcotin plateau the words: "Reindeer Barrens -- an extensive mountain plateau abounding with reindeer and ptarmigan at certain seasons."

In his Dominion at the West, the Government Prize Essay (1872), he wrote of these animals:
"The Rein-deer (C. Tarandus) the Caribou of the Canadian voyageurs, inhabits all the mountainous regions dependent on the Rocky Mountains and the Coast Range, north of a certain point. ..The species found in these localities, distinguished by Richardson as the Rocky-Mountain Reindeer, differs materially from the variety common to Hudson's Bay known as the Rein-deer of the Barren Lands. The general characteristics of this animals are so well known that description would be superfluous. Its susceptibility to the attacks of the fly, especially of the large Gad-fly called after it (Estrus Tarandi), and the partiality it exhibits to the odour of smoke arising from its habits of resorting to the vicinity of casual fires in the woods as a protection against the attacks of its tormentors, are taken advantage of by the Ta-cully of the Upper Fraser who, even in the winter season, employ lighted brands of rotten wood to cover their approach to the herds while feeding."
He goes on to explain that the Ta-Cully (Carrier) natives also construct huts during the summer season. "In these huts constant smoke is maintained; lured by which the deer approach, and are shot from the ambush."

He offers a better description of these animals in his draft unpublished mss., "British Columbia," in PABC.
"The Rein-deer (Curvus Tarandus, the Caribou of the French Canadians, and so generally known among the European residents) inhabits the mountainous ridges North of 49 degrees, south of which line I am not aware of its having been met with.... This deer, called by the Ta-cully Ho-tsee, is very gregarious in its habits. In the winter it inhabits the skirts of the mountains, feeding on the various parasitic lichens which are produced by the several firs, especially one of a deep green color called by the natives "Frog's Hair," hanging in rich festoons more particularly from the "Scotch fir" of this Coast (P. Banksiana). The species ...differs greatly in size, and somewhat in habits, from the Rein-deer of Hudson's Bay and its adjacent coasts. It is much larger, a difference which may arise partly from a more congenial habitat and richer food, partly from the long and painful migrations which its Eastern congener has annually to undergo. These last, driven by the swarms of mospquitoes from the low swampy districts bordering on Hudson's Bay, are compelled to travel Northward in quest of higher lands where they can have recourse to their wonted luxury of basking in the sun upon a snowy bed. ... The Western reindeer undergoes the same process of migration, and from the same operating causes. It has not, however, far to go to obtain all its requirements. A few miles travel bring it to the summits of the ridges where on the deep snow-drifts with which the hollows are filled until late in the summer, it obtains the luxury for which its Eastern brother has to travel so far.

"In all other respects but size the characteristics of the Eastern and Western Rein-deer are not obviously different -- each possessing the same expansive hoof which enables it to pass over the hardened snow like the European variety. The edges of the hoof, too, are so sharp that they can readily canter over the smoothest ice. The flesh of the Rein-deer, next to that of the Mountain Sheep and the Moose, is perhaps the most delicious of the products of the chase....

"The Rein-deer seems to be peculiarly susceptible to the attacks of the mosquito. Inhabiting a country chiefly wooded, it resorts eagerly to the smouldering remains of the fire by which large tracts of its native forests are frequently devestated. There, reveling in the smoke, it sets its tormentors at nought and enjoys a glorious holiday -- for even on the mountain tops the persecuting fly will occasionally follow and compel the Reindeer to seek still further refuge.

"The natives do not fail to avail themselves in the chase of the Caribou, of their partiality for smoke. In some of the large mountain plateaux ... they erect during the mosquito season, huts in divers parts of the open plain. The outside of these huts is surrounded with dry limbs and branches of trees so as to resemble a natural heap of fallen wood. In these they reside temporarily with their families, keeping up constantly a copious smoke. The deer are thus lured within distance and are shot by the ambusher foe through interstices left for the purpose.

"In connexion with this subject, I may recall some of my individual experiences in the Rein-deer chase, during winter, in company with the Ta-cully. Falling in, perhaps late in the day, with the recent vestiges of a herd, fire is at once set to a rotten tree, after which the hunters retire some distance to encamp. Attracted by the well known odor the deer, albeit not driven by the mosquito, gradually congregate in the vicinity of the smoke, browsing around in happy ignorance of what awaits them. Before dawn the hunters are afoot. All the outside clothing is held over the fires so as to become well impregnated with the odor of smoke. Each then provides himself with a lighted branch of rotten wood; and thus the party approaches the herd within a short distance; the brands are dropped, and a general discharge takes place. The deer disperse; but frightened and confused, after making a circuit, in most cases rally around the seat of danger, anxious for the fate of their slain or wounded comrades. A second discharge generally sets them to flight; and the flight once commenced is rarely discontinued within a distance of twenty or thirty miles. The pursuit of the rein-deer, when thus fairly started, is an arduous task; rendered all the more difficult from the facility with which they pass over the frozen snow in the opens, leaving scarcely a trace to guide the hunter whose snow shoes barely suffice to enable him to pass without sinking over those spots which the Rein-deer traverses so easily."

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