Sketches of the Restigouche

By Irene Doyle

The Daily Sun, St John, N.B.
Wednesday Morning
January 10, 1883

Rev. J. C. Herdman, B.D., of Campbellton, N.B.

(Written as I have found it, grammatical errors and all)

        To our common country Canada, a nation now in the midst of nations, we all owe it as a debt and duty to make what contributions any one may be able to the cause of local histories; for to do that, is to do so much at least towards a better understanding of some of the historical elements, always various and often at variance, which my mutual action and reaction, have produced a colossal, land of progress and promise. Almost every section of the Dominion teems with memories, traditions, and folk-lore. Would it not be well to gather together these floating materials of history, receding already on the tides of time, ere they disappear and are lost? Such, principally, is my own endeavor, here in Restigouche. And my authorities for the matters narrated in these outlines are -

        (1)     Accounts furnished, and traditions handed down by old and reliable residents in the district. - These have been gathered at various times, carefully compared, adjusted and pieced together.

        (2)     The witness of living remains and ruins.

        (3)     As to printed works, I have had scant access to any of them which is the less to be regreted, as Restigouche appears to be generally conspicious for its absence. But I have found valuable information in Cooney's New Brunswick and Murdoch's History of Acadie.

        (4)     Two historical items (The Norseman in Chaleur and Jacques Cartier's exploration of the Restigouche) I take at second hand, but in the assurance of responsible gentlemen, who have verified their statements at historical sources. Information as to the latter item is furnished by one who helped Dr. Robb in translating from the French account of Cartier's travel for the purpose of a lecture delivered to the Athenaeum Club in St. John in 1855. And Father Drapeau of the Mission, has kindly given me information about Indian traditions, which he had previously gathered for himself.

        The river Restigouche has very naturally given its name to the district of country through which it flows. This district, or "valley" as they incline to call it in the United States, may be spoken of in general terms as extending along both banks of the river from the upper water-stretches outwards and downwards to the separated shores of the Bay. This district has variously served as an Indian camping-ground, a French military settlement, a disputed boundary-line between Acadie and New France, a trading post for fishing and furs, a connecting link between the Maritime Provinces and Quebec, a timber and lumber port, a railway centre on the Northern Division of the Intercolonial, and a far-famed resort for anglers, artists, and tourists in general.

        Before taking up the Indian epoch, it may be mentioned that there is a good historical evidence extant which shows that the Norsemen, in their famous explorations along the coast lines of America about the year 1000 A.D., and from that to 1350, did not leave Bay Chaleur unvisited, on whose shores they founded a settlement numbering some 3000 souls, who are supposed to have been cut off by an Indian raid. The likelihood is that the Norsemen were acquainted with this region ?ell, on account of its proximity and its convenient and enticing seaboards and shelters. It cannot however be said that their presence here is established or perhaps even made probable, so far as local evidence is concerned. There are some indeed who claim that the remains of the old dykes on the Restigouche marshes indicate other and earlier origin than the days of French occupation. I have been shown, also, some curious little pieces of pottery, or pipe-clay, which a learned traveller has identified as "cross-bow quarrels", similar to those found in certain localities in the Eastern Hemisphere, and traced, I am told, to a Norse origin and workmanship. They are fragments only;; the full specimens would be of different sizes averaging perhaps two or three inches, neatly turned, square-headed, cylindrical in shape, but thinnest in the middle, thence taperint outward in a gentle curve to the extremities. They do not look like any deadly weapons; and are conceivably of French manufacture only, and used for some unknown, perhaps ornamental, purpose.

        We come now to speak of the INDIANS of Restigouche. These were Micmac. They had camping grounds in this district, considered it theirs, and gave names, generally picturesque and descriptive, to its rivers, capes, and other prominent features in its scenery. Their sway was not undisputed; rivalry and bloodshed were common. The present Restigouche Indians are Micmac, and lineal descendants, and their old people speak of various traditions. One that I have heard is that there was a time in the dim past when the whole land reeled to and fro, and the mountains shook like drunken men. Of records of battle mixed with legendary matter, they have at least three. According to the one that they seem most sure of themselves, their ancestors dwelt on their old camping ground on Heron Island, below the mouth of the Restigouche. Another tribe was there also, or somewhere in the neighborhood, whom some speak of as Mohawks, but others as being Micmacs also and friendly. They lived amicably together, until a quarrel arose between two boys, one out of each tribe, about a white squirrel, and which resulted in one of the billigerants being killed. Then the matter developed into a quarrel between the two encampments. Finally, three young men were selected from each tribe to act as champions for the side they represented; a device which makes one think of the days of old Roman history. However, the two encampments were soon embroiled in conflict, and a war was commenced which, say the old narrators, lasted 40 years, and gave a name to the river, which was thenceforth called Listigouch, or river of the long war.

        Here is another war legend, told by an old Indian to explain the relations between Micmacs and Mohawk, and in which he spoke of the latter people as one man, whom he called "Mohawk", and to whom he attributed semi-miraculous powers and prowess. Mohawk was living on Mission Point. Some Micmacs at the mouth of the Metapedia having injured or insulted him, he went up the Metapedia River to its source in the Big Lake. A Mohawk settlement was encamped there; he got 300 warriers of their number and returning slew at the mouth of the river every man, woman and child of the Micmacs, excepting two men, who escaped in flight. Then Mohawk dwelt secure at Mission Point until Micmac enemies, probably informed of the tragedy at Metapedia by the refugees, came up in canoes from Heron Island. In the fight , Mohawk (described at this point as a man 7 1/2 feet high) was struck by a bullet which went right through his body. Plunging into a brook above Mission Point, he let the water rush right through the track of the bullet to staunch the blood. Thereafter squaws cured him, and he started on a visit to Quebec, but becoming terrified of the whites, fled away and was seen no more.

        This much appears tolerably certain out of these traditions; that Restigouche was a sort of boundary line between the Mohawks and Micmacs; that the former had an encampment on Big Metapedia Lake, and the latter, one, first on Heron Island, and then on Big Point, three miles above Campbellton. Though the Mohawks were looked upon as intruders, they must have been here very frequently; and some claim that several of the Indian names of the locality are Mohawk in origin. We may say, then, that two Indian nations, not over amicable, roamed the district; the Mohawk and the Algonquin . The Algonquins in New Brunswick consisted of two branches; the Micmacs, who frequented the coast lines, near the salt water, and the Milicetes, for whom the Micmacs profess some contempt, and who occupied the interior and fresh water portions of the country. Between these two branches there appears to have been no fighting; the battles were between Mohawks and Micmacs. Here is another traditional account significant of the relationship between these two nations. A battle had been fought between them in which the Micmacs were defeated somewhere below the mouth of Restigouche. (Those who hold that the "long war" was between Mohawks and Micmacs say that this battle was the closing one of that series). The victorious Mohawks then retired from that country, purposing to return to the West by canoeing up the Restigouche and Metapedia rivers.

        By stealth the Micmacs followed, gathering their strength together for another contest, and a battle was fought up the Metapedia, beyond the Lakes, and in which the Mohawks were repulsed with great slaughter. The Micmacs have had a dread ever since of their old enemies returning in greater numbers to take vengeance. Some twenty years ago it was reported that their ancient foes were meditating a descent; it is said that some Mohawk canoes did actually come down, through with friendly intentions; but so thorough was the alarm that no canoe in Restigouche would venture from the shore after night. Superstition came to add to their terror; it was said and believed, that two gigantic forms clothed in an unwonted garb, had appeared in the neighborhood of the Indian settlement, upon a mountain height, as if to spy out the best chances for attack.

        Of their first encounter with the palefaces, the following tradition is preserved; - There appeared one day at their encampment at Big Point a white man, and they were very much perplexed as to who or what he might be. But the word soon passed round that he was a God, or visitor from the spirit land. Forthwith, to decide this point, a meeting of the Council was called in hot haste, and was opened on the morrow, "thousands" having meanwhile gathered. Then rose an old man who said; "He is not a God; he is like ourselves, just a man; kill him, or he will be away to-morrow." They did not kill him though; but sure enough he was missing the next day.

(to be continued)

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