GEORGE HUNTER: We found them very trustworthy. Any dealings we had with them, we found them very honest. When I were trapping with Henry Courvoisier there, the Indians would cross or travel over our trap lines, coming and going. We never locked our doors. If some of them could write, they’d leave a little note. If they found anything in our traps, they’d take it out, hang it up in tree and reset the trap and go on.
One time a white man come up, when he went back, he stole martin out of our traps. That was just the difference. At that time the Indians weren’t mixing with white people much – they were just in their natural way of living. Of course, you can’t do anything an Indian doesn’t know. He’s used to the bush; he can read sign just like reading a book. He’ll read his tracks. If you do anything, you can’t get away with it.
INTERVIEWER: Were there renegades among them – some that were less honest than the rest? How did they deal with their own if they got out of line?
GEORGE HUNTER: Just sometimes, as among white people, one will get out of line – not so much – just a little bit. He won’t go to extremes because he can’t get away with anything. Much later when I came to the Halfway [River] – when I first went in to see the land – I got a truck at Fort St. John. Henry Philpott came with me. He had two saddle horses. We went up the [Alaska] Highway to Mile 132. There was an old wagon trail part way in there. We got to Angus Beatton’s at Mosquito Flats, twenty-six miles in from the Alaska Highway. When we got in about twenty miles we crossed the Cameron River. We had some oats with us for our horses, and a little bit of food – some canned stuff. We just had saddle horses, to go on, but we figured we’d have that coming back. It was quite a bit to tie on the saddle. We looked around for several days. While we were gone the Indians came up the Halfway. They went out to the Cameron, two boys hunting where they had a cabin. They saw our sack and our tea-stick – and thought they were going to pull a good one on us. They tied some hay on our tea-stick, took our grub and went down the Cameron. Later they came back to Angus Beatton’s and told him what happened. The next time he saw those two boys, Angus told them, “You better be careful. That was George Hunter out there – he knows the bush just as good as you do. He knew you took that stuff.” Later I caught up to one and got after him for stealing. He said, “It wasn’t me. It was Shorty Wolf.” I told him, “Don’t do that again, or next time I’ll come to your camp.” Later I caught up with Shorty, and he denied it too. “It wasn’t me, it was Bedaire.” I told him, it was you, too. If I’d had more time I’d have come to your camp down the Cameron. I can read sign too. I’ve been in the bush almost as long as you have. He didn’t say anymore, but after that they always respected me. I wasn’t just another white man. Now they’d been mixed up with white men, who had stolen from them, but now they knew I was almost as good as they were. They lost their honesty through the years.
INTERVIEWER: Could I get down on tape the story about the ranching along the Halfway?
GEORGE HUNTER: That was on the Old Police Trail. They’d carry a big wheel to roll along, and count the revolutions to measure the miles. They had cut out the trail – the Hundred Mile Post was just about a mile and half below Cypress Creek. At that time the flats were quite open. There was an old fellow here in Hudson’s Hope – he’s dead now – Bill Carter – who worked on the Old Police Trail. He said the Indians at that time would burn off the flats in the spring, the dry grass burning first, but where there was a little bit of snow under the timber, it wouldn’t burn. That’s how they kept the flats open for pasture. Now that the settlers and forestry is in there they are preventing the burning and the flats are growing up to bush.
INTERVIEWER: In earlier days the Indians had horses in there?
GEORGE HUNTER: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Where did they get their horses? From the traders like Beatton or Twelve Foot Davis or the police?
GEORGE HUNTER: They got them from the outside – people coming in with packhorses. Then those people got stallions and started raising them for the packing business. I suppose they sold to the Indians. When the three Clark brothers first came into Fort St. John they leased sections and sections of land, and brought in about eighty head of big Percheron mares. When they got up here they had no use for them. They had a hard time keeping them through the winter, rustling for themselves, so they traded them to the Indians, one mare for two Cayuses. That’s how the Indians got started in a better line of horses, deaths among the horses were high for the Indians were hard on them. They mixed with the Cayuses however, and raised the quality.
INTERVIEWER: I heard that the Klondikers turned their horses loose on the Indians’ grazing lands, which they were grazing up to capacity so that the Indians’ horses died – also that some of the Klondikers rustled the Indians’ horses. That was said to be part of the cause of the Indians’ little escapade down here at Fort St. John.
GEORGE HUNTER: I can quite imagine that was true. They were in such a hurry to get through, that their horses would be skinny and a lot of them lame. No doubt they might take an Indian horse.
MRS. HUNTER: The Indians wouldn’t sell them any horses at Fort St. John, and they ran the Klondiker’s carts over the hill.
GEORGE HUNTER: Yes, they did that. They were Red River carts. They went over the hill and were all smashed up. Even today you can find little pieces of carts if you look there. After the incident Mr. Beatton picked up enough pieces to make several carts and used them for hauling hay down at the old post.
INTERVIEWER: I’ve heard, and read this incident cited as a proof that the Indians were wild and savage. For my part, I think that they could just as easily have killed the white men, instead of pushing the carts over the cliff. I think it shows that the Indian had a sense of humor, and of making the punishment fit the crime, and not necessarily a violent man.
GEORGE HUNTER: There might have been more uprisings than there were, if it hadn’t been for Mr. Beatton. He had great control over the Indians.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know anything about the near-massacre in 1914 at Fort St. John which Godsell wrote about, in which he severely criticized Beatton, and represented himself as doing so much to avoid disaster? Did that in fact occur or was that largely fiction?
GEORGE HUNTER: I believe that was pure fiction.
INTERVIEWERS COMMENTS: Here [we had] a discussion of the episode of Guy Hughes being killed, this took place in 1823 on the Beatton place at the old Fort St. John. Mr. Hunter agreed that it was an incident that hardly rated the term “massacre”. At the time of this interview, Charlie Yahey’s story of the suspected poisoning of an Indian (undoubtedly unfounded, but conceivably believed by the dead boy’s father) was not known to the interviewer at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Please tell us the story of the introduction of the game of horseshoes.
GEORGE HUNTER: That was about the spring of 1929. A company was going to start a coal mining operation down on the Liard. The Hudson Bay boats were using wood at that time, which was cut along the rivers for them to pick up as they went along. The men thought that if they had a coalmine they could sell the coal. It never worked out because at that time the Hudson’s Bay boats converted to oil and diesel motors. But a fellow was going up there, a farmer with four head of horses, and a sleigh, headed for down the Nelson River, to the Liard, supposed to haul coal for the boats. When he got as far as Fort Nelson the season got late. It wasn’t safe to trust the ice, so he stayed. Then in the spring, he went back out leaving the horses there. As they were prairie horses, not used to the conditions, they got hoof rot, and the police had to shoot them.
I went over and took the horseshoes off them, and taught the Indians how to play horseshoes. That’s how I learned to count in the Slavey language. They would count, and I got on to what the words were. They thought it was a great game, which they played practically day and night all summer. I could count up to ten for you.
INTERVIEWER: Could you do it slowly, so that I can try to reproduce the approximate sound?
GEORGE HUNTER: clea (one) instanti
lati unano (ten)
That’s up to ten. Then “twenty” was onki-unano, (two tens) up to thirty, onki-unano-clea etc. And on in that way to a hundred. Maybe they went beyond a hundred but I never heard of it.
INTERVIEWER: How did they greet you?
GEORGE HUNTER: In the Slavey, “white man” is “molo”. There was an old couple there who always used to call me their boy. They would always greet me “see-a molo” (see with a rising inflection – See-a). It means “Hello, my brother”.
In the summer, I’d often go to their camp. They always had a little fire going. Generally it was two logs with the ends beside each other. There they’d add a chip to keep a slow fire going, never a big fire. They’d greet me “see-a molo” and get a cup and dip in there and give me a cup of something.
They had a son about eighteen years old, a very witty boy, a happy-go-lucky fellow, full of fun. We used to have a great time together. We’d go hunting together. I found them very friendly – I was welcomed at any camp. They’d come over to my camp and visit, too.