Few of the Iroquois can be identified here at present. Either they have withdrawn beyond the Monkman and Wapiti Passes or they have been assimilated by intermarriage, but they appeared frequently in explorers’ narratives. Simpson’s canoe men were all Iroquois, chiefly from the Caughnawaugha, living now in present-day Quebec.
Sir George Simpson recorded that in 1828 “the McLeod Lake area and up to the Finlay River had been trapped out by Iroquois some years previously”. Some of them must have stayed on in the area. John McLean, a trader, confirms this supposition in his 1836 journal, when he mentions the employees at the post [McLeod Lake] being “about forty Iroquois and half-breeds.”
In 1870, according to Rev. A. Huson, O.M.I., as reported in Un Voyage Aux Montagnes Rocheuses, there was a settlement of Iroquois at Moberly Lake, who had become faithful Catholics, and who had also converted many of the Sekani to Catholicism, both there and at Hudson’s Hope.
In 1890 Warburton Pike, an explorer, big game hunter, railway and mining promoter reached Hudson’s Hope. There he encountered one Baptiste Testerwich “a half-breed Iroquois, descended from the Iroquois crew left here many years ago [70 years] by Sir George Simpson.” This Indian must have been something in the nature of a chief, since he had “the biggest lodge” at Hudson’s Hope and also an establishment at Moberly Lake. He was also known “as the most successful and most enduring of moose hunters”. This alone would have elevated him to the position of headman of a band.
Baptiste Testerwich became a legendary figure because of his endurance of cold. It was remarked that “in the dead of winter he wears no socks in his moccasins, which to any other man would mean a certainty of frozen feet.”
His endurance gave rise to a folk-tale – “his feet are so hot that the snow melts in his tracks in coldest weather”. Whether he inherited his endurance in this respect from Iroquois or Saulteaux ancestry is impossible to say. The Indians around Lake Superior, from which the latter came, did not have the extremes of cold of our area. Forty below zero is uncommon there. It is recorded that Indians there, where the buffalo or moose were unknown, made socks or moccasins of rabbit fur, which, when wet were more uncomfortable than bare feet. Doubtless this behaviour here would command respect once the disbelief wore off!
The name Testerwich appears under several spellings in the Peace River area, such as Testawich and Casterwich. It seems reasonable to speculate that any Indian who has the syllable “wich” on the end of his name, has Iroquois ancestry.
There is some evidence [Alberta Historical Review, Summer 1960] that any Indian family in the Peace with the surname Callihoo and possibly Calliou has some Iroquois ancestry. Their Iroquois forefathers originally came from around Montreal and entered the Peace via Lac Ste. Anne northwest of Edmonton. There is said to be a group of Iroquois still living at the headwaters of the Smoky River, in the area near the coal-mining town of Grande Cache.
It has been reported that Kelly Lake in the B. C. area southeast of Dawson Creek was originally Calliou Lake, the name being corrupted by the surveyors to Kelly Lake. No reference to a “Kelly” in the area has turned up in any research. Only a very few – perhaps six – pure Beaver Indians now occupy the reserve there. The other residents are Metis or Cree, but some Saulteaux or Iroquois may be intermingled.
On striking incident might bear recording. When the Kelly Lake Indians came into Dawson Creek to sing at the Music Festival in the early 1950’s, one girl looked so much like a Caucasian that she was presumed to be the white teacher’s child. One the contrary, the teacher informed the writer that she was pure Indian.
One also thinks of the “white” Indian “Wabi” Calazon. White-skinned, blue-eyed Indians were observed in early times in the interior of the continent. In February 1974 the Vancouver Provincereported that a hither-to unknown tribe of Indians had been found living in the interior of South America. They had fair skins, brown hair, and the men wore beards.
The name Cilihou (and its variant Calliou and others) is represented in many communities. In fact “Kelly Lake” is said to be a corruption of Calliou or Callioo or Calihoo Lake, although the truth of the story has not yet been verified. Neither has the presence of any “Kelly” among traders or trappers who might have given it his name. All of the Callioos are probably descendants of the original Iroquois settlers in Alberta.
Another family name, Testawich (or Testerwich or Casterwich) is of Iroquois origin, and dates back at least to 1829. George Simpson, the renowned Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, preferred Caughnawaugha Iroquois paddlers above all others for his famous cross-continental canoe journeys of inspection. They set many a speed record.
In 1829, with his picked Iroquois crew, he undertook to cross the West to the Pacific via the Peace-Parsnip-Fraser River route. His friend’s journal tells in detail of his up-river voyage. At the Canyon at Hudson’s Hope, his companion, Factor Archibald McDonald, accompanied Simpson over the Portage. The canoe men accomplished an incredible feat – bringing two canoes, four men in each, up by water, in which one crew nearly lost their lives. No one has ever been recorded to have done it again; not even the big steam-driven D. A. Thomas was able to get more than part way up.
It seems that the Little Governor did not realize, much less appreciate, their historic efforts, for he records his trip over the Portage trail, which he said “must be the worst road in Christendom”, dismissing the superhuman efforts of his crew when he wrote “Whatever be the fate of the canoes and men by water, I think of the two evils, they have chosen the least!” It is unlikely that they “chose” it, for part of Simpson’s plan was to test every possible stretch of the rivers to find out whether they were safe for the fur brigades. The Iroquois were elected to be the sacrifices, if necessary!
At Dunvegan the party had borrowed a third canoe to distribute the weight of men and cargo more suitably for the canyon run. Simpson recorded that “a half breed of an Indian we had from the Fort (Dunvegan) returns with the canoe we had from Dunvegan from the other end of the portage”. The man disappears from history until his story seems to be picked up by Mr. Warburton Pike in 1891.
Pike was an adventurer, not a very wise one, an explorer, a big-game hunter, railway promoter, and writer. He arrived in Hudson’s Hope in late October. Here he found that “the biggest lodge is occupied by Baptiste Testerwich, a half-breed Iroquois descended from the Iroquois crew [sic] left here years ago by Sir George Simpson.” The only other Indians mentioned are Beavers. It would seem that Testerwich was half Iroquois and half Beaver, for if the original Testerwich had found there a half-native daughter of one of the white factors or traders, he would not have been a “half-breed”.
Pike records, “Baptiste had a house at Moberley’s Lake, twelve miles to the south, and is well-known as the most successful and most enduring of moose-hunters. A remarkable point about the man is his hardiness and indifference to cold … in the dead of winter he wears no socks in his moccasins, which to any other man would mean a certainty of frozen feet. The Indians say that his feet are so hot that the snow melts in his tracks in the coldest weather.”
This writer has seen it recorded elsewhere that in the East, where wet, slushy snow is more common than in the North, the Indians preferred to walk with bare feet rather than in sodden footwear, and toughened themselves accordingly. Such hardihood is not without modern example. Old-timers around Dawson Creek remember “Barefoot Smith” who never wore shoes, and until late November would walk unconcernedly in the snow. When the weather reached the low sub-zero range, however, he made a concession to comfort by wearing rabbit skins wrapped around his feet and covered with burlap bags. It is said that, as the weather got colder, he added to the layers. The tale may be exaggerated, but it alleges that Smith wore his footgear in bed until spring came.
Pike stayed a few days at The Hope, where he was royally entertained and described Testerwich’s daughters as the “belles of Hudson’s Hope”. Baptiste was generous – he came down to the portage to see Pike off, with a dozen pairs of moose hide moccasins made by the girls. As the weather had turned rough in the night, Testerwich persuaded Pike to stay over, during which time the friendly Indian made for the party five pairs of snowshoes. In spite of the Indian’s advice, Pike embarked in the canoe on November 26, and thereby nearly lost his life. His party barely made it back to Hudson’s Hope.
After recovering, Pike walked over to the Baptiste’s house on Moberley’s Lake. He found the place plentifully provisioned with meat, and garden vegetables. In fact, Testerwich had sent provisions he could spare for a party of Beaver Indians who had been storm-bound and nearly starved in Pine Pass. Testerwich had sent them food as soon as the news reached him. For the second time, he gave Pike a pair of fancy snowshoes and beaded moccasins, which he made Pike promise not to eat. This advice was probably the Indian’s humorous reference to Pike’s party having tried to eat a piece of tanned moose hide, boiled, during their ordeal by hunger.
Thereupon Baptiste Testerwich passes out of our history. There are among the traditionally “short” Beavers, certain individuals who are conspicuously tall. Peter Campbell, Cree, told us recently about the mighty hunter, Wolf, who Mr. Campbell says “was the tallest Beaver I ever saw in my life.” One can speculate whether “Wolf”, whom Phillip Godsell feared as a “wild” Beaver at Fort St. John in 1914, may have carried the genes of the Iroquois who married into the Beaver tribe around 1830. The stature, the fearlessness, pride, and even the unusual interest in gardening are consistent with the Iroquois in their original home in Eastern Canada.
That other Iroquois may have mingled with the people of the Peace is probable, because in 1828, George Simpson recorded that Iroquois had formerly trapped out the country around McLeod’s Lake beyond the Parsnip River. The natural outlet for their furs was via the Peace to Fort Dunvegan or even Fort Chipewyan.
In the Dunvegan – Dawson Creek – Moberly Lake areas another existing family, the Thomas, otherwise known as Napoleon, family is still represented. Relatives and descendants are scattered in many places in the Northwest. In the Moberly Lake area they are known as Napoleons.
In the Report of Inspector Moodie of the Mounted Police. who blazed the trail to the Yukon in 1897, the Thomas family appears in three persons – first, Francois Thomas at Fort St. John, a guide, paid for services Nov 2 and taken to Dunvegan, apparently his home, by police boat.
Second, Inspector Moodie now sent for Napoleon Thomas, a Half-breed Iroquois, who, wrote Inspector Moodie, was “reported to be the best hunter in the district”. Moodie said that Napoleon Thomas’ average hunt for the winter amounts to $500 worth of furs.” When a winter’s catch was considered good at $200 to $300, Thomas’ record as a trapper was exceptional. Therefore it was not unreasonable for Moodie to offer him what was then an exceptional salary, $75 a month, to rise to $90 a month if he “got back under five months”.
Duncan, his brother, wanted $90 a month and $5 for each moose he shot. However, Napoleon Thomas was not easily persuaded because his children were sick. It was not until Moodie gave him medicine for his children, and the children were much improved, that he consented to go. Their destination was “the headwaters of the Pelly River”, (a tributary of the Yukon River). Another guide “Dick Eggs” was offered only $75 a month. As far as we know, Napoleon Thomas accompanied his employer only as far as Fort Grahame which probably was the limit of his personal knowledge of the area.
After the Klondike gold rush was over, our first settler, Hector Tremblay came to the Pouce Coupe Prairie, and in due time brought his wife and children. In time another child was born. As with all frontier women then, the mother expected to deliver her own baby. As told by Hector Tremblay, Jr. and to his Mother’s surprise, “Mrs. Napoleon appeared and acted as competent mid-wife for her white neighbor.” With her she brought a horrid-tasting brew, which she said was used by the native people for childbirth. Evidently “Mrs. Napoleon” was one of the “wise old women” for whose kindly ministrations many white settler’s wives were indebted. The Tremblays remember that kindness with gratitude.