The Smoky and Little Smoky Rivers, tributaries of the Peace, got their name from certain phenomena along their steep, eroded banks. At certain places, “smokes” arose from the soil and incrustations of salts formed on earth disturbed by slides. Sometimes the earth would be too hot to touch with the naked hand. Mention of these occurrences was made by the geologists, A. C. R. Selwyn and Dr. George Dawson in their reports for the years 1875 and 1879 respectively. They were explained in the above mentioned University of Alberta report of 1930, pages 52-54, as follows:
The area is underlain by the St. John formation shale which contain iron sulfide nodules which, (on exposure in slides in eroded valleys,) “oxidize and causes spontaneous combustion and visible smoke”. Water leaches the resulting salts out to form incrustations and sometimes large crystals of soluble materials, accompanied by visible “smokes” or vapors enough to fill the valleys in cold weather.
Analysis of the salts shows oxides of selenium, aluminum, iron calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and potassium. They are variously coloured: white, light yellow, or light red. Some were said to be related to the alums.
As medicines, they would have varying characteristics, producing laxative, costive, astringent, antiseptic, or caustic effects. A pharmacist, knowing their chemical components, might suggest the uses the natives might have made of them. At this time we have not yet made such inquiries. The presence of sal ammoniac and sulfur might suggest uses to physicians or veterinarians.
Another remedy still used for headache or other pains is an infusion of the bark of native willow or, less often, poplar bark. These two trees are the members of the Salicaccae family so named for the bitter, crystalline principle, salicin, in their bark. “Salicylite” is the active ingredient in “aspirin”.