May 20, 1910
All of the caribou were skin-poor and the marrow in their bones was as blood, but we had with us plenty of seal oil from seals killed farther west along the coast, so that the two together made a satisfactory diet.
My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 13
As we proceeded east along Dolphin and Union Straits from Cape Bexley, we found here and there traces of Eskimo parties who were going in from their winter hunt on the sea ice to cache their clothing, household property, and stores of oil on the beach preparatory to moving inland for their summer caribou hunt. Some of these groups we never saw at all; the trails of others we picked up and followed until we overtook the parties, who were usually camped on the shore of a small lake, where they were fishing with hooks through holes they had made with their ice-picks in the seven-foot-thick ice. The caribou in this district are scarce in spring and difficult to get by the hunting methods of the Eskimo. Fish were not secured in large numbers, either, for these people know nothing of nets. Our archæological investigations have shown us that the knowledge of fishing by nets never extended farther east along the north shore of the mainland than Cape Parry, and the Copper Eskimo have no method of catching fish except that of hooks and spears. The hooks are, like most of their weapons, made of native copper. They are unsuited for setting, for there is no barb, and unless the fish be pulled out of the water as soon as he takes the hook he is sure to get off again.
West of Cape Bexley we had seen no traces of caribou for a hundred and fifty miles, but as soon as we came to where the straits began to narrow, east of Cape Bexley, we began to find more and more frequently the tracks of the northward migrating bands of cow caribou bound for Victoria Island. At first we did not see on an average more than ten or fifteen animals a day, but later on they increased in number; and with our excellent rifles we found not the slightest difficulty in supplying ourselves with plenty of venison and in having enough to spare to feed also the people at whose villages we visited.
In coming to the coast from the south, caribou take the ice with out hesitation. It cannot be that they see land to the north of the straits, for half of the time, at least, the land is hidden in a haze, even from the human eye, which is far keener than that of the caribou. Neither can it be the sense of smell that guides them, for the northward direction of their march is not interfered with by change of wind. They will sometimes go ten miles out on the ice and lie down there, then wander around in circles for several hours or half a day, and finally proceed north again. Both at Liston and Sutton islands, in Simpson Bay, and farther east at Lambert Island, we saw caribou march right past without paying any attention to the islands, although there was food upon them , and they in some cases passed within a hundred yards or so. The bands would generally be from five to twelve caribou, consisting in the main of females about to drop their fawns, but also of yearlings and two-year-olds of both sexes. All of them were skin-poor and the marrow in their bones was as blood, but we had with us plenty of seal oil from seals killed farther west along the coast, so that the two together made a satisfactory diet. The skins at this season of the year are worth less, partly because the hair is loose, but also because they are full of holes, ranging in size from that of a pea to that of a navy bean, from the grubs of the bot-fly which infest the backs of the animals. When spread out to dry, the skin of the spring-killed caribou looks like a sieve.