Thursday, November 24, 2011

Explorer David Thompson Describes Tracks


David Thompson, Old Report: Year 1811

On January 7th, 1811, David Thompson, a surveyor and trader for the Northwest Company, attempted to cross the Rocky Mountains near the present day site of Jasper, Alberta. Thompson kept a daily journal and also published a work called the David Thompson's Narrative, which was based on his journals.

In the journal entry for January 7th, 1811, Thompson wrote:

"I saw the track of a large Animal - has 4 large Toes abt 3 or 4 In long & a small nail at the end of each. The Bal of his foot sank abt 3 In deeper than his Toes - the hinder part of his foot did not mark well. The whole is about 14 In long by 8 In wide & very much resembles a large Bear's Track. It was in the Rivulet in about 6 In snow."

40 years later, when he expanded upon this experience in his Narrative, he wrote:

"January 7th continuing our journey in the afternoon we came on the track of a large animal, the snow about six inches deep on the ice; I measured it; four large toes each of four inches in length, to each a short claw; the ball of the foot sunk three inches lower than the toes. The hinder part of the foot did not mark well, the length fourteen inches, by eight inches in breadth, walking from north to south, and having passed about six hours. We were in no humour to follow him; the Men and Indians would have it to be a young mammouth and I held it to be the track of a large old grizzly bear; yet the shortness of the nails, the ball of the foot, and its great size was not that of a Bear, otherwise that of a very large old Bear, his claws worn away, the Indians would not allow."

In another part of the Narrative, Thompson brings up this experience:

"I now recur to what I have already noticed in the early part of last winter, when proceeding up the Athabasca River to cross the mountains, in company with men and four hunters, on one of the channels of the River we came to the track of a large animal, which measured fourteen inches in length by eight inches in breadth by a tape line (14 x 8). As snow was about six inches in depth the track was well defined and we could see it for a full hundred yards from us, this animal was proceeding from north to south. We did not attempt to follow it, we had not time for it, and the Hunters, eager as they are to follow and shoot every animal, made no attempt to follow this beast, for what could the balls of our fowling guns do against such an animal?"

"Report from old times had made the head branches of this River, and the Mountains in the vicinity the abode of one, or more, very large animals, to which I never appeared to give credence; for these reports appeared to arise from that fondness for the marvellous so common to mankind: but the sight of the track of that large a beast staggered me, and I often thought of it, yet never could bring myself to believe such an animal existed, but thought it might be the track of some Monster Bear."

-----

DAVID THOMPSON (1770–1857)

Canadian geographer, fur trader, and explorer, born in London, England. In 1784 he came to Fort Churchill, Canada, as an apprentice of the Hudson's Bay Company, and until 1797 he was a fur trader of Hudson Bay and in the Athabasca country to the west. Although he had little scientific training, he developed great skill in geodetic and astronomical observations, and after 1797, when he joined the North West Company, he methodically located points in Western Canada and made surveys of astonishing exactitude.

In 1797–98 he traveled far South to the Mandan villages on the Missouri and then surveyed the headwaters of the Mississippi River. His most notable exploring expeditions were those across the Rocky Mountains and on the Columbia River.

In 1807 he crossed the Howse Pass to the source of the Columbia River and traveled its length; he then explored the Kootenai, Pend Oreille, and Clark Fork river basins. In 1810, prevented by the Piegan from using Howse Pass, he went north to the head of the Athabasca River and across the mountains and explored all of the Columbia River system. He then went to Montreal, where he made (1812–14) a large and invaluable map of Western Canada for the North West Company, long the best map of the region.

Thompson, however, received little open recognition except an appointment (1816–26) to the commission for surveying the U.S.- Canadian boundary. It was not until the 20th century that his importance as a geographer was recognized. - northwestjournal.ca - The Life of David Thompson

Video - The Legend of David Thompson

The Original Northwester: David Thompson and the Native Tribes of North America

Epic Wanderer: David Thompson and the Mapping of the Canadian West

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