Arnold, with his small escort, without a guide, their baggage lashed to their boats, started down the swollen flood of the Chaudière early on the morning of the 28th, to obtain provisions for his famishing army. For the first seven miles the river was a broad sheet of black water, perhaps a hundred yards in width, owing to the recent freshet, moving swiftly through a vast tract of overflowed forest. Vistas of barkless trees, long dead and whitened, continued ever-present on either side, unrelieved even by the moss which, in a more southern climate, would have hung in festoons from tree to tree. No sign of animal life was visible except those hermits of the swamp, the herons and mud-hens, which every now and then rose lazily from some stump or half-immersed drift and flapped slowly on before them, to alight within a short distance, then rise again and slowly disappear over the trees.
This dreary region passed, the water became rougher and the stream was confined by more definite banks; the trees were no longer dead, but, with the exception of the evergreens, stripped of their foliage. They soon shot across some sharp rips, and, within a mile or two, the distant sound of the rush of rapids reached them; presently they were fighting their way over a half mile of water lashed to fury by hidden ledges, divided by fallen trees and cut into sharp-toothed waves by keen-edged boulders, between which the river curled and darted with powerful suction. Faster and faster, too fast to dip a paddle or plunge a pole, they sped on, till after many a narrow escape their boat shot into a long, wide eddy, where, around a small island, the water became smooth for a few moments. Then, as they rounded a curve of the river, the current caught them again and carried them into other rapids. And so they kept on, reckless of their own safety, their thoughts on the army of men behind them whose lives hung on their reaching the French settlements before it was too late. Twenty miles were passed in two hours, and no accident had happened. All that day they wrestled with the rocks and angry river, and there was no end to the rapids.
Now and then an eddy gave them a moment's respite, but they never found more than a few rods of open water for another thirty miles. They used their poles and paddles where they could, but it was seldom, and they were borne on the greater part of the day at the mercy of the current.
At last the momentum of the pent-up water became so violent, as the height of the banks increased, that they flew forward in a mass of foam; the waves sprang up and curled in over the bows and sides of their frail craft and threatened every moment to swamp them. They were as helpless as the drift which swept along beside them. The rocks and boulders ahead seemed larger and more fearful; the banks were become precipitous and covered to the very edge with dense forests. They seemed to be entering a rocky gorge. Suddenly they plunged over a fall, and every boat and canoe, as in turn it was sucked into the vortex, was overturned. Some of the men saved themselves by clinging to the boats, or were washed upon the rocks below. Six of them found themselves swimming in a huge, rock-bound basin, where the river paused in its mad rush, and stood silent in a dark and fathomless pool before it darted around a precipitous bank and fell, thundering, thirty feet over jagged shelves of broken ledges. These are known today as the Falls of Sault. The rapids they passed early in the morning are called the Devil's Rapids.
They swam ashore, thankful to have escaped more certain death by their misfortune; gathered what they could of their baggage from the rocks where it had lodged, and here spent the night. Only two of the bateaux and Arnold's periagua were saved from the general wreck, and the periagua was so badly damaged that it had to be adandoned.
The Falls of the Sault on the Chaudiére
In the extreme background of this picture is the rock-bound basin, deep sunken and hidden from view by the rocky channel. It is very much larger than the pool in the foreground.
Taken by the author, October 1895
Their last day before reaching Sartigan was not less dangerous. So swift was the current that the party were obliged to land and lower the boats down stream by their painters. Several long portages, more difficult than any on the Dead River, had to be crossed. Luckily two Penobscot Indians who met them rendered great assistance, and told them of the first house a short distance below the Du Loup.
Arnold therefore pushed on, undaunted by freezing cold and flying snow, and so rapidly did he cover the last forty miles to Sartigan, half by water, half by land, that by the evening of October 30 - two days after leaving Lake Chaudière - he was purchasing supplies and arranging for forwarding them early next morning, with the following carefully worded letter directed to the "Officers of the Detachment."
"SARTIGAN, Oct. 31st, 1775.
Gentlemen: - l now send forward for the use of the detachment, 5 bbls. and 2 tierces and 500 lbs. of flour by Lieut. Church, Mr. (Barin) and 8 Frenchmen, and shall immediately forward on more, as far as the falls. Those who have provisions to reach the falls will let this pass on to the rear - and those who want will take as sparingly as possible, that the whole will meet with relief. The inhabitants received us kindly, and appear friendly in offering us provisions, etc. Pray make all possible dispatch.
I am, Gent., yours, etc.,
This reckless descent of the Chaudière by Arnold and his scouts to save the shattered army should forever put at rest Burr's carping complaint that the commander was not always ready to share the perils and privations of his men on this expedition. Next day he sent a messenger with a letter to friends in Quebec, in which he notified them of his approach, inquired the strength of the garrison, and mentioned his apprehension that his Indian messengers had betrayed him, as some had returned and brought no answer. The letter was in substance a repetition of that to Messrs. Manier, Gregory and Maynard, already referred to.
Meanwhile, the army, reduced to the utmost straits, was hurrying forward with all the speed which in the enfeebled condition of the men was possible. A very few bateaux had been somehow gotten over the carry at the Height of Land, and floated across Chaudière pond, but in so leaky and unsafe a condition that it soon appeared they would be useless in the rapid and boisterous current of the river. One which belonged to Hendricks's company of riflemen was carried further than the others, in order that Lieutenant McClelland, who was dying of pneumonia, might not be left behind to perish alone in the wilderness. This young officer had been borne across the mountains on a litter, Captain Hendricks himself being one of the bearers. Just above the Falls of Sault the bateau in which he lay was carried into the rapids and saved only by its fortunate lodgment upon a large rock. The crew bore their helpless officer to the shore with great danger and difficulty.
As poor McClelland, dying, lay beside the fire his men had built for him, men of Smith's company of riflemen passed him on their way down the river. To some of them, his friends, he bade "farewell." Lieutenant Simpson and other fellow officers divided with him the last of their dearly treasured pittance of food, and parted from him with great distress and tenderness, for Henry says of him: "He was endowed with all those qualities which win the affection of men. Open, brave, sincere and a lover of truth."
He had marched nine hundred miles from his southern home on the sunny Juniata to die for his country, obscurely, on the rock-strewn shore of the bleak Chaudière. Dr. Senter came up, also, and with the few instruments which he carried in his knapsack tried the Sagradoine method to relieve the sufferer. Two privates were left to minister to him, and later two Indian boys from Sartigan, nephews of Natanis, stimulated by handsome rewards from Smith and Simpson, made their way up the river with a canoe, and brought the invalid to the first house in Sartigan, where he soon after expired, and was buried by his two attendants, who then rejoined the army.
On the 31st, some of the eastern men and riflemen, who led, made twenty-one miles - a terrific march for men in such condition in a pathless wilderness, now covered with snow and ice. The cold, the snow and the frozen ground had driven into their winter retreats those small animals and birds whose presence might have served to sustain life. The larger animals, doubtless fully apprised of the approach of the head of the column by the unusual noises attending the advance of so many men, had disappeared, and could be found only by systematic hunting, out of the line of march. There was neither time nor strength for such pursuit. The experience of Steele's scouts, if proof was needed, had shown that moose meat alone (deer, it would seem, were not plenty) was not sufficient to more than postpone starvation, and even then must be consumed frequently and in large quantities. Still one man saved his life - thanks to a sedee, a small wood bird, and a squirrel; another was lucky enough to shoot a partridge.
The soldier Morison, a volunteer in Hendricks's company, thus describes the march in his journal:
"Nov. 1. - Our deplorable situation reduced us to the sad necessity of every man to shift for himself. We had all along aided our weaker brethren, but the dreadful moment had now arrived when these friendly offices could be no longer performed. Many of the men began to fall behind, and those in any condition to march were scarcely able to support themselves; so that it was impossible for us to bring them along, and if we tarried with them we must all have perished. It was, therefore, given out this morning by our officers for every man to shift for himself, and save his own life, if possible. This measure opened upon us a scene of the bitterest sorrow. When we moved off from before them, how did the unhappy companions of all our toils and sufferings strive with all their might to keep up with us, and to tread in our footsteps, calling out to us as well as their feeble voices would allow: "Will you leave us to perish in this wilderness?" Never will that heart-piercing interrogatory forsake my memory. Some of those who were advancing turned back, and declared that they would prefer death to leaving them; others stopped their ears and moved off with all the expedition in their power. ... As we advanced, we saw with bitterest anguish their weak attempts to follow, but a mountain closed the scene between us and many of them forever.
With heavy laden hearts we marched on over a succession of hills and mountains enough to outdo the sturdiest traveller. On the way, passed by many of the musketmen in the most deplorable condition, nearly exhausted, and exposed to the rigours of the season. We found some of them eating a dog, which they had roasted entire, not having had anything to eat for two, some three, days before. I saw one of them offer a dollar for a bit of cake not weighing more than two ounces, which was refused. This day we forced a march of twenty miles and encamped, our strength so reduced that but a few of us were able to raise a fire. Our spirits were so depressed by the occurrences of the day that death would have been a welcome messenger to have ended our woes.
Nov. 2. - This morning when we arose to resume our march, many of us were so weak as to be unable to stand without support of our guns. I, myself, whom Providence had endowed with an uncommon degree of strength, stagered about like a drunken man. We had eaten no food for several days. However, we got on our packs and set out through the woods, hoping to see some inhabitants. But we stumbled on over hill and swamp, mile after mile, without any visible prospect of relief. This day I roasted my shot pouch and eat it. It was now four days since I had eaten anything, save the skin of a squirrel I had picked up in a tent some time before, and had accidentally put into my pocket. A number resorted to the same expedient; and in a short time there was not a shot pouch to be seen among all those within my view. This was the last resort, and approaching destruction appeared to be the only medium through which we could pass from our present calamities. Hope was now extinguished and its place supplied with a deep insensibility, which is often, in desperate cases, the precursor of some extraordinary change. Before and behind us and on every side of us we could discover nothing but a wide waste, unadorned with the smoke of any habitation. There was nothing in all the gloomy scenery that surrounded us to interest the feelings for a moment, or cast a gleam of pleasure upon the dejected soul. All was silence. Every object tended to dismay the heart, already too much oppressed. The light that shone upon it served but to render its dreary aspect more visible. There was nothing magnificent to awake our benighted imaginations, only at times when we gained the summit of a huge mountain we could discover the Chaudière veering its course through these lofty hills, whose frowning brows seemed to threaten its meanderings with a final stoppage, whilst it endeavoured, as it were, to escape the impending ruin."
The Indian girl Jacataqua, whom we first met at Fort Western, still followed the army with some of her Indian relations, for she was familiar with this country, and was very willing to give her aid as guide. She and her dog were now constantly hunting for any sort of meat for the starving soldiery; and, skilful with herbs and roots, she became indispensable to the sick. When, therefore, Dearborn's dogs and those of other soldiers were sacrificed, hers escaped, for had sentiment not protected him her announced intention to leave the army should the dog be slaughtered was a sure safeguard.
By this time, the 2d of November, the army was scattered along the east bank of the Chaudière, in companies and squads, for a distance of some forty miles, tracing their way with ever-failing strength through the deer paths along the water's edge, over rocky headlands, and through treacherous bogs and endless thickets. All their bateaux, camp equipage and provisions were gone, except here and there a tin camp-kettle or an ax. Some, owing to their shipwrecks, were even unarmed and without head covering; many were barefoot, their clothing torn by snags and briers, while those who had tried to make food of their leather breeches or coats were in even sadder plight. Up and down the line, helpless in the woods, were nearly one hundred invalids, unable to proceed further. Where the bed of the river, from which its waters had been diverted, offered some relief in open walking from the constant struggle through the dense thickets and up and down the step ravines along its banks, the men availed themselves of the change, if not relief, which it offered. Coming to a long, sandy beach, some of the men of Smith's company darted from the single file in which they marched, and with their nails tore out of the sand-beach roots which were eatable and ate them raw. Few knew the indications which pointed to the presence of these roots, but as one man sprang from the line half a dozen followed, and as he seized the prize fought for its possession.
Once, "a mountain, jutting in a most precipitate form into the river, compelled them to pass the margin of the stream upon a long log, which had been brought thither by some former freshet. The bark and limbs of the tree had been worn away by the rubbing of the ice, and the trunk lay lengthwise along the narrow passage, and, smooth and slippery, gorged the pass. This difficulty collected a heterogeneous mass of the troops, who claimed the right of passage, according to the order of coming to it. The log was to be footed, or the water of the depth of three or four feet must be waded. There was no alternative. An eastern man, bare-footed, bareheaded, and thinly clad, lean and wretched from abstinence, with his musket in his hand, essayed to pass on the log. His foot slipped and he fell several feet into the water. Even his immediate friends and comrades, many of whom were on the log at the same moment, did not deign to lend him an assisting hand. Death stared them in the face. They passed on regardless of his fate." Verily it was "sauve qui peut."
But they had not proceeded four miles next day before they met Arnold's relief party of French Canadians, some afoot and some on horseback, with sacks of flour thrown across their horses, driving up the shore oxen and other cattle. " We with one accord lifted up our hands and eyes to heaven, and blessed that gracious God for this great deliverance," writes Henry. "Provisions in sight!" "Provisions in sight!" resounded from hill to hill. The fight was over - they had won. Throwing down their arms, they sprang forward like a pack of famished wolves, struck down one of the beasts in his tracks, and I had its hide and flesh on the fire boiling before the creature was dead."
The generous Canadians, excited by every fresh evidence of suffering, having supplied the immediate needs of these men, sprang upon their horses again, and taking with them such sustenance as was portable, hurried on to the assistance of those in the rear, shouting encouragement as they reached the top of every hill. Some of them returned late in the evening with the bodies of half-frozen and insensible provincials, slung in place of their flour-sacks across their horses. They had found them prone upon the earth half covered with snow and mire, their vitality unappreciable except by a fluttering pulse or struggling heart-beat. Others of these good Samaritans pushed on to rescue those who were still further behind, and returned next morning with a number of those who, it was thought, must inevitably have perished. That night, as those who had already escaped from this Valley of Death tended their campfires and feasted, and moved like gaunt and hollow-eyed specters between the deep shadows of the forests and the flaming firelight, they reminded one another so forcibly of the imagined ghosts of their poor comrades, perforce deserted, that their joy in their deliverance could find no exalted expression. Many a man, though sleeping the sleep of extreme exhaustion, must have started and cried aloud as in his dreams he saw again the sights of the past few days, and seemed to hear once more the heartrending entreaties of the sick and helpless.
The following day, the 4th of November, they arrived at the Du Loup, a large stream flowing into the Chaudière from the east. The weather was raw and cold and the water icy. But they dashed through this river up to their arm-pits, and ran on for a few hundred yards to greet with three huzzas the first house in Canada - the first house they had seen for thirty days.
Captain Dearborn, Lieutenant Hutchins, Ensign
Thomas and fifty men of Dearborn's company, with Captain Smith's
company, were the first to arrive at the house on the Du Loup.
The following day they moved down the river six miles to Sartigan,
a settlement largely Indian, where they found Arnold, who, assisted
by Steele and John M. Taylor, of Smith's company, who happened
to be an excellent penman and accountant, now named commissary,
had been rapidly and successfully accumulating provisions against
the approach of the famished army. There were but three or four
small houses, built by half-breeds or French Canadians, in Sartigan,
and the Indians lived in wigwams, so that few of the soldiers
could be received in the shelter of civilization, and many, left
out in the cold, built bough huts and large fires to protect
themselves. A severe snowstorm made these hastily constructed
abodes very uncomfortable, but the men who had been snatched
out of the very jaws of death were in no mood to complain of
Every day stragglers, with terrible tales of privation and suffering, made their way across the Rivière du Loup and came into camp. One of them, Burdeen by name, a private in Topham's company, who was supposed to have starved to death, related how he and a comrade, named Hart, both sick, kept together for some time after crossing the Height of Land. After wandering for several days Hart succumbed to a violent cramp, which had long tortured him. Burdeen and five other riflemen who had joined them left the unfortunate man dead. Shortly after they came upon another corpse, a victim of hunger and sickness, one of Captain Hendrick's company. As they still advanced they were astonished to find a stray horse, which had providentially run away from the Frenchmen who brought out the provisions. The party shot it and ate heartily of the flesh for three or four days while they rested. Seven or eight more sick men came up, and the horse flesh saved their lives as well. For seven days previous these men had no sort of nourishment but roots and black birch bark, which they boiled and drank. Burdeen reported that he had seen twelve dead bodies along the road over which he had come.