Our Caughnawagas in Egypt / a narrative of what was seen and accomplished by the contingent of North American Indian voyageurs who led the British boat Expedition for the Relief of Khartoum up the Cataracts of the Nile.

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OUR CAUGHNAWAGAS IN EGYPT.

Entered according to Act of Parliament, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five
By LOUIS JACKSON,
in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture and Statistics at Ottawa.


OUR CAUGHNAWAGAS

IN EGYPT:

A Narrative of what was seen and accomplished by the
Contingent of North American Indian Voyageurs who
led the British Boat Expedition for the Relief of
Khartoum up the Cataracts of the Nile.

By LOUIS JACKSON, of Caughnawaga,
Captain of the Contingent.

With an introductory preface by T. S. Brown.

Montreal:
W. DRYSDALE & CO.,
PUBLISHERS, BOOKSELLERS AND STATIONERS,
232 St. James Street.


1885.


ILLUSTRATIONS

LOUIS JACKSON. Captain of the Contingent
THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZEH
THE GREAT SPHINX
A DAHABEAH
RAISING WATER ON THE NILE
BOAT FOR THE NILE EXPEDITION UNDER SAIL
BOAT FOR THE NILE SHOWING AWNING
CATARACT OF AMBIGOL

PREFACE.

The Indians of Caughnawaga are an offshoot from the Mohawks, one of the divisions of the Six Nations, formerly in pseudo occupation of western New York, and known to the French by the general name of Iroquois. Long before the cession of this Province to Great Britain, they were settled at the head of the rapids of the St. Lawrence opposite Lachine, on a tract of land ten miles square, or 64,000 acres held in common, but lately separated into lots to be divided among the people as individual property.

Contrary to what has been the too common fate of aborigines brought into close contact with foreigners, the Caughnawagas, with some mixture of white blood, have maintained throughout, their Indian customs, manners and language, with the manhood of their ancestors, in an alertness, strength and power of endurance where-ever these qualities have been required: in the boating or rafting on our larger rivers and the hardships of Voyageurs in the North-West.

As a high tribute to this known excellence, the call for Canadian Voyageurs to assist in the boat navigation of the Nile was accompanied by a special requirement that there should be a contingent of fifty Caughnawagas. They responded quickly to the call, performed the task committed to them in a manner most satisfactory as described in these pages, and returned to their homes at the end of six months, after a voyage of more than 12,000 miles, sound and resolute as when they started, with the loss of but two men.

There is something unique in the idea of the aborigines of the New World being sent for to teach the Egyptians how to pass the Cataracts of the Nile, which has been navigated in some way by them for thousands of years, that should make this little book attractive to all readers, especially as it is written by one born and bred in Caughnawaga, who, with the quick eye of an Indian, has noticed many things unnoticed by ordinary tourists and travellers.

It is written in a most excellent spirit that might wisely be imitated by other travellers. The writer finds no faults, blames nobody, and always content, is generous in his acknowledgments for every act of kindness and proper consideration shown to him and his party, by Her Majesty’s Officers of all ranks in command of the expedition. It was written off-hand and goes forth to the public as it came from the pen of the writer, to be judged in its style and the matter contained, by no standard but its own.

Montreal, April, 1885.


OUR CAUGHNAWAGAS IN EGYPT.

When it was made known by Lord Melgund in the early part of September, 1884, that it was the express desire of General Lord Wolseley to have Caughnawaga Indians form part of the Canadian Contingent, the required number was soon obtained, in spite of discouraging talk and groundless fears. Having been introduced to Lord Melgund, I agreed to go and look after the Caughnawaga boys, although then busily engaged in securing my crops. I, with a number of others reached the “Ocean King” at Quebec, having been left behind in Montreal through incorrect information given me by one of the ship’s officers as to the time of sailing. We received the farewell of the Governor General on board the “Ocean King,” and His Excellency’s very kind words had an especially encouraging effect upon my boys.

On reaching Sidney, C. B., and while taking in coal, some funny tricks were played by voyageurs which I must not omit. To get ashore in spite of the officers who kept watch on the wharf, some daring fellows jumped from the vessel’s rigging into the empty coal cars returning to the wharf, coming back in the dark and the vessel being a few feet off the wharf, the men had to climb aboard by a rope. Now it happened, that of two friends, one was able to get up, the other was not, neither could his friend help him, they however, contrived a plan, which they carried out to perfection. The one on the wharf laid quietly down, while his friend climbed aboard and there informed our officers that a man had hurt himself by falling off the coal shoot, immediately there was great alarm, lamps were hung over the side and the man discovered by his clothes to be one of the voyageurs, a plank was shoved out over the ship’s rail, standing nearly upright and a line hove, (some suggested to put the line around his neck.) However, he was hoisted aboard and carried towards the cabin. While being carried, the apparently lifeless one was seen to open his eyes three or four times, but too many hands evidently had hold of him and so he was brought before the doctor, who eagerly examined him, but soon pronounced him dead, “dead drunk” and ordered him to be taken to his bunk, where he soon sat up laughing and feeling good, to escape so easily.

On arriving in Alexandria, after a fine passage and good treatment we saw our boats, which at the first sight and from a distance, were condemned by the boys, but later experience changed our first impression.

We left the wharf at Alexandria on the 8th of October, at 11 a. m. by train. The first-class carriages were after the English style, but the troop cars in which we were transported were less comfortable, they had four benches placed fore and aft, two in the centre back to back and one on each side with back to outside, lacking the usual conveniences of our Canadian cars. The sides of the car were about four feet high, then open to the roof. We were fifty-six in a car which made it uncomfortably crowded. After leaving Alexandria I was surprised to see people standing up to their necks in the swamps, cutting some kind of grass. I saw also cattle lying perfectly still in the water with just their heads out. This sight scared my boys as to what the heat would be further south. Beyond the swamps on the east side of the road I saw nice gardens, and, what was still more interesting, groves of palm trees with fruit. After two hours’ ride we reached the desert, where nothing but sand was to be seen. The whistle went all the time to warn camel drivers, who also use the roadbed, and I did not see any other road for them to travel. Another curiosity was the protective fencing for the road, made of cornstalks to keep back the sand, as we make board fences against the snow. At all the stations, which were far apart, all hands rushed out for a drink of water. We did not meet many trains. During the afternoon we came close to the Nile, which there appeared to be about the same width as the St. Lawrence opposite Caughnawaga. We soon reached a regular Egyptian settlement, with people living in small mud huts, and with chickens, goats, sheep and dogs coming out with the children. The ground appeared to be clay and in the road every three or four feet there was a rat hole and rats dodging in all directions. I saw more rats at a glance than I had ever seen before in all my life. We also saw some ship yards with some boats on the stocks and some on the mud. The boats were about twenty feet long, and one afloat appeared to be wood to within about four inches above water with gunwales of mud and a peculiar sail.

The gunwales were three or four feet high and five or six inches thick. They appeared to be baked hard by the sun, and were water proof, as I afterwards saw several of them loaded so heavily that a great part of the mud gunwales were under water. I suppose mud is used in preference to wood, because wood is very scarce in Egypt and mud is very plentiful. They make the most of the mud which the Nile brings down in such quantities every year. They build houses with it as well as boats and it is this mud which manures and fertilizes the whole land of Egypt.

We soon sighted the pyramids and came to Bulac Station three miles from Cairo at 7 o’clock. It being dark, supper was served which we took into the cars, it consisted of canned meat, bread and tea. We left at eight for Assiout. The sand became very troublesome entering the open cars and I concluded as we were travelling through the night to give my eyes a rest and went to sleep sitting up. Next morning at eight o’clock we reached Assiout about 240 miles from Alexandria, there we saw some Nubian prisoners, black, ugly and desperate looking fellows chained together with large rusty chains round their necks. They were sitting on the ground. We were marched about a quarter of a mile to the river, where there were fleets of steamers and barges, one fleet waiting for us. We were marched on board two barges tied together and after washing about half an inch of mud off our faces with Nile river water, went to breakfast prepared by our own cooks who had left Alexandria twelve hours in advance. After breakfast I went ashore, I noticed in one little mud hut, goats, sheep, dogs and children on the ground and there were flies in the children’s faces and eyes beyond description. I got my first near view of a date tree here with its rough bark which I cut with my knife.

The next sight was a ship yard where four or five whip saws were kept going; their whip saw is rigged like a bucksaw only the saw instead of the stick, is in the centre. There is a stick on each side of the saw and a string outside each stick. They had to back the saw the whole length of the wood to get it out. Messrs. Cook and Son the great tourist agents had just commenced to build a large hotel, which when returning home I found already finished. I noticed a sign over a mud house door “Egyptian Bank.” A track runs from the depot straight down to the river and there were a number of flat cars loaded with boats, of which I took a nearer look, I also saw oars and poles. I was well pleased with all and at the same time made up my mind, that we had carried paddles across the ocean for very little use. I asked permission to go and see the catacombs, but was told that we must get under way. I received for my men cooking utensils, such as kettles, tin-plates, knives, forks and spoons, for the whole campaign, which I delivered up again, when returning. We started at 11 a. m., the fleet consisting of two barges side by side in tow of a side-wheel steamer. At the stern of each barge a trough, built of mud bricks, formed the cooking range, and it amused me to see that they had put on about half a cord of wood for cooking purposes, to last during the trip to Assouan, (twelve days) and this at once impressed me with the difference between the value of fuel in this country and in our own. There were thirteen gangs with their foremen on the barges and three gangs with foremen on the steamer. We found the Nile river water of good taste but muddy and we generally left it standing for an hour to settle. A funny sight was presented by a cow and a small camel harnessed to a plough. A stick crooked suitably by nature was laid over both necks and tied round each and a native rope was run from the yoke to a stick, also crooked to suit the purpose by nature, used as plough, scratching about two inches deep and three inches wide, at a speed as I judged of one acre per week. Another unusual thing was to see the crops in several stages of growth at the same time in adjoining patches, from sowing to quarter grown, half grown and ripe crops. This is one of the consequences of the Nubians depending upon the overflow of the Nile to fertilize their soil. Directly the river begins to fall they commence to sow their seed in the mud, it leaves behind, and as the water recedes they follow it up with the sowing. The crop farthest from the river of course gets the start.

The next novel sight was the irrigation of the fields. To lift the water from the river, a frame is made by putting some cornstalks into the ground and putting clay round them to make posts, which are placed about six feet apart; the posts support a small stick, across which is laid a crooked pole, with about a dozen bends in it, that balances a mud basket on one end against a leather bucket on the other. The bucket holds about as much as our common well bucket, a man is continually filling from the river and emptying into a mud spout between the posts. The water is led off in a small mud conduit over the farm which is divided into sections, when one section is filled with water the stream is turned into another one. These waterworks are kept going day and night. Once in a while one may see cattle power used for irrigation of the following old fashioned kind, the yoke is hitched to a primative cog-wheel of about twelve feet in diameter, which works into a smaller wheel placed underneath it, the cattle walking over a bridge. The cogs are simply pins driven into the outside of each wheel. The shaft of the smaller wheel runs out over a ditch cut from the river and carries a large reel about eighteen feet in diameter over which two native ropes are laid to which are attached about forty earthen jars. The cattle here are about the same size as ours, but they have a lump on their back and their horns run straight back. The colour of most of these cattle is blueish. Where the fertile strip of land is wide, canals are dug in curves to bring the water back near, to the sand mountains. The cattle feed along the river bank, which is left uncultivated for about twenty feet from the water, and I have seen a number of them of all kinds, feeding on this poor strip and never touch the rich crops alongside, although left to themselves and I was told that they were taught that way. The sheep look like dogs dragging long tails on the ground and the dogs look much like the Esquimaux dogs I have seen in Manitoba.

After seven or eight days travel we left the sand mountains and began to see rock on both sides, more particularly on the east bank the rock looked to me like plaster of Paris. The natives quarried it and loaded it into small dibeers. “Dibeers” are sailing crafts with a small cabin aft, whilst, “Nuggars” are plain barges, with a very peculiar sail, the boom of which is rolled into the sail by way of furling the latter. I heard one blast go off and this being Sunday, the 19th October, I made up my mind that the people here have no Sundays. We passed some ruins on both shores, some appeared to be cut into the solid rock, which here is of a brownish colour. I could not tell what kind of rock but the courses varied from four to twenty feet as seen between the temples and they laid very even. The perpendicular seams were perfectly straight. The temples all faced the river. We also passed some immense figures, some standing, some sitting on chairs, some looking towards the river, some showing their profile, the highest of these I judged to be 60 feet high. It was a pity that we could not get the slightest information from the Egyptian crew with us, who seemed very averse to us, so much so, that I could not even learn their names far less any of their language. About this time some of the boys gave out that we would be shown the exact spot, where Moses was picked up, but nobody knew exactly. Our fleet did not run at nights, and it always happened that we halted in some uninhabited place, where nothing could be learned. Some of the cities we passed presented a beautiful appearance from the distance, temples, high towers and so forth all looking very white, some mud houses were two or three stories high and of blue mud color.

At one place, the only one point where we stopped in the day time, I went ashore to see what was called a sacred tree. A young Christian Egyptian of about sixteen years, whose acquaintance I made here told me that the sacred tree had great healing power, and sick people would come and ask its help, and when cured would drive a nail into the tree as a memorial. The tree showed a great number of nails of all patterns, and it must not be forgotten that nails here are even scarcer than money. It is a live tree and nothing nice to look at, it rises from the ground about four feet straight and then lays over horizontally for about thirty feet, after which it turns up and throws out branches. The trunk is about one foot through and the bark is similar to that of our large thorn tree. Returning to the fleet I saw a young man lying in the dust on the side of the road, with his mouth open, his tongue out and his eyes, in fact his whole face a mass of flies, a horrible sight. A little girl bent over him, pointed to the sick and looked at me. My young Christian bade me come away saying it was a case of leprosy. My friend showed me a mosque and a bazaar. Coming out of the bazaar I noticed three men acting very queerly, walking around in front of a mud hut, talking dolefully or murmuring and constantly looking to the ground, and was told that there was a death in the family. My guide saw me back to the fleet and on the road asked me for a book, and I gave him one. His people lived in the place. The fertile strips along the river here are much narrower than in Lower Egypt, sometimes one-eighth of a mile wide sometimes only about two hundred feet, but to judge from the crops as well as the cattle and the food the latter find, the soil must be better.

I should say the river is from a third of a mile to half a mile wide on the average from Assiout to Assouan, and very shallow, as the steamer, which drew about five feet of water, got aground often. We reached Assouan at 10 a. m. on the 21st, not without regret at having had to pass such famous places as Thebes and Luxor. We camped quite close to Thebes and there were guides waiting with candles to show us over the place but we had no time to spare and so were not permitted to wander about.

We landed two miles below the city at Assouan the lower end of the track of the seven mile railway to Shellal passing behind Assouan. This railway is built to portage over the first cataract. Opposite Assouan, we passed the camp of the Black Watch. At Shellal, a steamer with forty whalers in tow received us and started at once towards Wady Halfa. We camped two or three miles above Shellal and were therefore deprived of any sight of the first cataract. Our fifty-six Caughnawaga Indians were given eight boats, which were towed four abreast and ten long, this was the first time we got into the boats. We soon made use of the awning provided for each. The country along the river here is all rock and as I was told, back of the rock all sand. Doctor Neilson informed me that we were now about crossing into the tropics. The natives here are considerably darker than the Egyptians and better built men. They were dressed similarly to the Egyptians. A navy pinnace overhauled us here bringing Abbe Bouchard who had stayed behind in Cairo. We went a good distance before we again met cultivated land and then only in strips, some of which were not twenty feet wide and they were utilized every inch. The natives follow the falling river with cultivation, as I discovered when coming back a little over three months afterwards, when I found crops of beans from one inch to a foot long, growing where there had been water. We passed miles of barren rock and then again narrow strips and altogether the country was poorer than Upper Egypt. Occasionally we would see a few date trees along the river and now and then a small mud-built village. Irrigation was going on the same as below, both by hand and by ox-power. We reached Korosko on the 24th of October the steamer was run with the bow on the shore, but the boats towed too far from shore for us to get out.

Korosko is a small fort occupied by both English and Egyptian soldiers. The river banks around are fifteen to twenty feet high. From my whaler I could see a small building near the beach with a sign over the door marked “poste Keden” Post office. We left Korosko after an hour’s stoppage and beached in good season, to give us a chance to cook supper. At every night’s camp we unavoidably did more or less damage to the crops, which must have caused serious loss to these poor people by whom, as I said before, every inch of the spare soil is utilized. We got under way at sunrise. The river up this far from Assouan is a series of very straight stretches from five to fifteen miles in length with no difficult bends and good for navigation everywhere. The current varys from three to five miles an hour. During this day I noticed a small screw tug bearing a foresail coming after us and trying hard to reach us. It proved to be a press steamer having on board the correspondent of an English paper, an engineer and a native pilot. They ran short of coal and wanted a tow, and all the coal they had left when reaching us, a man could have put in his vest pocket. We beached this night on the west side close to a temple, cut, as it appeared to me into the solid rock. Being called to receive stores and cholera belts for the men I was prevented from joining an exploring party, that set out, and was told, when the boys came back, that I had missed something worth seeing. I learnt afterwards that this place was Abu-Simbel, where there are two temples cut out of the rock which are said to be the oldest specimens of architecture in the world. The boys said they had seen stone figures of men with toes three feet long and I dare say they were not far out, as I learnt there are four seated figures in front of the largest temple supposed to represent Rameses the Great, which are sixty five feet in height. I was sorry that I had to stay behind to look after the stores. Talking about cholera belts, everybody engaged in the British service in Egypt had to wear these belts, soldiers and voyageurs were supplied with them and required to wear them. They are strips of flannel twelve or fifteen inches wide, and I was told by soldiers who had served in Egypt some time, that they are very effective in preventing cholera and dysentery.

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