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The Coureur de Bois
by Alexander Ross (1789-1856)

One day while in a jocular mood the old man began to talk over his past life. It was full of adventure, and may appear amusing to others as it did to us. I shall give it as nearly as I can in his own words. "I have now," said he, "been forty-two years in this country. For twenty-four I was a light canoeman. I required but little sleep, but sometimes got less than I required. No portage was too long for me; all portages were alike. My end of the canoe never touched the ground till I saw the end of it. Fifty songs a day were nothing to me. I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. During that period I saved the lives of ten bourgeois, and was always the favourite because when others stopped to carry at a bad step and lost time, I pushed on - over rapids, over cascades, over chutes; all were the same to me. No water, no weather ever stopped the paddle or the song. I have had twenty wives in the country; and was once possessed of fifty horses and six running dogs trimmed in the first style. I was then like a bourgeois, rich and happy. No bourgeois had better-dressed wives than I; no Indian chief finer horses; no white man better harnessed or swifter dogs. I beat all the Indians at the race, and no white man ever passed me in the chase. I wanted for nothing; and I spent all my earnings in the enjoyment of pleasure. Five hundred pounds twice told have passed through my hands, although now I have not a spare shirt to my back nor a penny to buy one. Yet, were I young I should glory in commencing the same career. I would spend another half-century in the same fields of enjoyment. There is no life so happy as a voyageur's life; none so independent; no place where a man enjoys so much variety and freedom as in the Indian country. Huzza, huzza pour le pays sauvage!"

After this cri de joie he sat down in the boat and we could not help admiring the wild enthusiasm of the old Frenchman. He had boasted and excited himself till he was out of breath and then sighed with regret that he could no longer enjoy the scenes of his past life.


Source: Alexander Ross, The Fur Hunters of the Far West (1855)

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