Again, what sunshine! and how invigorating is the wind, now breathing sweet music through the trees as their thick leaves rustle above the swift river!
Two or three large rafts are in sight, their hardy crews straining on the huge oars as they cross the rapids for the city. At measured intervals their wild cry fills the air; whilst the notes of our island bugles, together with the drums of the city, reply merrily and boldly, as though flinging back the challenge of some approaching horde of savage invaders.
And verily no beings can look more wild of aspect or attire than the crews working the huge rafts which navigate these waters. Europeans, Indians, and Bois-brules, as the half-breed is denominated, are all found in this employ, but so much alike in equipment and complexion, that, only for the round Saxon face, light hair, and blue eyes, here and there distinguishable, it would be difficult to conceive them of different lineage.
A pair of loose trousers of coloured serge or flannel, a sash of scarlet worsted or wampum girt[Pg 304] about the loins over a shirt of indescribable hue, moccassins on the feet, and a red cap or bonnet of fox-skin, or not unfrequently a shock of hair that despises any covering, and alike defies the force of sun and storm, forms the common costume of these sons of toil, whose lives, commonly of short duration, are wasted in quick alternations of perilous labour and wild debauch.
Their rough mates, the boatmen of old Mississippi and the lakes, have nearly disappeared; and how much longer steam and railway will yet leave this calling open to the Tartar-spirits of the North, it is impossible to say. At present they are evidently in full employ, for there is hardly a reach of the rivers flowing about the isles of Montreal but is, at some time or other throughout the day, laden by these cumbrous rafts, often measuring one hundred feet in length by ten in width.
These masses are rafted from vast distances; and, during their course of perhaps fifty days, their crews look for no covering: the rain descends upon them, and the waves of the rapids rise over them, but they abide both without shade or shelter; subsisting principally upon pork, dressed or raw, as may be, and having for[Pg 305] their beverage the stream whereon they may chance to float, except during an occasional halt at some stated point where whisky invites them to hold a deep but brief carouse.
--Impressions of America, by Tyrone Power (Primary source documents / Timeline)