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ON THE RUMINATING ANIMALS OF NORTH AMERICA, AND THEIR SUSCEPTIBILITY OF DOMESTICATION.
BY PROF. S. F. BAIRD, OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.
In the present paper we propose to present, in a few words, the principal characteristics of the ruminating animals of North America, with especial reference to the economical employment of several species, as beasts of burden or draught, as furnishing food of excellent quality, or as yielding valuable materials for the useful arts. It is a little singular that, in the many years during which the ruminating animals of North America have been known, so little effort has been made to render them subservient to the uses of man. The experiments, when tried, have yielded satisfactory results, even in the first and second generations; but, unfortunately, the continued training of one species for a long succession of years has not been accomplished. It is not too much to suppose that the time may come when much of this continent, now desolate, and supporting a scanty and half-starved population, may become a populous region, filled with towns and villages, and owing much of its prosperity to the employment of some of our own native animals in a state of domestication.
For further remarks on this subject, we would refer especially to the articles in relation to the moose and caribou.
We must not be understood as having anything new to present in regard to the habits or history of these animals. The materials employed are mainly derived from the valuable works of Lewis and Clarke, Audubon and Bachman, Richardson, King, and others, who have had the opportunity of seeing the various species in their native regions. The minute questions of specific characters, too, we shall merely glance at, confining ourselves to the practical part of our subject, and referring to the works above-mentioned for detailed descriptions.
The ruminating animals of North America belong mainly to the divisions of the deer, the antelope, the sheep, the goat, the bison, and the musk ox. The list specifically is as follows:
1. Tarandus arcticus, Rich. Barren Ground reindeer.
2. Tarandus hastalis, Agassiz. Woodland Caribou reindeer.
3. Alces Americana. Moose.
4. Elaphus Canadensis, Ray. Elk.
5. Cervus Lewisii, Peale. Black-tail deer.
6. Cervus macrotis, Say. Mule deer.
7. Cervus Virginianus, Pennant. Virginia deer.
9. Antilocapra Americana, Ord. Prong horn antelope.
12. Bison Americanus, Cm. Buffalo.
13. Oribos moschatus, Blainville. Musk ox.
TARANDUS ARCTICUS, Rich. Barren Ground Reindeer.
The probable existence of two species of caribou in North America has been suggested for a long while, the features of distinction being suffi. ciently marked to convey the idea to all those who were acquainted with them of at least two strongly marked varieties. The difference is to be found mainly in the much smaller size of the Barren Ground species, yet having considerably longer, though very slender antlers, the existence of a gall bladder, and a very different geographical distribution. It is confined almost entirely to the Barren Grounds, the north eastern corner of North America along the Polar sea, bounded to the west by Great Slave, Athapasca, Wollaston, and Deer lakes, and the Copper-Mine river, and to the south by Churchill river.
The name is derived from the scarcity of wood throughout almost the entire extent, excepting in the vicinity of some of the streams. There are, indeed, shrubs and bushes, some of full size, others stunted trees; but these are not suitable for fuel or other economical purposes. A striking physical feature of the Barren Grounds consists in the succession of small lakes in narrow valleys, and connected by rapid streams, offering, in many cases, serious impediments to the passage of boats. All abound in fish, principally salmonoid, as trout, whitefish, and grayling, in numerous species. The borders of these waters are inhabited by a few half-starved, miserable Indians, in the depths of poverty and degrada
Here the Barren Ground reindeer graze by thousands, accompanied by the musk ox-another characteristic inhabitant. Both are enabled to exist in winter only in consequence of the great quantities of reindeer
The second and larger species of reindeer is as characteristically found in the Woody District-a region covered with wood, and reposing upon a narrow belt of primitive rocks. This is about two hundred miles wide, and is included between the Barren Grounds and the north shore of Lake Superior, extending also to some distance both east and west. Indeed, the features of this region are not lost in New Brunswick, nor even in the northern part of Maine, where caribou are found in vast numbers, as well as elsewhere.
No other species than the Barren Ground caribou is found in the region inhabited by it. Occurring as it does by thousands, it is termed the common deer by the hunters, just as the Cervus Virginianus bears this name in the United States. In no instance is the danger of relying upon the trivial name of an animal for the determination of species more fully
shown than here, where two such totally distinct species, economically, geographically, and zoologically, are presented under a common name.
The Tarandus arcticus is not confined, however, to the Barren Grounds of America. It occurs in Greenland, whence specimens have been received by the Smithsonian Institution; it is found in Spitzbergen also.
In size it is exceedingly diminutive, the does being not much larger than a good sized sheep. When fat, the bucks weigh, cleaned, from SO to 125 pounds, and occasionally more. The species agrees with all other reindeer in the presence of horns in both sexes, although in the females and young males, they are less palmated; in all, they are slender, and have the stem much elongated. Most males have one or other brow antler developed, with a broad vertical plate extending forward between the eyes; occasionally, however, this is wanting.
The horns of this species follow the common law, and fall off annually. In a few months these are reproduced, becoming hard as they increase in size; and when they have attained their full growth, the hairy covering peels off in ragged filaments, which is a sure sign of the fatness. of the animal, and generally takes place in the males between the months of September and November. The bucks generally shed their horns in January, although in some cases they retain them considerably longer; while the does cast theirs in the spring, at the time they drop their young. The coat of hair is shed in July. The shortness of the hair of the caribou, and the lightness of the skin when properly dressed, render it the most appropriate article for winter clothing in high latitudes. The skins of the young deer make the best dresses; and the animals should be killed for that purpose in August, as after that month the hair becomes long and brittle. They are so drilled into holes by the larvæ of the gad-fly that eight or ten skins are required to make a suit of clothing for a grown person. But the skins are so impervious to cold that, with the addition of a blanket of the same material, any person may bivouac in the snow with safety, and even with comfort, in the most intense cold of an arctic winter's night. The hoofs of this variety of reindeer are wonderfully adapted to the country it inhabits; for, instead of being narrow and pointed, like those of the roebuck or fallow deer, they are broad, flat, and spreading-a formation not only useful in preventing the animal from sinking in the winter so deep as it otherwise would do, but in shovelling away the snow from off the lichens clothing the rocks of the Barren Grounds, on which substance it feeds. They are, however, saved that trouble when driven to the woods for shelter, where they find a species. of lichen hanging from the trees, which, from that circumstance, has been called reindeer moss.
In June, when the sun has dried up the lichens, the deer are to be seen in full march towards the sea-coast to graze upon the sprouting carices and withered grass or hay of the preceding year, which, at that period, is still standing, and retains part of its sap, in all the moist places covering the bottoms of the narrow valleys on the coasts and islands of the Arctic sea. Having dropped their young, they commence their return to the south in September, and reach the vicinity of the woods in October, at which time the males are in good condition, and there is a layer of fat deposited on the back and rump to the depth of three or four inches, and frequently five or six immediately under the skin, designated dépouille by the Canadian voyageurs; this fat disappears in about a
month, when they become very lean and insipid as food. The females, however, which at that period are lean, acquire, in the course of the winter, a small dépouille, which lasts till they drop their young. The reindeer supplies the Chippewyans, Copper Indians, Dog Ribs, and Hare Indians with food, who would be totally unable to inhabit their barren lands were it not for the immense herds of this deer that exist there. Of the horns they form their fish-spears and hooks; and, previously to the introduction of iron by the traders, ice-chisels and various other utensils were made of them. In dressing the skins, the shin-bone, split longitudinally, is used for the purpose of scraping off the hair, after it has been repeatedly moistened and rubbed; the skins are then smeared with the brains of the animal until they acquire a soft, spongy character; and, lastly, are suspended over a fire made of rotten wood until thoroughly impregnated with the smoke. This last-mentioned process imparts a peculiar odor to the leather, and has the effect of preventing its becoming so hard, after being wet, as it would otherwise be. The skins thus dressed are used as winter clothing, and, by sewing sixty or seventy together, will make a covering for a tent sufficient for the residence of a large family. The undressed hide, after the hair is taken off, is cut into thongs of various thickness, which are twisted into deer snares, bowstrings, net-lines, and, in fact, supply all the purposes of rope. The finer thongs are used in the manufacture of fishing nets, or in making snow-shoes, while the tendons of the dorsal muscles are split into fine and excellent sewing thread. In some instances I have seen the skin so finely dressed that it equalled chamois leather.
Every part of the animal is consumed, even to the contents of the stomach a savory mixture, much esteemed by the Canadian voyageurs after it has undergone a degree of fermentation, or has lain to season, as they term it, for a few days. By collecting the blood, and boiling it, they also form a very rich soup, which is considered a dainty. When all the soft parts are consumed the bones are pounded. small, and a large quantity of marrow is extracted from them by boiling, which is used in making the better kinds of the mixture of dried meat and fat termed pemmican; it is employed also by the young men and females for annointing the hair and greasing the face on dress occasions. Pemmican is formed by pouring one-third of melted fat over the meat, which has been previously cut into thin slices, dried in the sun or over the smoke of a slow fire, and pounded between stones, and then incorporating them together. If kept dry, it may be preserved sound for four or five years; and, from the quantity of nourishment it contains in small bulk, it is the best kind of food for those who travel through desert lands.
The caribou travel in herds, varying in number from eight or ten to one hundred thousand; and in the rutting season the bulk of the males and females live separately. Their daily excursions are generally towards the quarter whence the wind blows; and of all the deer of America they are the most easy to approach. The Indians kill them with the gun, take them in snares, or spear them crossing rivers or lakes. The Esquimaux catch them in traps. They are frequently slaughtered in vast numbers; a single family of Indians will sometimes kill many hundreds in a few weeks.
When the Indians design to impound deer, they look out for one of the paths in which a number of them have trodden, and which is ob
served to be still frequented by them. The pound is built by making a strong fence with bushy trees, without observing any regularity, varying from a few yards to a mile in circumference. The entrance to the pound is about the size of a common gate, and the inside is crowded with hedges, in every opening of which a snare is set, made of thongs of deer skin parchment, well twisted together, which are amazingly strong; one end of the snare is usually made fast to a small growing tree. The pound being thus prepared, a row of small brushwood is stuck up in the snow on each side of the door or entrance, and these hedge rows are continued along the open part of the lake, river, or plain, which, from its openness, makes them the more distinctly observed. The brushwood rows are generally placed at the distance of fifteen or twenty yards from each other, and ranged in such a manner as to form two sides of a long, acute angle, becoming gradually wider in proportion to the distance they extend from the pound, which sometimes is not less than two or three miles; while the deer's path is exactly along the middle, between the two rows of brushwood. From a commanding situation the Indians watch the approach of the deer, when they close in upon them in the form of a crescent. The poor timorous animals, finding themselves pursued, and mistaking the brushwood for ranks of people stationed to prevent their passing on either side, rush on, and entangle themselves in the snares, thus becoming an easy prey to the ingenious hunter. The manœuvre is sometimes so successful that whole families find subsistence without having occasion to remove their tents above once or twice during the whole winter.
Doctor King, from whom, in connexion with Doctor Richardson, we have borrowed most of the preceding remarks, is strongly of opinion that the Barren Ground caribou is capable of domestication as complete as that to which the Laplanders have reduced the European species. Of the vast benefit of such a step, especially in reference to the Indians of the same region, it is difficult to speak in sufficiently moderate terms. The peculiar fondness for pets, and the skill in their domestication, manifested by these Indians, are sufficient evidence of the success with which they might be encouraged to try the experiment on the caribou. Its success would at once place them beyond the reach of those vicissitudes which are so rapidly sweeping off the Indians of the north and northeast of America. Nor would there be any difficulty in subsisting large herds of these deer throughout the year. In summer the rich pastures along Great Fish river, and other streams, would supply countless numbers; while the lichens of the rocks or shrubs would furnish them with food in the winter, with such slight assistance from their owners as the case might demand. In this way these Indians might become a pastoral people, and possibly, in time, as agricultural as the nature of the seasons would admit.
TARANDUS HASTALIS, Agassiz. Woodland Caribou.
In the last article we have indicated the principal difference between the two reindeer. In nothing is this more marked than in the geographical distribution; the one belonging to the Barren Ground, the other to the woods. The latter species is much larger, sometimes weighing