Upon returning to the Peace Country in 1879, Garrioch hired a Blackfoot guide named Jean. Jean had a curious story to tell. Some years before, in the spring of 1872, he had gone up the Peace River in a dugout canoe to hunt beaver, hoping, at the same time, to come across the Armsons. Mrs. Armson was his cousin and she had recently married an Englishman. The pair were said to be well matched. They had worked for a while at a mining camp in Fort St. John and Jean had heard that they were planning to winter somewhere south of the Peace River, also hunting and trapping, before moving on to Saskatchewan in the spring. Unfortunately, Jean had found no trace of the couple, but “one day a wonderful thing happened”…
I had just put ashore to boil the kettle when, looking up-stream, my attention was attracted by a red rag which, with the object over which it was raised, came floating along amid-stream. I waited a while and then getting into my canoe, I paddled up to it. It was a raft, not large enough to have been carried by a full-grown person, but large enough to have upon it a baby in its Indian cradle. Without being quite sure that the baby was alive, I placed it in my canoe and paddled back to shore. Once there I assured myself that it was still living. It was a girl, and so thin that its arms were no bigger than a man’s finger. I took it to be about two months old. Quickly as I could I boiled a freshly shot duck and fed the bouillon to it a drop or two at a time. It was too far gone to cry; but I cried instead when I looked at its pinched little face, and thought of my own plump little Marie taking baby’s own food from its mother’s bosom. To my delight, afer the Ki-ti-ma-kis, pitiful little thing, had taken about two teaspoonsfuls of the bouillon, it made a little sound, and twisted its little lips about as if it were asking for more, so I knew then that it was not sick, but simply starved. I made my dinner as quickly as possible on the duck, and after feeding the baby a little more of the bouillon and putting the rest in the canoe, I embarked with the baby in its cradle, and pulled down-stream with all the strength I possessed, because I had seen two Indian families at noon the day before, and knew that belonging to one of them there was a nursing mother; for the baby’s sake I wished to reach that mother before the Indians left the spot where I had seen them. When about half-way I stopped to wipe the perspiration from my face; and before resuming my paddling I fed the baby once more, and was pleased to notice that it looked slightly more alive. When I rounded the last point I could have shouted for joy when I found that the Indians had not left.
Everyone was excited to see the little baby and eager to help her back to health. None had any idea where she might have come from, but they could see that the child was white and would be very pretty one day. There was also a curious scar on the infant’s second toe on the left foot – a scar that the women said might be older than the baby.
As Jean paddled away, there were promises from both sides to try to discover the origins of the floating baby. However, he told Garrioch that he had not heard of the party again after they crossed to the other side of the Rockies to visit with the Sikannis. He speculated that the baby and her guardians may have fallen victim to an epidemic, so common at the time.
Jean and Garrioch also went their separate ways with promises to find out what they could about the unusual story of the raft baby of the Peace River. Jean asked Garrioch to inquire after the Armsons as well.
Stay tuned for Part Three 🙂