The J.P. Howley Connection

As we read earlier, (see The Prospector webpage) in 1864 the Newfoundland Government instituted the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and appointed Alexander Murray as the survey's first director. James P. Howley was assistant to Murray and by 1887 had succeeded him as director. The men made two excursions into the Red Indian Lake country in 1871 and 1875. Murray was in charge of the first and surveyed the valley of the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake. Howley led the second and used Micmac guides.

I have not been able to verify that Mattie was one of these guides or a guide on future trips by Howley with the exception of an 1897 trip. But Howley was certainly aware of Mattie's powress since in 1904 he recommended him as a guide to H.C. Thomson (see the Thomson webpage). And when Thomson presented his rough sketch maps to Howley on his return to St. John's he accepted their accuracy because of Mattie's involvement.

I believe that somewhere in Howley's unpublished notes and files there is more evidence of his association with Mattie that might give more facts about Mattie's family.

Below are excerpts from the book "The Beothucks or Red Indians" by J.P. Howley originally published in 1915, that have references to Mattie Mitchell and his grandparents.

p. 277- 279

Joseph Young's story.

Joseph Young, better known as Joe Jep or Zoe-Zep, which is simply the Micmac way of pronouncing his Christian name, is a resident of Bank Head, Bay St George. Joe is a half breed Indian with a considerable blending of the Negro element in him, a most unusual combination by the way, and was reared up by the Micmacs of that locality. In younger days there lived in the same neighborhood an old Indian woman named Mitchel whose parents were Mountagnais from Labrador. Joe often listened to this old body relating stories of the Red Indians, one of which was as follows.

"When quite a small girl she with her father, mother and a young brother, were hunting in the vicinity of Red Indian Lake. Having secured a good deal of fur they were proceeding down the lake in the canoe preparatory to starting for the sea coast, when just at dusk or evening they observed the light of a fire through the woods, near the side of the lake. Supposing it to be some of their Micmac friends who were camped there they landed and went to investigate. They found a wigwam which proved not to be that of a Micmac but of a Red Indian family. Nothing daunted Old Mitchel went forward, raised the skin covering the doorway and looked in, being followed by the other members of his family. They beheld an old Red Indian man and woman with a young man and a little girl seated around the fire. At first the inmates seemed to be struck dumb with fear at this unexpected intrusion, and stared at the new comers in mute astonishment. Mitchel however, succeeded in allaying their fears after a little while, and seeing their miserable half starved plight. for they had roasting on sticks before the fire for their supper, three miserable Jays only, which was evidently all their stock of provisions, he made signs to them to come with him to his canoe and that he would give them venison. They understood him, and the boy and girl went out with him. He gave each a piece of venison, which the little girl in delight wrapped in her cloak and ran back to the wigwam, while Mitchel and wife brought up a kettle full of boiled meat and placed it over the fire to warm and when it was ready they served it around to all hands on pieces of birch bark The poor Beothucks expressed their gratitude as best they could for all this kindness and invited Mitchel and his family, by signs to share their Wigwam for the night The two little girls, who were nearly about the same age, and too young to recognise any difference between them, soon became fast friends. Mrs. Mitchel remembered what childish glee she felt at meeting a companion so far in the interior, and after so many weary months of toil and lonesomeness, and how she played with her new found friends. They could only communicate with each other by signs, as neither understood a word of the others language. They all seated themselves around the fire, and learnt from the Beothucks that on account of deer being so scarce and their fear to hunt much in the open, they had been reduced to great straights for food. Next morning at daylight the young Red Indian youth ascended a tree which they used for a lookout, and seeing some deer swimming across the lake, he jumped down, seized his bow and arrows, and without a moments hesitation, pushed off the Mountaineers canoe jumped aboard and paddled away after the deer. She described him as an active athletic lad who handled the paddle with such strength and dexterity that he actually made the canoe fly through the water. He soon returned with a dead deer in tow. Mitchel stayed several days with them, and being well supplied with guns and ammunition, killed several deer which he left with them for food. He also presented the young Beothuck with a gun and ammunition and taught him how to use it before leaving them, for all of which kindness the Beothucks showed the utmost gratitude."

Mathew (Mathy) Mitchel, grandson(?) of the woman Joe heard the story from, confirmed it in so far as, that his grandparents did see a Beothuck wigwam at Red Indian Lake and went to investigate, but states the Red men had fled, though the fire was still burning in the centre and on three sticks stuck up, were the heads (only) of three Jays. They did not see the Red Indians or remain over night, and he says Joe was drawing upon his imagination in supplying the other details.

Mathy also told me that his grandfather and some others once saw three Red Indians' canoes full of people poling up the Exploits. They watched in concealment till the canoes were opposite them, when they fired off a gun in the air. Immediately the Beothucks made for the opposite shore, landed and ran off into the woods. In their haste the canoes went adrift and the tide catching them brought them quickly across the river to the side the Micmacs were on. There were still two small children in them who had not had time to get away, but immediately the canoes touched the shore these got out, grabbed up their deer skin clothes and made off.

Noel Mathews, one of my Micmac canoe-men, related to me the following traditions, which he learned from his mother and old Maurice Louis, the Chief of his tribe. This man Louis was one of those who accompanied W. E. Cormack in 1827 in his expedition to Red Indian Lake 1.

Noel confirms the shape of the Beothuck canoe, and of its being sewn with rootlets, and the gunwales being bound with the same, but there was this difference between it and the Micmac canoe. The latter is served over all from end to end, while that of the Red Indians was only served at intervals, and there we spaces cut in the gunwales to receive the binding so as to make it flush with the rest of the gunwale.

He relates how one Noel Boss, or Basque, I presume the same individual mentioned by Peyton and others, had much to do with the Red men, but he avers that it was always of a friendly nature. This Noel Boss on one occasion met two of them, a young man and a lad, crossing a marsh, with loads on their backs. He went towards them but they ran away. He also ran and finally caught up with them as they could not go fast, being burdened with their heavy loads which they would not discard.

The young man could have easily outrun him, but he would not abandon the lad, who was greatly frightened. When Boss came up with them he looked the young man in the face and addressed him, but the latter only laughed and still kept on running. Boss made several attempts to get him to stop and have a palaver, but in vain, he then turned off and let them go their way. On another occasion this same man Boss with some of his own people, came out on the banks of the Exploits River and saw a Red Indian canoe on the opposite side with several people in it. The Micmacs again tried to parley with them across the river but the Red men

1. A mistake, it was his father John Louis.

p. 280 Noel Mathew's information

apparently did not relish their company, so they paddled away up the river (Evidently another version of Mathy Mitchel's story)

The only tragic story Noel related was that of a Micmac with his wife who coming to the shore of the Grand Lake near where the river flows out, saw a Red Indian wigwam on the opposite side The man proposed to go across in their skin canoe and visit them but his wife demurred, being too much afraid of them. He however, persisted in going himself She remained behind and concealed herself in the bushes to await events She saw him land and also saw two Beothucks come forward and take him by the arms, and lead him up to their mamateek, into which all three entered. After a considerable time elapsed, the two Red men came forth carrying their belongings, got into their canoe and paddled away. After a long wait seeing no sign of her husband returning, she mustered up courage to venture across. Having constructed a raft she ferried herself over, but on entering the now silent mamateek, she was horrified to find the headless body of her husband stretched on the floor. The head as usual having been carried off by the Beothucks.1


1 Mathew (Mathy) Michel also confirmed Noel Mathew's story, but gave a somewhat different version of it. He says it occurred at Red Indian Lake, and that the woman did not go to the wigwam but when her husband failed to return in due time, she made her way out to Bay St. George where she informed her people what had occurred. The Micmac thereupon set out in a body for Red Indian Lake, found their dead comrade in the wigwam and then went after the Red men to wreak vengeance upon them.

p. 284 Thomas Peyton's Stories


One Jacky Jones, whose proper name was Snelgrove, was a servant of his father's, and was with him at the capture of Mary March. He often travelled with this man and obtained much information from him. He refers to the story told by Joe Young, and believes there may be some truth in it. He was well acquainted with both Jack Mitchell, Micmac, and his wife. He often heard old Jack talk some sort of gibberish which he called Red Indian.

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