Diary of John Hepburn
2nd-in-command on the Coppermine Expedition to chart Canada’s north coast
5 October 1821:
Captain John Franklin has taken nine men with him as they trail behind George Back and three others. After crossing the river, John Richardson and Robert Hood have become too weak to continue. Richardson and Hood are dear to me, and especially with Hood tending to Richardson’s hypothermia, neither of them are in suitable shape to scavenge… not that I am in much better health. Thus I surmise that I should stay behind and tend to them while we await the return of our Captain. Fort Enterprise is only a week’s hike away… I suppose that means if we are lucky, they will be back before the end of the month. Dear Lord, I hope so, for who knows how long we can last out here.
Some devilish behavior has befallen Terohaute as of late. I asked him to go hunting, but he replied only that there are no animals, and we would do better to feed from him instead. This has me as well as Richardson and Hood worried considerably.
I begged Terohaute to return to hunting. Our meat supply has long since been depleted and our efforts to collect moss have proved futile. In answer he shot up and screamed at me, claiming that I am a monster for having eaten his uncle. He then fell to the ground and wept. Dazed, I left camp to walk and collect myself. Richardson met me and whispered, claiming he and Hood suspect Terohaute of sneaking off in the night to eat the corpses of the missing men. He also questions the meat we have consumed. I am too weary to confront him, as he is clearly the strongest of the group. Though I fear for our well being, the Captain must return any day, whereupon I shall seek his advice.
As Richardson and I scavenged for moss this afternoon a shot rang out through the forest from the direction of camp. We rushed back and found Hood doubled over in the snow, a gunshot wound through the back of his skull. Terohaute stood clutching the rifle.*** Stricken with fear, Richardson and I stood helpless where we were. Terohaute exclaimed that Hood was cleaning the rifle when he shot himself. He incessantly asked us if we believed him, and what choice did we have? The man was bearing a loaded rifle and the Devil danced in his eyes. Richardson motioned to take care of the body, but Terohaute screamed that we were not to do anything. He continues to stare at us as I pen these words, refusing to allow us out of his sight.
The day began as it has since Hood was killed. Terohaute pacing vexedly, asking us we believe Hood had shot himself. Yelling and often shoving us if we did not agree quickly enough. As evening approached Richardson offered to go foraging, as it had been two days since any of us had eaten. Terohaute jumped and offered to do it. As soon as he was gone Richardson retrieved his pistol, loaded it, and we waited for Terohaute’s return. Upon his arrival, Richardson took no hesitation in ending his life. With Terohaute dead, we tended to both bodies. I wonder what fate has befallen our Captain, or if he even made it to Fort Enterprise. We will pack what we can and plan to leave for the fort tomorrow.
Richardson and I made it to Fort Enterprise, and what we found will haunt me until my death. There were only four men, including Captain Franklin, who were still alive. The ghastly appearance, dilated eyeballs, and harsh voices of these men was more than we could bear. The hut was also in bad shape - the floorboards were torn for lumber, and much of the deer hide curtains had been eaten. The Captain said George Back and his men had gone on to Fort Providence, and his return is our only hope. Too weak to continue on ourselves, Richardson and I have decided to remain here.
This morning we all awoke to discover that two of our men had not made it through the night. We knew Peltier and Samandre were in bad shape, but their death is a great toll on us all. Adam, another voyager, is also nearing death. My own health has greatly deteriorated; my legs have began to swell, and the pain is so immense that I cannot bring myself to sleep. I hold onto life, but I fear it is in vain.
When three men came through the door of this hut, I could not believe my eyes. I was sure I had died. Akaitcho, the leader of the Yellowknife First Nation, sent three of his men with food and fresh water. We uncontrollably wept at the sight of them.
The native men have cared for us as if we were infants in these last days. Since we can now begin to stand and manage our own weight, we will head for Fort Providence.
I rejoiced in the face of my old friend George Back in Fort Providence. We embraced and wept deeply. However, his joy was turned to grief when he looked for Hood. We will live the night in a sweet sorrow.
After the return home, there were rumors about what exactly happened at the camp with Hood and Terohaute. One man accused Richardson of murder, and George Back simply wrote back to him saying, “To tell the truth, things have taken place which must not be known.”