Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: the Murdock – Larus Site

Related Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

A  highlight of the six  days we spent on the headwaters of the Bloodvein River system was the chance to see a number of Anishinaabe (that is, Ojibwe or Chippewa) pictograph sites.

As he had been on our visit to the Cliff Lake/Pikitigushi River pictographs , Selwyn Dewdney would be our guide on the Bloodvein. Researched and written over fifty years ago, the first edition of his book  Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (click on the title for a downloadable copy) was published in 1962. It included an account and drawings from his visit to the #1 pictograph site on the Bloodvein River system, the one at the east end of Artery Lake.

In the following four years Dewdney would continue to add to a growing collection of documented pictograph sites. By this time his reach had clearly outgrown the subject area of the book’s title!  In the second edition of the book (1967) another 160 sites were added.  Included were his drawings and observations from his 1963 visit to the Bloodvein site which is the focus of this post.

Where Is The Site?

The Bloodvein River - Murdock To Larus

The site is located on the narrow section of the river which connects Murdock Lake to Larus Lake.  It is a kilometer west of the north end of Murdock and about three kilometers south and east from “The Cauldron”, the Class IV  set of rapids that tumbles into Larus Lake. (The “W” on the above map refers to Hap Wilson and the numbers – 04, 05, and 06 – refer to the specific sets of rapids he illustrates and numbers in the Bloodvein chapter of his essential “book of maps” for canoe trippers ( The Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba.)

Dewdney’s text notes – “About thirty-five miles upstream [from the Artery Lake site] just west of Larus Lake…” (p.118)  He then goes on to describe in great detail the site that is actually located east of Larus Lake!  In the summary list of all sites at the end of the book it is Site #154 and is correctly situated east of Larus Lake.

Given that three sets of rapids separate the site from Larus Lake,  the site should really be referred to as a Murdock Lake site. To add to the naming confusion my Garmin Topo Canada v.4  map above labels the water above the rapids as “Larus Lake”!  I’ll just label it the “Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein”.

The pictographs were on river left as we paddled west towards Larus Lake.  This is unusual since it means that they are facing north, as does the Artery Lake site.  Most sites face SE or S. Dewdney makes the following comment on this –

Dewdney Quote

While there are many spots along the river where the Anishinaabe shaman could paint his images, this section stood out as special. It had a higher, more dominating rock face, long stretches of white granite, and what could be interpreted as  underwater entrances to the rock face used by the resident water spirits (the maymaygwayshi) which the medicine men have come to acknowledge or petition.

We saw this as we paddled slowly along and inhaled the moment. When we reached the end we turned back to the beginning of the pictographs and took out our cameras to record some of what we saw.  The first pictographs appear a few meters before (that is, east of)  the main site.

Bloodvein pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

The lowest figure – in a different pigment than those above – looks like a moose or caribou. Some indecipherable drawing sits above his pronounced ears. Above that seems to be a human figure with a central spine drawn in; he seems to be holding something in his stretched-out right arm.  Given the presence of a similar figure on another rock face meters away, it may be a shaman holding out his medicine bag, sometimes depicted as an otter skin.

Murdock-Larus pictos - different angle

Murdock-Larus pictographs – slightly different angle

Two caribou and shaman holding medicine bag?

Two caribou and shaman holding medicine bag?

And then we paddled back down a few more meters to the core of the site where the remaining pictographs are. They will appear here in the order one would see them if paddling down the river. At the same time, I will try to connect the various pictograph panels or faces to the comments which Selwyn Dewdney makes.

canoe image and tally marks

canoe image and tally marks

the main stretch of the Murdock-Larus pictograph site on the Bloodvein

the main stretch of the Murdock-Larus pictograph site on the Bloodvein

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Murdock-Larus Pictograph Face Ia

Murdock-Larus Pictograph Face Ia

human figure - Face Ia

human figure – Face Ia

Detail from Face III of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face Ia

Murdock- Larus Pictograph Site - Face III and Figure with Outstretched Arm

Murdock – Larus Pictograph Site – Face III and Figure with Outstretched Arm

Face III - "The Hand"

Face III – “The Hand”

Murdock-Larus picto site up close

Murdock-Larus pictograph site up close

Murdock-Larus pictographs

Murdock-Larus pictographs – Face III on left

A figure which stands out, partly because of the different colour of the “paint” compared to other pictographs in the area, is the one you see below.  Of it Dewdney writes:

Dewdney quote 118-119

human figure holding small human(?)  in oustretched right arm

human figure holding small human(?) in outstretched right arm –

Artery Lake shaman pictograph

Artery Lake shaman

I am surprised that Dewdney did not  consider another interpretation – and to my mind the correct one.  The drawing is of a shaman holding out an otter skin bag in which he keeps his  “medicines” and various cultic objects.  Further down river at the main Artery Lake site is another such shaman/otter skin drawing.  The one difference – meaningful or not – is that while the arms are outstretched in both human figures, one is holding the bag in his right hand while the other has it in his left.  Both shaman figures have canoe images nearby.

Bloodvein Larus Site - human figure holding something in outstretched arm

Next we come to a couple of images of canoes and smudges of ochre with tally marks or hands visible.

Bloodvein (Murdock-Larus site) detail

Bloodvein (Murdock-Larus site) detail

Murdock-Larus rock painting face labelled IIb by Dewdney

Murdock-Larus rock painting face labelled IIb by Dewdney

Murdock-Larus Face IIb

Murdock-Larus Face IIb

Murdock-Larus Face IIb - fox and human figure

Murdock-Larus Face IIb – fox and human figure

Face just before Thunderbird and Face IV

around the corner from the main section of the Murdock-Larus pictographs

around the corner from the main section of the Murdock-Larus pictographs

Face IV of the Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein

Dewdney’s Face IV of the Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein

Face IV details of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face IV details of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face IV close-up of Thunderbird and moose

Face IV close-up of Thunderbird and moose

And then it was time to re-enter the mundane world, the world of canoe strokes and portages. The west wind had picked up as we made our way to the day’s portages which would take us into Larus Lake.

See here for a pdf file of Dewdney’s brief discussion of this Bloodvein site. It can be found in the second and expanded edition (1967) of his classic work Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes.

Next Post:  Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

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