Beyond Indian Point: History and Archaeology of the Northeast Arm of Red Indian Lake, Part 3

In the previous two posts (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) we looked at Indian Point on Red Indian Lake. This time we turn our attention to other sites and historic occurrences at various other locations on the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake. This post was written by a colleague who is much more familiar with the history and archaeology of this area than I am.

Historically, the northeast arm was a narrow, linear stretch of the lake beginning at the outflow of the Exploits River which, prior to flooding in 1925, extended to the northeastward for approximately 6.5km; its pre-flood width is difficult to estimate. The lake ended at the inflow of Mary March Brook, now the location of Millertown. The north shore of the arm extended from this locale to what is today known as Miller’s Point, which lies directly across from the mouth of the Exploits. First in 1900 and again in 1925 dams were constructed across the outflow of the Exploits River. Pictures of Millertown prior to 1925 show little change in the water level of the lake. However, once the 1925 dam was constructed the lake’s shoreline changed dramatically. In fact the entire town of Millertown had to be moved from the shoreline and along Mary March Point to a much higher location on the shoreline.

Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925. (
Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925 (
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically.
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically (
Looking at the lumber mill with Mary March Point directly behind the photographer. All of the buildings along the shoreline shown in the previous photos were move higher on the shoreline, likely to near the level of the white building on the left of this photo. Looking down Red Indian Lake, the point of land in the background is likely Indian Point (
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005.
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005. Notice how far back from the water all the houses are located (

The English History of the Northeast Arm from 1768 to 1820
Historic documentation derived from various sources including Lieutenant John Cartwright’s expedition up the Exploits River to the lake in 1768, Lieutenant, then Captain, David Buchan’s two expeditions in the 19th century and John Peyton Junior’s ill-fated 1819 trip demonstrate the Beothuk use of the arm. Their documents, along with some of Shanawdithit’s sketches of the northeast arm, shed some light on the importance of this locale to the Beothuk.

John Cartwright’s Visit in 1768
As far as we know the first European visitor to the lake was John Cartwright. He set off from the mouth of the Exploits River in August of 1768 with 14 companions to ascertain the feasibility of traveling overland from the east coast of the island to the west coast via the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake. Cartwright also wanted to acquire a better understanding of the Beothuk and, if possible, meet with them with the intention of establishing friendly relations.

On the evening of the sixth day of travel Cartwright reached the lake, which he named Lieutenant’s Lake after his rank. At that time he recorded two points of land which he named Tacamahacca Point, after the Balsam Popular which was growing there, and Sabbath Point. Their locations are shown on a second sketch that Cartwright submitted in 1773 (see below), reproduced in Marshall 1996 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. The first sketch drawn for his report in 1768 also the names these points, but the actual points are not shown. The 1768 sketch was reproduced in Howley’s Beothuk or Red Indians.

Tacamahacca Point was located on the east side of the outflow of the Exploits, while Sabbath Point was a couple of hundred metres further to the east. The image below shows what remains of the two points today and the small cove that they created. Cartwright recorded at least two conical wigwams at Tacamahacca Point and a rectangular house at Sabbath Point. Unfortunately these structures are probably long gone due to the industrial activity along the lake’s shoreline.

Showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point as they appear today.
Showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point as they appear today.

Cartwright’s main task during the half day that he was on the lake was to discover the location of the settlement where the Beothuk captive, Tom June, had told Cartwright his father dwelt. Cartwright shows this location on both sketches. The 1768 map shows June’s Cove on the south side of the northeast arm situated at the bottom of a small cove with a view up the lake to the west. The 1773 sketch also places June’s Cove at the bottom of the arm. However, he shows the brook (now called Mary March Brook) entering the lake on the south shore instead of the northeast end of the lake, which would indicate either that the mouth of the brook migrated northward from 1768 or Cartwright never reached the end of the arm and drew it based on what Tom June had told him. Neither of his sketches shows Indian Point nor do they show Mary March Point. Cartwright’s maps only show the northeast arm of the lake because he did not explore the rest of the lake and while he was there the lake was heavily shrouded in fog making it impossible to see the southwest end of the lake.

Cartwrights sketch showing Point and Sabbath Point, June's Cove and what we believe is meant to be Mary March Brook.
Cartwrights 1773 sketch showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point, June’s Cove and what we believe is meant to be Mary March Brook.

David Buchan’s First Visit in 1811
Lieutenant David Buchan, accompanied by 23 men and one boy from the HMS Adonis and three furriers working as guides traveled up the Exploits River in January of 1811 to attempt to open communication with the Beothuk. After 11 days of travel he and some of his crew surprised a group of Beothuk living in three wigwams (mamateeks) on the south shore of the northeast arm. Unfortunately neither Buchan’s narrative nor his plan of the lake (shown in Marshall, 1996) contains much geographical information on the location of this small village other than it was on the south shore and not far from the outlet of the Exploits River. His 1811 plan doesn’t show the end of the northeast arm. Buchan did state that two of the wigwams were found close together while the third was about a hundred yards away. What we do know is that the three wigwams could be seen from the lake and that they were only a short distance inland from the beach on top of a bank overlooking the lake. The Three Wigwam site is mentioned again later by Buchan and sketched by Shanawdithit (See sketch 2 below). Buchan also mentions an old wigwam across the lake from where he found the Beothuk.

The Peyton Visit in 1819 and The Kidnapping of Demasduit
The third expedition to the lake was carried out by the settler John Peyton Jr., his father and eight of his servants, of which at least one, Thomas Taylor, had accompanied Buchan in 1811. With the permission of Governor Hamilton, they traveled to the lake in an attempt to regain their goods that had been stolen by the Beothuk and if possible capture one of them. Unlike the two previous trips to the lake, Peyton and his men left the Exploits River well below its outfall into Red Indian Lake and instead took an overland route to the lake. Peyton told James Howley during an interview in 1871 that he had surmised that this route would take him near the head of the northeast arm where he believed the Beothuk were camped.

At this time Demasduit was captured and her husband Nonosabasut was killed . Their baby died a few days later (Shanawdithit later claimed that Nonosabasut’s brother was killed as well). Shanawdithit’s sketches show these events, sketch 2 in particular (See below).

Little is known about the whereabouts of this camp site other than it was on the north side of the lake and nearly directly across from the three wigwams which Buchan captured in 1811.

Buchan’s Second Trip 1820
After only 10 months living among the English, Demasduit died in January of 1820. This led Captain David Buchan and 49 men, including John Peyton Jr. and some of his servants, to once again journey up the Exploits River to Red Indian Lake (which Buchan named Lake Bathurst) to return Demasduit’s corpse to the camp site where she had been captured by Peyton the year before.

Upon reaching the lake Buchan described seeing the frames of two wigwams while the third had been converted by the Beothuk into a burial hut containing Nonosabasut’s body. Buchan described the two wigwam frames and burial hut as being “…situated on the North-West side four or five miles from the North-Eastern extremity of the pond by which Mr. Peyton formerly entered and nearly opposite to where I found the natives” (Howley pg. 124). Buchan’s statement that the hut was four to five miles from the end of the pond is clearly an overestimation as the length of the northeast arm in Buchan’s day was slightly more than four miles.

The 1820 expedition supplied a superior map of the lake, including landmarks, to that of the 1811 expedition. From the reproduction in Marshall’s 1996 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk the northeast arm is fairly well shown with certain geographical features evident. Buchan’s 1811 Lookout Point located at the eastern side of the outfall of the Exploits River is likely Cartwright’s Sabbath Point. Further to the northeast Indian Point can be identified but the name given to this point by Buchan is indecipherable. From here a dotted line crosses the arm to the northeast to the location of the 1819 Beothuk encampment. Back on the south side and further eastward of Indian Point, Buchan shows the location of the three Beothuk wigwams surprised in 1811. They are nearly opposite the 1819 camp site. Slightly past the Three Wigwam site the map shows a cove a little west of the end of the lake. This cove no longer exists though it is possible that its location can still be inferred (see air photo below). Buchan named the brook running into the lake at the northeast end Indian Brook. One of the things we can confirm based on Buchan’s map is that the Three Wigwam site was located between Indian Point and the above mentioned cove.

Aerial image of the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake (Bing).
Aerial image of the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake (Bing).

On the north side of the lake west of Indian Brook, Warford’s Brook can be clearly seen, followed by a point and a slight cove where Demasduit’s camp and burial site were located. Further westward was another small point, which along with the previous mentioned point, formed the cove where the Beothuk had wintered. This point is likely Anderson’s Point. The last landmark in the northeast arm is Miller’s Point directly opposite the outflow of the Exploits. According to Buchan’s map Demasduit’s and Nonosabasut’s 1819 camp site was in the eastern edge of a cove just slightly west of Warford’s Brook. See the see air photo above for a possible location for this camp ground.

Captain Buchan's 1820 map from Marshall 1996.
Captain Buchan’s 1820 map from Marshall 1996.

Shanawdithit’s Sketches relating to Red Indian Lake
Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk drew three sketches of the lake which recorded her perspective of the expeditions mentioned above.

Sketch #1
This sketch deals exclusively with Buchan’s expedition of 1811. On the east side of the lake at the outflow of the Exploits River, Shanawdithit shows both points named by Cartwright, Tacamahacca and Sabbath Point. Further to the east she has drawn Indian Point and between it and Mary March Point she shows the three wigwams captured by Buchan. Shanawdithit was living in the most westerly of these structures. Nearly directly across the lake and to the west of Warford’s Brook, Demasduit’s cemetery is shown.

Shanawdithit sketch 1 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 1 (Howley 1915)

Sketch #2
This sketch deals with the events of 1811 and 1819. Again Indian Point is clearly shown as are the three wigwams captured in 1811 by Buchan. The three wigwams on the north shore of the lake are also shown, these became the burial huts for Nonosabasut and Demasduit, however in this sketch they are shown more to the westward than in sketch #1 and they align more with the cove and shoreline directly east of Indian Point.

Shanawdithit sketch 2 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 2 (Howley 1915)

Sketch #3
Shanawdithit’s final drawing of the lake shows much of Red Indian Lake. It details Buchan’s 1820 expedition to return Demasduit’s body and his subsequent exploration of the lake. In this sketch Shanawdithit shows three wigwams located at the outflow of the river, likely at Cartwright’s Tacamahacca Point. Further east at Indian Point, she drew one wigwam at the base of the cove formed by the point and nearly directly across to the northeast she shows Nonosabasut and Demasduit’s cemetery. The wigwam at Indian Point is the first drawn at this location. Shanawdithit drew a line from this house to the west end of the lake. This was the site of the encampment of all the tribe after being discovered by Buchan in 1811. This line leads to the conjecture that the location of Shanawdithit’s wigwam, the most westerly of the three, was situated somewhere in the cove formed by Indian Point and not further to the east as shown in her previous two sketches.

Shanawdithit sketch 3 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 3 (Howley 1915)

In the next blog post we’ll explain how all this documentation has been used to record several archaeology sites in the northeast arm.


Howley, James P.
1980 The Beothuk or Red Indians.

Marshall, Ingeborg
1997 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk.


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