SWAN (Captain Swan), Indian leader who acted as middleman between the native hunters of the west and the fur factories of Hudson Bay; fl. 1715–19.
The Swan was one of the chiefs in a party of Cree Indians who met Governor James Knight in council at York Fort in 1715. He told Knight of a sea beyond the headwaters of the Churchill River fed by a river on the banks of which was found “Gum or pitch.” Knight sent the Swan with a party mustering 25 canoes to establish friendly relations with the Indians who dwelt between the source of the Churchill and the “West Seas” (Lake Athabasca). The Swan returned two years later (5 June 1717), reporting a friendly reception from the natives (probably Beaver Indians of the Athabasca Valley), and bringing a quantity of beaver skins which excited the admiration of Knight by their “Goodness & Largeness.”
In 1719 the Swan again came to York Fort, where Henry Kelsey had replaced Knight as governor, and reported that he had wintered peacefully on a river beyond the Churchill basin. He gave Kelsey a sample of “that Gum or pitch that flows out of the Banks of that River.” Thus to the Swan are due the first known references to the Athabasca oil sands.