IN accord with the plan
mentioned in last chapter, Peter and I saddled up sooner than the rest, and
rode on. I will never forget that afternoon. I was in perfect health. My
diet for the last few weeks forbade anything like dyspepsia—the horseback
travel, the constant change, the newness of my surroundings, this beautiful
and wonderful country. Oh, how sweet life was to me! Then the day was
superb—bright sunshine, fleecy clouds, and intensely exhilarating
atmosphere; everywhere, above and around us, and before and beneath us, a
rich and lovely country—quietly sloping plains, nicely rounded knolls, big
hills on whose terraced heights woodland and prairie seemed to have
scrambled for space, and someone, with wonderful artistic taste, had decided
for them, and placed them as they were; lakelets at different altitudes
glistening with sun rays, and that quiet afternoon sleeping as they shone;
the early autumn tinting the now full-grown grass and foliage with colors
the painter might well covet. As I rode in silence behind my guide, my eyes
feasted on these panoramic views, and yet I was sharply and keenly looking
for some game that might serve the purpose of our quest.
When suddenly I saw a dark
object in the distance, seeming to come out of a bluff of poplars on to the
plain, I checked my horse and watched intently for a little and saw it move.
I whistled to Peter, and he said, "What is it ?" and I pointed out to him
what I saw. Said he, "It is a buffalo." Ah! how my hunting instincts moved
at those words. A buffalo on his native heath! Even the sight of him was
something to be proud of. The plain this animal was crossing was on the
farther side of a lake, and at the foot of a range of hills, the highest of
which was called "Sickness Hill."
It may have been about four
or five miles from us to the spot where I had seen the dark object moving.
After riding some distance,
we came upon a ridge which enabled Peter to make up his mind that what he
now saw was a bear and not a buffalo. This was to both of us somewhat of a
disappointment, as it was food more than sport we wanted.
I said to Peter, "Will the
bear not be good to eat?" " Of course he will, and we will try and kill
him," was Peter's reply; and carefully scan- fling the ground he laid his
plan for doing this. The bear was lazily coming to the shore of the rake,
and Peter said, "I think he is coming to bathe, and in all probability will
swim across to this side of the lake."
There was a gully running
down through the hills to the lake, and Peter told me to follow that to the
shore, and said he would ride around and thus give us a double chance.
Accordingly we separated, and
I made my way down the gully, and coming near the lake dismounted and
crawled up the little hill which alone was my cover from that portion of the
lake where I expected to see our game.
Parting the grass at the
summit of the hill, what I saw almost made my heart jump into my mouth, for
here was Bruin swimming straight for me.
How excited I was I very much
doubted my ability to shoot straight, even when I got the chance.
Crawling back under cover I
endeavored to quiet my nerves, and waited for my opportunity. Then, looking
through the grass again, I saw the bear swimming, as hard as he could, back
to the shore he had come from, and though he was far out I concluded to try
a shot at him, and doing so, saw my ball strike the water just to the left
of his head.
Mine was but a
single-barrelled shot-gun at best, and here I was with an empty gun and a
restive horse, and looking for the reason of the bear's sudden change of
front, I saw Peter galloping around the end of the lake to intercept the
bear, if possible.
Jumping on my horse, I
followed as fast as I could, and began to load my gun as I rode.
This was an entirely new
experience for me, and took me some time to accomplish. I spilled the
powder, and got some of it in my eyes. In putting the stopper of my
powder-horn, which I held in my teeth, back into the horn, I caught some of
the hairs of my young moustache, and felt smart pain as these were pulled
out as the horn dropped.
But, in the meantime, my
horse was making good time, and at last I was loaded, and now nerved and
calm and ready for anything.
During all this I kept my
eyes alternately between Peter and the bear; saw the bear reach the shore ;
saw Peter come close to him; saw Peter's horse plunge, and jump, and kick,
and try to run away; saw Peter chance a shot while his horse was thus
acting; saw that he tickled the bear's heel ; saw the bear grab up its heel
and, giving a cry of pain, settle down to run for the nearest woods; heard
Peter shout to me, "Hurry, John; head him off;" and I was coming as fast as
riiy horse could bring me, and thinking, far in advance of my pace, "What
shall I do if I catch the bear before he reaches that thicket? My horse may
act like Peter's has, and I will miss the bear, as sure as fate."
Just then I saw a lone tree
standing on the plain right in the course the bear was taking, and it
flashed upon me what to do. I will ride up between the bear and the tree,
jump off, let the bear come close, and then if I miss him I will drop my gun
and make for that tree. I felt I coud leave the bear in a fair run for that
distance. We required the food, and I wanted to kill that bear. With all my
heart I wished to do this, and now I was opposite, and my horse began to shy
and jump; so I uncoiled my lariat and let it drag, to make it easier to
catch my horse, and, jumping from his back, I let him go; and now the bear,
seeing me between him and the brush, showed the white of his teeth, put back
his ears, and came at me straight.
I looked at the tree,
measured the distance, cocked my gun, and let him come until he almost
touched the muzzle, and then fired.
Fortunately my bullet went
into his brain, and down he dropped at my feet, and I was for the time the
proudest man in Canada.
Mark my astonishment when
Peter came at me vehemently in this wise: "You young rascal! what made*you
jump off your horse? That bear might have killed you. It was all an
accident, your killing him. Your father put you in my care. If anything had
happened to you, what could I say to him?"
I stood there in my folly,
yet proud of it; but I saw I must change the subject, so I looked innocently
up at Peter, and said, "Do you think he is fat?" Then a smile lit up Peter's
face, and he said, "Fat Why, yes; he is shaking with fat;" and jumping from
his horse, he grasped his knife and laid open the brisket of the bear to
verify his words, and sure enough the fat was there.
And now, as the food supply
was fixed for a day or two, the next question was to bring our party
For this purpose Peter said
to me, "Gallop away to the top of yonder hill and look out for our people,
and when you see them, ride your horse to and fro until they see you, and
when they see you and turn toward you, you can come back to me."
So I galloped away to the
distant hill, and presently saw our party coming over another; and riding my
horse to and fro in short space, soon attracted their attention, and they
diverged towards me; and when I was sure of the direction, I rode back to
Peter, who had the bear skinned and cut up by this time, and when our folks
came to us, we concluded to camp right there for Sunday.
We could not have had a
lovelier spot to dwell in for a time.
Very soon we had bear ribs
roasting by the fire, and bear steak frying in the pan.
After supper we saw three
large "grizzlies" not far from us. They entered a small thicket, which we
surrounded, but after waiting for the huge brutes to make a move, and taking
into consideration that our guns were but shot, and muzzle-loading, that our
camp was well supplied with bear meat, and that it is written, "Prudence is
the better part of valor," we retired to our camp and left the bears alone.
The fact of the matter was,
as General Middleton would have described it, we "funked."
Two nights and one whole day
and parts of two other days on fat bear meat straight was quite enough for
We did not carry much with us
as we left that camp next Monday morning bright and early. Our appetites for
this special kind of food had changed since last Saturday evening. Then we
ate a hearty supper, but less for breakfast Sunday morning, and this went on
in a decreasing ratio at each subsequent meal. Even Mr. Woolsey, a hardened
veteran and ordinarily fond of fat, weakened on this diet. How often did we
think and even say, "If we only had some bread or some potatoes, or anything
to eat with this;" but there was none, and gladly we left that camp and
pushed on our way, hoping to reach the Indians or buffalo before long.