Forest, Lake and
Prairie Chapter XLIII Flying trip to Edmonton - No snow - Bare ice - Hard travel - A
IT was now near Christmas,
and Mr. Woolsey planned to spend the holidays at Edmonton.
This was really his station.
For years the minutes of yonder eastern Conference read: "Thomas Woolsey,
Edmonton House, Rocky Mountains." Though these places were over two hundred
miles apart then, the Hudson's Bay Company's officers and men came to
Edmonton generally for the New Year, and this was the missionary's
opportunity of reaching these outposts through these men.
Our party now was made up of
Mr. Woolsey, Mr. O. B., and Williston, William, Neils and myself. Gladstone
had left some time since.
Leaving Mr. O. B. to keep the
house warm, and William and Neils to saw lumber, the rest of us started for
Edmonton, Williston driving the baggage train, and myself the cariole in
which Mr. Woolsey rode.
We left long before daylight
the Monday morning before Christmas, which came on Thursday that year. We
had about four inches of snow to make the road through. This was hardly
enough for good sleighing, but where there was prairie or ice, our dogs had
good footing and made good time.
Down the slope of country to
Smoking Lake, and then along the full length of the lake we went; then
straight across country, over logs and round the windings of the dim
bridle-path for the Wah-suh-uh-de-now, or "Bay in the Hills"(which would
bring us to the Saskatchewan River), to which place we came about daylight,
having already made a good thirty-five miles of our journey. Mr. Woolsey had
slept and snored most of the way. What cared he for precipitous banks, or
tortuous trails, or the long hours of night! With sublime faith in his
guide, he lay like a log.
"Little he reeked if we let
him sleep on
In the sleigh where his driver had wound him."
After coming down the big
hill into the valley at a break-neck pace, we came to the almost
perpendicular bank of the stream, still seventy-five or eighty feet high,
and here I roused Mr. Woolsey, and asked him to climb down, while Williston
and I took the dogs off and let the cariole and sled down as easily as we
Once down, we got Mr. Woolsey
in again, and away we went up the river at a good smart run, my leader
taking the way from point to point, and around the rapids and open water at
the word. For another five miles we kept on, and stopped for breakfast
before sunrise opposite Sucker Creek.
To jerk these dogs out of
their collars is the first thing. This gives them a chance to roll and run
about, and supple up after the long pull of the morning. Then we make a big
lire and cut some brush to put down in front of it; then help Mr. Woolsey
out of his cariole, and next boil the kettle, and roast our dried meat and
eat. Then after a short prayer, and while the "Amen" is still on our lips,
we hitch up the (logs, tie the sleigh, help Mr. Woolsey into the cariole,
tuck and wrap him in, and "Marse!" Away jump my dogs once more, and their
bells ring out in the clear morning frost, and are echoed up and down the
valley as we ascend, for even over the ice the ascension is very
On we went, steadily making
those long stretches of river which are between Sucker Creek and the
Vermilion. As we proceeded, we left the snow, and the ice became glare and
very difficult to run on, especially when one had to constantly steady the
cariole to keep it from upsetting in the drift ice, or from swinging into
the open channel, where the current was too strong for ice to make.
I slipped once badly, and
gave myself a wrench, the effects of which I felt at times for many a long
After stopping for lunch on
an island, we pushed on, and, climbing the hill at the mouth of Sturgeon
River, found the country bare of snow, and after going two or three miles in
this way, I concluded to camp, and strike back for the river in the morning.
If we could have gone on, we
would have reached Edmonton the next day before noon.
Mr. Woolsey was astonished at
our progress. We had come full eighty miles, although the latter part of our
road was very difficult to travel, the glare but uneven river ice being very
hard on both dogs and men.
We camped on a dry bluff What a revelation this country is to me! This is
now the 22nd of December, and the weather, while crisp and cold, beautifully
fine—no snow 'and we having to use exceedingly great caution in order not to
set the prairie on fire.
That night Mr. Woolsey, while
rubbing some pain-killer into my sprained leg, told me about his life at
Edmonton; how one day a Blackfoot came into his room, and was very friendly,
and told him that he (the Blackfoot) was a very religious man; also that he
loved to talk to the Great Spirit himself, would do so right then, thus
giving Mr. Woolsey the benefit of his prayer. Mr. Woolsey sent for an
interpreter, and the Blackfoot went on very much like the Pharisee of old.
He was not as other men—the Cree, or Stoney, or even ordinary white men— he
was a good man; his heart was good; he was thankful to meet this "good white
He hoped their meeting would
be blessed of the Great Spirit, and now that he had seen and spoken to this
"good white man," he trusted that the Good Spirit would help him against his
enemies, and aid him in his war expeditions, and thus he would bring home
many horses and scalps. Above all things, the last was his strong desire.
Mr. Woolsey also told me of a
slight misunderstanding he had with a priest. Mr. Woolsey did not understand
French, and the priest did not understand English. The cause of their
trouble was about asking a blessing and returning thanks at the Hudson's Bay
Company's mess table. The priest was a thorough monopolist. The officer in
charge would say, "Mr. Woolsey, please ask a blessing," or "Mr. Woolsey,
please return thanks;" but the priest would immediately begin a Latin grace
or thanksgiving, and thus Mr. Woolsey was cut off before he could begin. At
last his English blood could not stand it any longer, and one day he stopped
the priest after the others had gone out of the room, and said to him in
broken Cree: "You no good; you speak one, that good; you speak two, that no
good." This, though spoken in the soft Cree, was emphasized in a strong
English manner, and the little priest, becoming alarmed, ran for the
gentleman in charge, who explained matters, and-also sided with Mr. Woolsey,
and this monopoly was broken up.
No; from my two years'
intimate acquaintance with Mr. Woolsey, he was not the man to stand any mere
pretensions of superiority.
The next morning we struck
straight across country for the river, and kept the ice thence on to
Edmonton, which, because of the windings of the stream, we did not reach
until evening. We found the fort full, trappers and traders having returned
from their long summer's journeyings; but we also found provisions scant,
and Mr. Christie, the gentleman in charge, anxious as to the future. The
buffalo were far out; the fisheries were not very successful.
Here we met with clerks and
post-masters from the inland and distant posts, and we and they but added to
the responsibilities of the head officer, having so many more mouths to
feed. Then there were all the dogs, and these were simply legion, as most of
the winter transport and travel of those days was done with dogs, and their
food supply was a serious question.
I have often wondered since
then why it was in a country with so much natural hay, where oats grew often
at the rate of one hundred bushels to the acre, and where horses were cheap,
that this dog business lasted as long as it did; but I suppose everything
has its day, and even the dog had his.
I fully believe that if there
was one dog in the small compass of the fort at Edmonton, there were 150.
When the bell rang for the men to go to work or come for their rations, the
dogs would howl, and one would imagine bedlam let loose. Then the fights,
which were taking place at all hours, day or night, became monotonous.
The sole topic of
conversation would be dogs. The speed and strength and endurance of a
dog-train occupied the thoughts of most men, either sleeping or waking.
Next to the dogs came the
dog-runners. These were famous because of their ability to manage a train of
dogs, and the wind and endurance and pluck they manifested in travel.
Races were common—five miles,
twenty miles, sixty miles, 150 miles, etc., and many of the feats performed
by these dogs and dog-drivers would be thought impossible to-day.
We were received very kindly
by all parties, and I very soon felt at home with such men as R. Hardisty
and Mr. MacDonald, and in the family of Mr. Flett, where I received great
hospitality, and from being a total stranger was soon made to feel
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