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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XLIII
Flying trip to Edmonton - No snow - Bare ice - Hard travel - A Blackfoot's prayer.


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 could.

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 perceptible.

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 year.

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 man."

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 thoroughly intimate.


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